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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...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma State University Symphony Orchestra / Friday, December 11, 2015
Alexander Kahn, conductor. Marilyn Thompson, piano

Alexander Kahn and Marilyn Thompson Dec. 11

THE LITTLE ORCHESTRA THAT COULD

by Terry McNeill
Friday, December 11, 2015

Hearing a symphony’s inaugural concert is a special event, and the Sonoma State Symphony Orchestra Dec. 11 launched what should be a prosperous musical life with a Weill Hall concert. The University Music Department has had permanent chamber, band and jazz ensembles, but never a flesh-in-the-blood orchestra. Now they do.
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On paper Composer John Corigliano’s "Voyage" seemed a unique opening, but the eight-minute version for strings passed without much notice or interest. It’s reminiscent of Hovhaness and conductor Alexander Kahn led effectively with the music never rising about a mezzo piano. Eschewing the excitement of a lively season overture, it was an odd choice for a gala event.

Mozart’s D Minor Concerto, K. 466, was another matter, and pianist Marilyn Thompson joined the mix in a scrappy but ultimately satisfying reading of the work from 1785. Listeners wanting pitch-perfect playing with sharp attacks, cutoffs and integrated instrumental entrances would not have found it here, but the sonic balances were good and after the initially unsteady Allegro chords the masterful Mozart drama unfolded well.

Playing from score Ms. Thompson adopted an understated approach to the solo part, preferring elegance to high drama, and here and in the concluding movement played the cadenzas by Adolph Baller. Many (Alkan, Brahms, Beethoven, Busoni) have written cadenzas for the 20th Concerto, and I found Baller’s to be idiomatic and in places provocative, with sharp and unexpected modulations. The Romanze was performed with only limited use of rubato, and Ms. Thompson’s refined playing in the finale was her best of the evening. Marie Vizcaino was a splendid oboist, contrasting with a sporadically overly loud timpanist.

Following the shortest Weill Hall intermission in memory the concert concluded with Beethoven’s First Symphony, the Haydnesque one in C Major (Op. 21) from 1800. The opening “question and answer” pair of chords for winds, horns and plucked strings immediately caught my attention, with cadences that then emerged fully formed in focused playing of the small ensemble of 25. Mr. Kahn drew a good performance throughout, especially in the Menuetto: Allegro where there was welcome section clarity. At times in rapid upward passages the high string notes were blurred, something that will surely diminish with more performances.

Applause at the end was loud and often boisterous, as colleagues of the student musicians yelled for their favorites, and the conductor was returned three times to the stage.

Prior to the Corigliano Mr. Kahn, recently appointed to the SSU faculty, addressed the audience of 300 at length regarding the gestation of the Orchestra and opportunity to join a music department of increasing importance with the Green Center’s halls as a resplendent venue. At a post-concert reception the conductor told of plans for a May, 2016 concert, and the expectation of subsequently four concerts per season. That is a pleasurable prospect for North Bay music lovers.