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Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
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 ŕ 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.