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...
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...
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...
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...
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility.
Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall.
Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Trumpeter Chris Botti
TRUMPET ON FIRE
by Philip Beard
Friday, September 11, 2015
Chris Botti’s show at SSU’s Green Music Center Sept. 11 was a real barnburner. The highly acclaimed, much-traveled trumpeter--his group is on the road over 300 days a year, playing always to large audiences--was making his second appearance at Weill Hall and Lawn, two years after his sold-out first visit.
Some things change, some don’t. The big change this time was the stage. Weill Hall has invested God knows how much in a sumptuous array of floor-to-ceiling curtains and lights and gadgets that turn the stage into a cabaret on steroids for correspondingly oriented groups--rock/pop, amplified--and their presumably large audiences. Setting the array up and tearing it down for smaller-draw acoustic events are surely prodigious technical feats in themselves.
Effects include multi-hued floodlight washes over the back curtain, ranging from subtle to garish; flickering, dancing light patterns evidently intended to evoke moods matching the number being played (think fluttering leaves in an aspen forest); occasional bright lights aimed smack into the audience’s eyes; and a mist machine that sent up an evanescent fog into the backlit celestial regions of the set all concert long (to evoke nostalgia for smoke-filled nightspots?). All very impressive if that’s what turns your crank.
There, I’ve betrayed my anti-jumbo bias. Sorry, but it borders on sacrilegious to gussy up a world-renowned acoustical masterpiece like Weill Hall to accommodate the mega-amped productions that the venue’s current managers evidently favor. No doubt they’ll defend their bias in the name of “what the public wants to hear.” Fair enough; it’s tough to argue against near-sellout crowds. But tasteful? No.
Onward to the far more enjoyable topic of what hasn’t changed. That would be Chris Botti’s stunning show, in many ways a carbon copy of the group’s offering of two years ago. As I revisit my review of that concert, I’m struck by the close match between my impressions then and now. So, full disclosure: The following remarks occasionally crib from that piece.
The three best-dressed people in the hall were Botti himself, in a plain black suit with black tie, and his two female sidekicks, violinist Caroline Campbell in a slinky red gown and vocalist Sy Smith in a lovely patterned satin halter-top dress. The band was filled out by Andy Ezrin on keyboards, Lee Pearson on drums, pianist Geoffrey Keezer, Ben Butler on guitar, Richie Goods on upright and electric bass, and tenor vocalist George Komsky. Illustrious performers all.
The concert began with an unnamed ballad that set the default tone for the evening: Botti introducing the theme with his rich, honest trumpet sound, joined in duet by Campbell’s sinuous violin. After a couple of choruses the band chimed in with shimmering background chords and rustling snare brushes under soaring lyrical solos from the two principals.
Botti plays with an adjustable mike that produces a darker, more flügel-like quality the farther he bends it into the bell of his horn. Campbell’s amplification spectrum includes a low register that sounds like a herd of cellos, incongruous coming from this single violin, but effective in its own gutsy, boomy way. The number ended on a very soft, very high, perfectly in-tune trumpet note that Botti held for longer than seemed humanly possible. No, he was not circular breathing. This prodigious breath control is clearly a Botti trademark.
The uncomfortably high decibel level noted in 2013 was augmented this time by a yet more pronounced reverb effect, arguably beneficial in setting the intended smoky mood but occasionally blurring the soloists’ soft, quick passage work and homogenizing their individuality.
The group moved to an upbeat bossa-nova-style rendition of the ballad “If I Fall in Love,” full of fast runs, jazz licks, rips, and alternate-fingered tremolos. For you non-brass players, that’s a note repeatedly slurred to itself using a different valve combination. Another breathtaking high-note flourish ended the piece. After the next offering, a heavy-drummed funk number featuring a flashy solo by Geoffrey Keezer, Botti spoke to the audience for the first time. He immediately engaged them with his easy repartee, delivering the obligatory encomium to the hall (the “Tanglewood of the West Coast,” by his telling), and schmoozing with some young musicians sitting at the front of the audience. His stage presence was articulate, humorous, warm.
The concert progressed without intermission through an excitingly varied sequence of numbers encompassing Latin salsa, Motown funk (vocalist Sy Smith scatting high and fast), slinky ballads à la Andrew Lloyd Webber, homages to Botti’s early inspiration Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” pop standards like “The Very Thought of You,” a couple of Andrea Bocelli songs--a versatile mix, and all played from memory.
Brilliant solos abounded. Keezer’s brilliant piano improvisations stood out all evening. Tenor George Komsky showed off his Bocelli-esque pipes adequately. Drummer Lee Pearson played a ten-minute tour de force that saw him shedding his jacket while continuing to whack away, switching to conga-style hits, including barehanded cymbal crashes, whipping blindly around all his drums and cymbals with his face covered by a towel. This was immensely crowd-pleasing.
Most impressive of all, though, was violinist Caroline Campbell’s solo fantasia--full of double stops, lickety-split arpeggios and harmonic overtones--that established her credentials as a serious crossover violinist equally at home in the classical and pop/rock worlds. By the time the band joined in, switching to a hard-beat Led Zeppelin standard, she was flinging her long blond tresses all over the stage, sawing away like a woman possessed. She earned the loudest standing ovation of the evening, engendering Botti’s laconic remark “Bet you weren’t expecting that.”
A nice counterpoint to all the musical pyrotechnics was Botti’s folksy interplay with the audience. At one point he and Smith left the stage and moved slowly out to the lawn, jamming and serenading all the way, regaling aisle sitters with up-close personality, encouraging them to take pictures. Pausing at one point next to two empty seats, he quipped, “They held these ones for Donald Trump.” Supply your own exegesis. Then they walked back down to the stage, riffing/scatting back and forth, dueling with their respective high-range light swords, enjoying themselves mightily, and reveling in the adoration.
As a trumpet player, Botti richly deserves his star status and he has obviously worked hard to achieve it. His tone is straightforward and honest, employing only a bare minimum of occasional vibrato. Though he lacks the booming low register and the high-range dexterity of an Arturo Sandoval, or the tonguing/breathing pyrotechnics of a Wynton Marsalis, his attacks are clean and accurate, his high notes fat, secure, and in tune, and his breath control stupendous. Arguably the most successful brass instrumentalist of our times, he stands out for his easy, clever patter and his and his band’s sheer longevity, almost as much as for their technical prowess.
The continued popularity of Botti and his band leads one to expect they’ll keep it going for many more years. While the amped-up rock-concert-cum-light-show effects are decidedly not this reviewer’s cup of tea, Botti and his top-flight companions certainly command our respect and admiration. Now if they would only use their stature to help lead pop music away from its over-reliance on manufactured effects. One can dream, right?
Mark Wardlaw and Scott Nygard contributed to this review.