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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Music in the Vineyards / Friday, August 8, 2014

UBER VIOLISTS AT MUSIC IN THE VINEYARDS

by Steve Osborn
Friday, August 8, 2014

Full disclosure. I'm an amateur--very amateur--violist, so Friday's Music in the Vineyards concert in Napa Valley was of particular interest to me. The program featured two sextets with prominent viola parts; a trio for viola, flute and piano; and the pièce de résistance: a quartet for four violas. All of these were preceded by witty and informative introductions by the festival's co-artistic director Michael Adams, who happens to be a violist.

Adams somehow managed to avoid any viola jokes in his introductions, but not so here. What is the sound of four violas playing in unison? A cluster chord.

Such might be the fate of four ordinary violists undertaking York Bowen's Fantasy Quartet for four violas, written in 1907. In the hands of Adams and three other violists, however, the results went far beyond perfect unison. The ensemble produced a rich and varied sound with an astonishing range, even though all four musicians were playing the same type of instrument.

Unlike violins, violas come in different lengths and widths, so they naturally sound different from each other. Add in four distinct musical personalities and you have an ensemble with the texture and variety of a Persian carpet. Everyone played well, but first violist Masumi Per Rostad was exceptional. His sound was velvety, and his motions were as graceful as a swan's.

The only thing lacking was a composer befitting the ensemble. It's easy to understand how the once-prominent Bowen has faded into obscurity. His music, while competent, soon descends into a morass of romantic excess. It would be great for the movies, but it doesn't hold up in a concert hall, which is too bad for an ensemble as good as this one. Maybe the infinitesimal four-viola repertoire has something better to offer.

Before the viola quartet, Rostad joined flutist Adam Kuenzel and pianist Wei-Yi Yang for an engaging performance of Maurice Duruflé's "Prelude, Recitative and Variations" (1928), a resolutely Impressionist work written in Paris during the Jazz Age, when Impressionism was but a memory. Despite his backward-looking style, Duruflé was a masterful composer, nowhere more so than in this beguiling trio.

Rostad dominated the opening with his gorgeous sound and commanding stage presence. The others soon proved his equal, and the three interacted seamlessly to bring forth Duruflé's languid melodies and emotive variations. All three displayed a light touch and a genuine feeling for Duruflé's intricate score.

The trio was in strong contrast to the opener that preceded it: Prokofiev's "Overture on Hebrew Themes" (1919), a commissioned work that sounds almost nothing like Prokofiev. The story goes that a Russian ensemble comprised of string quartet, clarinet and piano asked Prokofiev to write a melodic piece based on Hebrew tunes and even gave him a book of such tunes for inspiration.

The result--which Prokofiev disdained--is a medley of Klezmer-sounding ditties with sophisticated instrumentation. The piece gets more boisterous as it goes along, which in this case resulted in some overly loud passages that taxed the sonic limits of the relatively small performance space at Silverado Vineyards. Cellist Tanya Tomkins pierced the din with an outstanding solo that featured an intense and tight vibrato.

A much better sextet concluded the program, this one by Dvorak (1878). Written for two violins, two violas and two cellos, the sextet was published during Dvorak's meteoric rise to fame, and it features unbounded energy and confident writing throughout. At times, it sounds more like a string trio than a sextet. The first violinist, violist and cellist get all the prominent lines, supported by their fellow instrumentalists. There are also occasional duets for each type of instrument.

This structure proved ideal for highlighting the first chairs: violinist Arnaud Sussman, violist Roberto Díaz and especially cellist Brandon Vamos, who embodied the sextet's musical drive with sweeping gestures and intense facial expressions. His tone was beautiful, and his rhythmic sense was unfailingly precise.

The performance was magnificent. The dense texture of the opening movement can often sound muddy, but here each part was distinct and well coordinated, especially the lovely viola duet near the end. In the subsequent Dumka dance, the players displayed exceptional rhythmic flexibility, transporting listeners back to village dances in 19th-century Bohemia. So too with the ensuing Furiant, taken at top speed.

The players saved the best for last. The concluding movement proceeded from a stately opening in the violas and cellos to an increasingly complex set of variations that pulled deeper and deeper meanings out of the central theme. The last of these was an unbridled romp led by first violinist Sussman, who somehow marshaled everyone past the finish line in record time.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]