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Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Recital
PIANISTIC COMMAND IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, October 08, 2017
Nikolay Khozyainov’s Oct. 8 debut at the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall was one of those rare moments in a young artist’s career when a performance approaches perfection. From the opening notes of Beethoven’s A-Flat Major Sonata (Op. 110) through a delightful recital ending transcription, the ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
National Youth Orchestra of the USA / Saturday, August 02, 2014
David Robertson, conductor. Gil Shaham, violin

Violinist Gil Shaham

A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, August 02, 2014

The audience filing into Saturday's National Youth Orchestra concert at Weill Hall in Rohnert Park was greeted by the sight and sound of 120 teenaged musicians furiously warming up and clad in a patriotic outfit of red pants and sneakers, white shirts and … black blazers, ties and scarves? So much for the red, white and blue, but the costumes were beguiling nonetheless.

Equally beguiling were the inhabitants of those costumes: fresh-faced young people aged 16 to 19, brimming with confidence and excitement. For many of them, one suspects, this concert and the others on their current tour are the event of a lifetime. Some may continue as professional musicians, but most are likely to veer into better-paying careers. For now, however, they're all playing together, unbesmirched by adult concerns.

They continued warming up, creating an ever more deafening noise until the lights went down and conductor David Robertson bounded out, his step lightened by the same Converse sneakers that the teenagers wore. Seconds later, the massive ensemble--which included 36 violins--slammed into Leonard Bernstein's symphonic dances from "West Side Story."

The sound was impressive, to say the least. Everyone played with youthful energy, adhering closely to Robertson's motions. He sharply accented the beats in the opening prologue and then turned the orchestra on a dime for the memorable "Somewhere." A serene beginning with gorgeous string solos ended with a huge swell from the rest of the orchestra, which exhibited precise dynamic control.

Guided by Robertson's relaxed and apparently effortless conducting, the orchestra played the remaining six dances with equal parts fervor and command. The "mambo" shout in that dance rang throughout the hall, confirming that everyone was having a great time. On occasion, Robertson really danced on the podium, gathering his forces for a sudden crescendo or dramatic off-beat. All the solos were great, particularly the flute at the end.

While introducing the next piece, 16-year-old French hornist Andrew Angelos observed that the Bernstein "sounds better when played by a youth orchestra--we tend to have more energy."

Soloist Gil Shaham proved equally energetic in the Britten violin concerto, one of five concertos from the 1930s featured on his recent two-CD set. On that recording, he's accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but the National Youth Orchestra sounded just as good, if not better.

Shaham is an engaging performer. He invariably smiles after difficult passages and frequently turns around to encourage his fellow musicians. His bow control is superb and his intonation spot-on, even in the highest registers. His performance of the notoriously difficult Britten concerto was faultless and impassioned, which is more than one can say of the piece itself.

While the concerto is full of memorable snippets and breathtaking solos, it lacks a coherent narrative. At times it sounds like a partita for solo violin superimposed on a threnody for orchestra. It hasn't aged nearly as well as the Barber and Berg concertos written around the same time, nor is it performed as often. Still, it's a dazzling workout for the soloist, and Shaham was resplendent.

The second half began with a major reshuffling. The string sections, for instance, were completely reversed. The first two chairs were now in the back row, and the back row was now in the front. The intent seemed to spring from a desire to give everyone equal playing opportunities, helping them move beyond the "I'm not playing second fiddle" mentality.

Once the orchestra settled in, they eased into "Radial Play," by the 20-something composer Samuel Adams. True to its title, "Radial Play" consists of short sections that radiate out from a central pitch. In the first section, for example, the harp plucks out a central pitch and then the other instruments join in with brief, accented entries that accumulate into a dense but refreshingly bright sound marked by unusual percussion and strong syncopations.

"Radial Play" is full of promise but is over almost as soon as it begins. Perhaps Adams can use a similar structure for a longer, more fully developed future composition.

Rounding out the show was a spine-tingling performance of Mussorgsky/Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition." This oft-performed masterpiece is a rite of passage for young musicians, with each generation bringing its own insight and style. The style here was vivid, with hints of transcendence. The apprentices breathed new life into the familiar melodies, playing with conviction and impressive speed, especially in "The Market at Limoges."

The transcendent moments came in the concluding "Great Gate at Kiev," where the teenagers played full out, with no holds barred. It was a triumph of youth. At the end, everyone was smiling, except for one violinist, who seemed overcome with emotion after such a splendid performance.

Two encores followed: the suite from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and an arrangement of "America the Beautiful." The former was marvelous, but the latter seemed more a product of patriotic fervor than musical inspiration.

No matter. All told, the National Youth Orchestra is a force to be reckoned with.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.