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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...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 02, 2018
Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, a...
Recital
MTA BENEFIT CONCERT FEATURES FAURE, DVORAK, JANACEK AND BARBER WORKS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 11, 2018
In a splendid concert Nov. 11 the Music Teachers Association of California, Sonoma County Chapter, presented their sixth annual benefit concert before 40 avid listeners in the Santa Rosa home of Helen Howard and Robert Yeats. Highlights of the performances, involving eight musicians in various perf...
Recital
SERKIN'S SINGULAR MOZART AND BACH PLAYING IN WEILL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 09, 2018
Returning to Weill Hall following a fire-related recital cancellation in 2017, pianist Peter Serkin programmed just three works in his Nov. 7 concert, three masterworks that challenged both artist and audience alike. It needs to be said at the outset that Mr. Serkin takes a decidedly non-standard a...
Chamber
LUMINOUS FAURE TOPS LINCOLN TRIO'S SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, November 07, 2018
Familiarity in chamber music often evokes warm appreciation, and it was thus Nov. 7 when the Chicago-based Lincoln Piano Trio made one of their many Sonoma County appearances, this time on the Spring Lake Village Classical Music Series. Regularly presented by local impresario Robert Hayden, the Lin...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Friday, March 25, 2016
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. Kent Nagano, conductor. Daniil Trifonov, piano

Conductor Kent Nagano

CENTURY-OLD MUSIC REMAINS EXPLOSIVE IN EXTRAVAGANT WEILL CONCERT PERFORMANCE

by Nicki Bell
Friday, March 25, 2016

A spectacular performance of Debussy, Prokofiev and Stravinsky with a virtuoso orchestra and a brilliant pianist will long be remembered by the fortunate 1,000 in Weill Hall March 25. The Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal itself is huge, nearly 110 musicians, and it completely filled the stage and risers. The black outlines of two exquisite-looking harps, art nouveau furniture pieces in exotic woods, added a skyline above the violins. Kent Nagano, a precise and elegant conductor, drew a gorgeous and clear sound from the players throughout.

This was a fascinating program, the pieces all avant-garde in their time and still sound relevant today, and were composed roughly a century ago. Debussy’s Jeux opened, followed by Prokofiev’s C Major Concerto (No. 3) with the remarkable young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (Sacre du Printemps) was the expected powerful second half. Both Jeux and Rite were composed for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and premiered within weeks of each other in Paris in 1913.

Jeux depicts a garden at night (the ballet drew on golf, tennis and jazz postures and was not a hit) with short musical themes, one quickly following another, clarinets and harps opening the curtains on the bushes and brambles, light playing on leaves, a bouncing ball. A painting in sound, strokes of color, washes in sound that can trigger the imagination. The woodwinds called forth a playfulness in the music. Exquisite playing.

Prokofiev first started working on this Concerto while still a student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and completed the work in 1921 and performed the solo part in Chicago the same year. A virtuoso pianist, the composer could play the herculean technical challenges he had written as of course Mr. Trifonov did here. The opening notes of clarinet merged with a lyrical and meandering string quality, and then the driving orchestra hijacks everything. These clarinet melodic notes become motovic material for the movement, and when the second theme joins both they were deftly enlarged and shaped by Mr. Nagano.

A theme and variations second movement brings out opposing character in the same musical material, and there is humor here as well as lush lyricism. The ostensibly quiet soloist had an animal character, moving like a cat stroking the keys and then mastering terrifying and crazy double octaves up and down the keyboard with joyful exuberance. He seemed to bounce up and down, his nose inches from the piano keys.

The third movement is a tour de forces with long legato string lines to a hair-raising coda that increased in energy with insistent orchestra rhythms, and the pianist played hand-over-hand until his digits became a blur. The audience of course went wild and the artist returned to the stage to play an outrageous and marvelous transcription of the Johann Strauss Overture to the opera “Die Fledermaus.” Mr. Trifonov is a mesmerizing pianist, part Liszt and part Glenn Gould, and his technique is off the charts, albeit with depth and sensitivity. Still at the beginning of a big career, he is also an upcoming composer.

As though this drama wasn’t sufficient, in the second half Stravinsky’s seminal work still shocks after a century. Inaugurating a new era in music, the performance riot it caused at the Paris opera is legendary. At that debut the audience outrage was so loud and prolonged that the onstage dancers could not hear the orchestra. The frenetic and propulsive score depicts a series of scenes from pagan rituals around the coming of spring, culminating in a chosen maiden dancing to her death. There are Russian folk tunes, incessant driving rhythms and potent syncopation that create a pulsating, throbbing machine of sound.

It was a perfect vehicle for admiring the resplendent Montreal ensemble’s mighty sonority, and under Mr. Nagano’s direction the piece never went off the tracks. It is a signature work for this orchestra, performed constantly for fifty years with many conductors.

The audience kept bringing Mr. Nagano back so often that he responded by leading two encores, the first being Debussy’s “Prelude de l’apres-midi d’un Faune.” It was lovely and seemed to have been waiting in the wings since Jeux. The playing of the solo flutist was captivating, setting the melodic tone as did clarinets in the Prokofiev and bassoons, clarinets and horns in Sacre. Peaceful and lush, it calmed the hall. Finally the concert closed with the delight of Bizet’s Suite No. 1 from the long forgotten stage play “L’Arlesienne.”

It was a stunning musical evening.