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Choral and Vocal
NOBLE BRAHMS REQUIEM PERFORMANCE CLOSES SONOMA BACH'S SEASON
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, June 01, 2019
Sonoma Bach, conducted by Robert Worth, presented a truly grand finale to their 2018-19 "Light Out of Darkness" season in two sold out Schroeder Hall performances June 1 and 2. The program "A Human Requiem" was received rapturously with a well-deserved standing ovation for the main work, Brahms' ...
Chamber
THREE SONG CYCLES HIGHLIGHT VIBRANT SLV RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks-Gailey
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
An ambitious recital of vocal and piano music was presented May 8 at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The duo engaged the enthusiastic audience with scholarly friendliness and artistry in performances of Beethoven's short cycle of six song...
Symphony
ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 05, 2019
An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony c...
Symphony
MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON CLOSES WITH AUTUMNAL ELGAR AND THEATRICAL BEETHOVEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Mozart’s enchanting Overture to his opera The Magic Flute, a miniature tapestry of gems from the 1791 work, opened the Marin Symphony’s final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Under conductor Alasdair Neale, the playing of the sprightly seven-minute piece by a reduced-size classical ensemble sparkled...
Recital
SHAHAM-EGUCHI DUO'S EXCITING MUSICAL GENEROSITY IN WEILL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, April 26, 2019
Violinist Gil Shaham may be the most modest virtuoso on the concert stage today, and it is the great music he most wishes to put forward, never himself. Generosity, a quality he is known for, was abundantly clear in Weill Hall April 26 when he performed, with pianist Akira Eguchi, a generous program...
Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Live Oak Baroque Orchestra / Sunday, October 19, 2014
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin and conductor.

Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock

BOUNDLESS BAROQUE ARTISTRY IN LIVE OAK SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT

by Joanna Bramel Young
Sunday, October 19, 2014

On October 19 the Live Oak Baroque Orchestra, directed by baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, appeared in the first of several concerts it is to present at Schroeder Hall in Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. The new 250-seat recital space is the perfect venue for chamber music, which requires a certain intimacy between performers and audience.

In an informal half-hour pre-concert presentation the performers discussed the 17th and 18th century “duels” among various baroque composers on the program. Viola da gambist Mary Springfels described 17th century Dresden, capital of Saxony, as a magnet for musicians and composers from all over Europe wishing to compete for the court’s favor, as well as for wider recognition. While Bach was the most celebrated of these, noted violinists Georg Pisendel (1687-1755) and Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768), as well as French organist Louis Marchand (1699-1732), were among those who sought fame in Dresden during this period. Four of the “Dresden duelists” were represented in this program: Veracini and Pisendel, and Marchand and Bach, although Bach was in a sense standing in for Jean Baptiste Volumier, concertmaster of the Dresden court orchestra. As the concert’s program notes tell it, Pisendel resented Veracini’s appearance and rapid rise in Dresden, and so he challenged the Italian to play an exceptionally difficult violin passage he had composed. Following Veracini’s awkward attempt, Pisendel summoned forth the last chair second violinist, whom he had secretly coached to master the piece. The violinist’s graceful handling of it so humiliated Veracini that he left town and returned to Italy.

Volumier did not appreciate the arrival in Dresden of the arrogant Marchand and so invited Bach, who also happened to be there at the time, to one of Marchand’s performances. Volumier then proposed to the competitive Bach that he challenge Marchand to a musical “duel.” Unaware of the identity of his challenger, the Frenchman accepted, agreeing that the “duel” would require improvising at the harpsichord on subjects chosen by the opponent. However, Marchand then realized who his opponent actually was, and fled Dresden for good.

The performers in this concert were violinists Blumenstock, Tyler Lewis and Aaren Westman (who also played viola), violist Maria Caswell, Springfels, and multitasking keyboardist Henry Lebedinsky. All of the string players were playing baroque instruments, including the 1660 Guarneri violin played by Ms. Blumenstock. Most baroque string instruments have been “modernized” by strengthening so that their delicate frames can withstand steel strings; baroque strings are made of gut. Moreover, bows are now concave, whereas the baroque bow is convex and held several inches from the bow’s nut.

