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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...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Marin Symphony / Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Zuill Bailey, cello

Conductor Alasdair Neale

PROPULSIVE BERLIOZ AND CONSUMMATE CONDUCTOR STAR AT MARIN SYMPHONY

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s not an easy task to upstage the virtuoso cellist Zuill Bailey, but Marin Symphony conductor Alasdair Neale did it convincingly in a Sept. 30 concert at the Marin Center Auditorium.

Mr. Bailey didn’t easily relinquish the starring role and played an eloquent and urbane performance in St. Saëns’ First Concerto, Op. 33, from 1872. For Mr. Bailey, a North Coast favorite, it was a surprisingly low temperature performance that had fast tempos and at times a legato that blurred scale passages. In the Allegretto the cellist displayed a deft pianissimo, spicatto bowing and even trills. In the finale both Mr. Neale and Mr. Bailey adopted a restrained approach to this mellifluous music that showcased a long thematic line that was everywhere reminiscent of the composer’s Introduction and Rondo for Violin and Orchestra, written nine years before the Concerto.

Timing in the short first half generated a crowd-pleasing encore, and not for this soloist was the usual movement from a Bach unaccompanied Suite. It was the captivating five-minute Intermezzo entr’acte from Massenet’s opera Thaïs. Here Mr. Bailey broadened his vibrato and played the lovely melody seamlessly merging with the Marin musicians and especially harpist Don Leviton. At the end the motionless Mr. Neale held the audience in a fermata, letting the magical silence play out for 15 seconds.

Following intermission the Symphony unleashed a demonic performance of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, guided by the conductor’s conception of a sonic extravaganza. This hall has a direct sound with little reverberation, seemingly favoring in this work the lower frequencies of six basses and eight cellos. All through the five-movement symphony that lasted just short of an hour the conductor relished moderate tempos, never rushing in voice leadings to the big climaxes. And there were many big climaxes.

In the lovely waltzes of the second movement Mr. Neale eschewed big ritards and elastic rhythms, emphasizing instead strict rhythms, section balances and tonal richness. Clarinetist Arthur Austin and flutist Monica Daniel-Barker played fetching duos.

For me the instrumental highlight of the evening was the delicate and haunting English horn solos that began the “Scene in the Fields” movement. Laura Reynolds was the performer in music that Wagner clearly knew when he composed the equally haunting Prelude to Act III of “Tristan und Isolde.” The wind choir and violas played wonderfully. Mr. Neale’s control and concentration was complete and only sporadically did he look at the score. The string pizzicato playing in the March to the Scaffold movement was telling, as was the sonority of chimes, tuba (two of them, and two harps!) trombones and bassoon in the Dies Irae theme of the Witches Sabbath conclusion. Mr. Neale gave each repeat a slightly different character that lent novel interest to this propulsive and raucous movement. A standing ovation followed the final tumultuous chords, and it was surely a tribute to both orchestra’s playing and the conductor’s bold conception and consummate control of Berlioz’ sprawling composition.

The concert opened with Bernstein’s Overture to the operetta “Candide,” fast and with trumpets blaring. With the stage packed with performers, many more than were needed in the St. Saëns Concerto, the performance of this popular concert opener was swift, muddy in texture and actually too loud.