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Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
Symphony
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
RECITAL REVIEW
Chris Botti / Friday, September 11, 2015

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.