The viola da gamba, or bass viol, is cradled between the knees, without a peg to support it. Like a guitar, it has frets and six strings. It is bowed “underhand,” unlike the violin and the modern cello. Meanwhile the keyboard instruments, used alternately, were a small baroque chamber organ, a harpsichord, and the sumptuous 1,248-pipe Brombaugh tracker organ that is mounted majestically above the stage.

Some of the earliest compositions on the program, including works by Matthias Weckmann (c1616-1674) and Carlo Farina (1600-1639), were performed in the first half. Schein’s Suite no. XI (1617) was a set of dances. “Schein was, in essence, an Elizabethan in Europe,” Mary Springfels told us. “His dance suite has an English feel.” Hence the Suite was “real dance music.” Quoting a composer of the period, Ms. Springfels said, “There are pieces that are ‘a dance for the feet’ and pieces that are ‘a dance for the ears.’ “ In the opinion of this reviewer (who has performed music of this period) this is an important distinction. In the renaissance and baroque, dance was very much a part of peoples’ lives, and thus a great deal of music for dances was composed. Later in the baroque, works based on dances continued to be created but were not intended for actual dancing; e.g., Bach’s dance suites. Nonetheless, they still were meant to be played very much in the manner of genuine dances.

The opening Weckmann work was a delight, consisting of sections of brilliant agitation melting into slow, melismatic descending phrases. There was a great deal of imitation: a statement was made by one instrument, then each voice would enter in its turn, echoing the same phrase. Sudden changes of mood sustained interest; light, dancy passages would dissolve into segments of profound sorrow and mournfulness. Meanwhile, the chamber organ contributed deep, beautifully blending bass notes that softly and firmly “grounded” the ensemble. Mary Springfels demonstrated a complete mastery of her gamba.

Elizabeth Blumenstock made everything she played look easy! She tends to choose the fastest tempos for the Allegros, but her brilliant ornaments and carefully thought-out articulations are always clear and precise. Her slow movements squeeze every bit of emotion from the poignant melodies.

The magnificent pipe organ was featured in a work by Bach (Schmücke dich, O liebe Seele) and stole the show. Organist Henry Lebedinsky climbed to the high loft and, before taking his seat, flashed an enthusiastic “thumbs up” to the audience, indicating the awaiting organ and eliciting cheers from below. The piece opened energetically with lively ornamented harmonies, played with great facility. At intervals in the work the haunting slower principal melody of the hymn emerged suddenly above the agitation beneath it, and then subsided back into the fabric, to emerge again and again.

The violin concerto by Veracini gave soloist Blumenstock full opportunity to display her virtuosity. This high baroque work began with an Allegro and other instruments accompanying with simple chords on each strong beat. The solo violin’s ebullient and brilliant runs above the “orchestra” reminded me of Vivaldi. In the Grave, the gamba’s walking bass accompanied the violins’ plaintive ornamented lines. The final Presto pulled out all the stops, again showing off Blumenstock’s impressive facility

The Pisendel violin sonata, performed by Aaron Westman, was for violin and basso continuo. After masterfully rendering this virtuosic and highly ornamented sonata, Mr. Westman was heard to murmur, “Take that, Veracini!”

Closing the program was the entire ensemble of six performing Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in D Minor. Once again, Ms. Blumenstock was responsible for the solo violin part, eliciting grins of pleasure from the audience. The fast movements in particular sparkled. Throughout the evening the ensemble played with perfect intonation, crisp articulations, and impeccable phrase endings, which at times would decrescendo to absolute silence.

The audience of 200 people stood with applause and shouts of “Bravo!” As a sort of dessert, the ensemble played an encore called “Volta” by Carlo Farina. This early baroque piece, probably composed in the mid 1600s, was rich in delightful cross rhythms and was obviously meant to be danced. The volta was an exuberant high-leaping dance performed at court. It was a fitting end to an exquisitely performed program.

According to the printed program’s “Upcoming Events”, the Live Oak Baroque Orchestra is scheduled to appear again at Schroeder Hall on Nov. 21 and 22, Dec. 12 and 13, and in 2015 Jan. 9 through 11.