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Recital
HOME RECITAL BACH COMPLETES HOLIDAY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 30, 2017
The just closing 2017 year was a calamity for many, but locally in music there were joys galore, and it was fitting Dec. 30 have the balm of two Bach’s violin sonatas in a private Guerneville home recital hosted by the eminent musician Sonia Tubridy. Violinist Richard Heinberg joined Ms. Tubridy in...
Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
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.