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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
National Youth Orchestra of the USA / Saturday, August 2, 2014
David Robertson, conductor. Gil Shaham, violin

Violinist Gil Shaham

A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, August 2, 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.