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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Jon Nakamatsu / Sunday, November 30, 2008
Jon Nakamatsu, Pianist

Jon Nakamatsu

NAKAMATSU OFFERS PROVOCATIVE MUSICAL INTOXICATION

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Many components go into a fine piano recital — the artist’s technique, rhythmic control, range of tonal colors, choice of repertoire, and even stamina. All can combine to make a first-rate performance. But in recent local recitals, a key part for listeners — the aspect of being thrilled — has gone missing. Not so for Bay Area hero Jon Nakamatsu, who provided thrills across the musical spectrum on Nov. 30 in a sensational Newman Auditorium recital for the Concerts Grand series in Santa Rosa.

Before a nearly full house, liberally sprinkled with musicians, Nakamatsu performed mostly dance-related pieces with masterly control of line and color. His recital was an object lesson in projection of difficult music, nearly all which required resolute concentration by listeners and rewarded such close attention with sonic delights.

Beginning with Haydn’s Sonata No. 33 in C Minor, Nakamatsu quickly demonstrated why his playing is nonpareil. Each of the three movements had lift and clarity, his careful use of dynamics and articulation highlighting the drama and pathos. Haydn’s sonatas seem to be almost displacing those of Mozart and Scarlatti, a welcome development. All was in impeccable order, whetting the appetite for a big work from the Romantic era.

Carnaval is one of Schumann’s masterpieces, not often played in Santa Rosa, and several seasoned members of the audience could only recall a long-ago Claudio Arrau performance for the Community Concerts series. Nakamatsu’s reading is likewise sure to linger in the memory. His balanced phrasing and economy of motion in both hands was a marvel, the fleet scales and coloristic effects becoming an object lesson for each of the piece’s 22 sections. He can play very fast with nary a slip, and only the tempo in the Paganini part causing some missed notes in the wide right-hand skips. Rachmaninoff’s famous recording is of equal speed, and praise for Nakamatsu can thus go no higher. The final left-hand crossover chord brought a roar from the crowd, to my mind the loudest and most prolonged “noise” heard in Newman, surpassing the tumult offered to Garrick Ohlsson after his 2007 Liszt B Minor Sonata. In his remarks to the audience at the beginning of the second half. Nakamatsu acknowledged the commotion by saying that he thought he couldn’t perform much better, and reflected about driving off in his car, but of course remembered that another 45 minutes of playing was in front of him!

And it was an eminent second half, led off by five piquant Danses Fantastiques, Op. 2, of Iranian-American composer Loris Tjeknavorian. Each of the five told a different story, some vaguely reminiscent of Bartok, some scattered tableaux spiced with contrary motion octaves, powerful sforzandos and false cadences. Originally part of a 1962 ballet, these dances deserve repertoire status. Several people later asked the pianist about getting a copy of the score.

Far from dissonance, but nonetheless harmonically divergent, were two short Liszt Impromptus, the first dedicated to an admirer of the composer, Princess Gortschakoff. As in many late Liszt works, the wistfulness dominated, bathed in a precursor of Impressionism. The more popular Valse Impromptu found Nakamatsu in a playful mood, adding small alterations to the rhythms and catching with gorgeous dexterity the work’s insouciance.

Completing the program was the so called “Dante’ Sonata, a single-movement piece that is perhaps closer to Berlioz than anything Liszt ever wrote. Its pictorial drama is difficult for many to comprehend, as the free rhapsodic style depicts a turbulent Paradise and juxtaposes a stark variety of theatrical scenes. Nakamatsu made a cohesive case with scintillating octaves, forte block chords and shimmering tremolos, all part of a convincing whole. It was one of the best readings of the work I have ever heard, and the audience exacted two encores, each a testimony to Nakamatsu’s elegant pianism.

Mendelssohn’s celebrated Introduction and Rondo Capriccio, Op. 14, was the proper tonic after the Liszt pyrotechnics. All was in place — repose, sparkling scales, controlled passage work and a suitably rousing ending. The Fourth Chopin Impromptu followed, the “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” motif from Tin Pan Alley fame sung with grace and delicate finger staccato.

The recital was a throwback to what Hofmann, Busoni, Rachmaninoff and Horowitz did in the last century, combining sovereign pianistic execution with extraordinary emotional impact. Jon Nakamatsu achieved a similar result with the great Steinway last Sunday, drawing listeners into a rare 90 minutes of provocative musical intoxication.

Note: The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand series.