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Choral and Vocal
SOMBER GERMAN POETRY IN SONG AT ROSCHMANN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Two weeks does make a hefty difference. Feb. 3 saw the diva Renée Fleming beguile a full Weill Hall house in a mix of Brahms, Broadway show songs and Dvorak chestnuts. It was a gala event with couture gowns and colorful extra-musical communication between singer and her rapt audience. Dorothea Rösc...
Chamber
KIM-PETERSEN DUO SHINE IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 18, 2018
“Bomsori” means “the sound of spring” in Korean, and violinist Bomsori Kim’s sound is like spring - fresh, clarion, and nuanced. Her expressiveness and obvious pleasure in engaging with audiences is substantial, and she partnered with pianist Drew Petersen in a Feb. 18 recital for the Mill Valley C...
Recital
ROMANTIC MUSIC AND AMBIANCE AT SEB ARTS RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Sebastopol had is own musical salon Feb. 18 with visits to Paris of the 1830s, and side trips to Wales and Germany. Pianist Robyn Carmichael presented a concert of favorite romantic masters and their muses, loves and inspirations, with music of Chopin, Liszt Mendelssohn and Schumann. This was no c...
Chamber
POWERHOUSE TANEYEV QUARTET IN TRIO NAVARRO CONCERT
by Sonia Tubridy
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Now in their 26th year of presenting chamber music as artists in residence at Sonoma State University, members of the Navarro Trio have performed, over the years, piano trios both famous and rarely performed, including many contemporary works. Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478 opened the Fe...
Chamber
NOVEL AND FAMILIAR WORKS FROM THE TILDEN TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 11, 2018
North Coast chamber music fans have the luxury of two fine resident piano trios, with the frequently performing Trio Navarro at Sonoma State, and the Tilden Trio at San Rafael’s Dominican University. The Tilden plays less often, but their Feb. 11 performance brought several hundred to Angelico Hall ...
Symphony
A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for t...
Chamber
BERLIN WIND QUINTET'S NOVEL PROGRAM SCORES IN WEILL CONCERT
by nicholas xenelis
Friday, February 09, 2018
Driving into the Green Music Center parking lot Feb. 10 I knew there was something unusual taking place since the lot was nearly full. Was another event going on this same night? A large crowd in Weill Hall isn’t expected for chamber music, in this case with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet. S...
Recital
HAUNTING RACHMANINOFF WORKS IN HU'S MAO RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 08, 2018
Ching-Yun Hu made a return Music at Oakmont appearance Feb. 8 in Berger Auditorium, reprising a recital she made in the same hall four years ago. Many of the recital’s trappings were the same, but the music Ms. Hu chose to play was decidedly different. All afternoon the pianist was in an aggressiv...
Chamber
A COMPLETE ARTISTIC PACKAGE IN FLEMING'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Vaida Falconbridge and Mary Beard
Saturday, February 03, 2018
The diva Renée Fleming strode on the Weill Hall stage Feb. 2 in her first couture gown of the evening, a gray and swirling cream strapless sheath with flamboyant coordinating stole. For this concert, Ms. Fleming stayed to somewhat lighter fare, foregoing heavier dramatic and coloratura arias for a v...
Recital
ZNAIDER-KULEK DUO CHARMS AND CHALLANGES WEILL AUDIENCE FEB. 2
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 02, 2018
Weill hall has mounted several exceptional piano recitals, with Garrick Ohlsson’s titanic Liszt concert, and of course Lang Lang’s two insouciant but also compelling performances topping the list since 2013. But arguably the virtuoso violinists have on balance been more impressive, and thoughts g...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, January 11, 2015
Michael Christie, conductor. Mark O'Connor, violin

Violinist Mark O'Connor

AMERICANA WITH A FLASHING BOW

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mark O'Connor is an extraordinary fiddler, as he amply demonstrated via his bravura performance with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon. Whether he is an extraordinary composer is open to debate.

The audience had ample time to judge O'Connor's compositional skills during the program, half of which was taken up by the outer movements of his lengthy "Fiddle Concerto" and the entirety of his much shorter "Strings and Threads." The other half went to another American--Aaron Copland--who also mines folk-music material.

O'Connor's writing ranges from the predictable to the sublime. The latter quality was nowhere more evident than in his concerto's final cadenza, which begins with a plaintive melody that evokes the melancholy of the Appalachians. Clad in a sharkskin suit, O'Connor first set off the melody with double stops, but then took flight and enveloped the tune with a swirling halo of rapid-fire notes in the upper registers, all played sotto voce. The effect was haunting, even mesmerizing.

The cadenza continued in this vein for quite a while. The passagework got ever trickier, and O'Connor's bow flew ever faster, until he suddenly lifted it off the strings and played a two-handed pizzicato with fingers plucking from all directions. Just as abruptly, he disdained the strings and played his instrument as if it were a drum, tapping his fingers everywhere but the fingerboard.

Taken by itself, the cadenza was a musical delight. But it was just one component of the concerto, a substantial work that features a full orchestra--in this case led by guest conductor Michael Christie--and plenty of back and forth with the soloist. Here O'Connor's skills were less evident. The concerto is essentially a pastiche, with a string of less than memorable tunes strung together by O'Connor's instrumental virtuosity, much like Paganini used to do.

O'Connor often tries to develop themes by starting them at the bottom of the scale, then repeating them up a step, then another step, and so forth until reaching an artificial climax at the top. Another favored device is for the soloist to repeat orchestral material with substantial embellishments, playing a bevy of notes when one or two might suffice. This device, which one might call poly-notalism, dazzles at first but gets tiresome when every line is filled with hemidemisemiquavers.

On balance, O'Connor's virtuosity and infectious enthusiasm more than compensated for the concerto's structural deficiencies. That was even more the case in "Strings and Threads," an unabashed suite of folk-like tunes written by O'Connor and played by him and his wife Maggie O'Connor, with the orchestra acting as little more than a basso continuo.

Ms. O'Connor, wearing a gossamer orange gown, proved to be her husband's match in terms of finger and bow speed, but her sound was more subdued, perhaps because of her violin. The two took turns playing the beguiling melodies, which more or less trace the history of American folk music, from an ancient-sounding "Fair Dancer Reel" to a swing-based "Sweet Suzanne." The playing throughout was dazzling and rapid, with occasional ritards during the bluesier numbers.

Like O'Connor, Copland often bases his music on folk material, but his approach is entirely different. Instead of taking the tunes at face value, he strips them to the core and then reassembles the material in his own distinctive voice. The tunes are still in there somewhere, but the composition--be it "Billy the Kid" or "El Salón México"--is pure Copland.

Christie, the guest conductor, opened the concert with a competent but somewhat lackluster reading of "Billy the Kid," a seven-movement suite drawn from the ballet of the same name. Christie is an unobtrusive leader, with feet solidly planted and arms giving a compact and consistent beat. His technique was helpful for Copland's tricky rhythms and copious syncopation, but it failed to deliver a compelling arch for the entire work.

Orchestra and conductor fared much better in "El Salón México," which closed the concert. Here Christie began with an invigorating tempo while maintaining a clean sound. The many brass and woodwind solos emerged from that texture with startling clarity. Even better, the precise beats and carefully observed syncopations created palpable tension as Christie kept driving the orchestra forward.

In "El Salón México," the rests are as important as the notes. Instead of creating a fluid line, Copland offers only glimpses, engaging the audience to fill in the gaps. Nothing lands where you think it will, even in the long crescendo to the end. These last few moments gave rise to the best playing of the afternoon. Surely the tensions had to resolve, and they finally did with a triumphant final chord.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.