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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...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

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 Thaďs. 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.