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Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 07, 2016
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Gabriela Martinez, piano

Pianist Gabriela Martinez

A SOUND TO BEHOLD

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 07, 2016

Concert titles are rarely specific, but the one for the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, “Jazzy Impressions,” is as literal as they get. The first half consisted of two American pieces influenced by jazz, and the second of two French works in the impressionist style.

Pairing two similar pieces in a concert is risky, because one inevitably suffers in comparison with the other. In this case, Gershwin’s piano concerto easily trumped Bernstein’s dance music from “On the Town,” and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” edged out Debussy’s “Ibéria.”

The main reason for Gershwin’s success is the piano part, which was brilliantly played by the Venezuelan Gabriela Martinez. Eschewing flash and glitz, she sat upright at the piano, playing with confidence and poise rather than excessive drama. Her arms were as elegant as a ballerina’s, and she consistently raised one or both in the air at the end of phrases and difficult passages, sometimes even bringing them behind her back.

Martinez’s articulations were precise, with nary a missed note, and her projection was admirable. No amount of projection, however, could overcome the orchestra, which often played too loudly, particularly in the first movement. Something is not right when the pianist is playing all out but can’t be heard above her accompaniment.

Gershwin’s music in the concerto is at times inspired, but it often drifts aimlessly, as in the second movement, where the many orchestral solos leave the pianist sitting mute for dozens of measures at a time. The high point, for both Gershwin and the players, comes in the third movement, with its fiery beginning and meaty lines. Martinez finally had something to sink her teeth into, and she performed flawlessly. Her accented syncopations were superb, and she gave the movement a dramatic arch that was sustained until the last measure.

The opening Bernstein dances were well played, with standout solos by Doug Morton (trumpet), Roy Zajac (clarinet) and Mark Wardlaw (alto sax). Originally intended for a Broadway pit orchestra, the music suffers from the transition to a concert hall. It’s incongruous to see a tuxedoed percussionist playing off a score while seated at a jazz/rock drum set in the middle of the orchestra. Just because it sounds good on Broadway doesn’t mean it’s ready for Carnegie Hall.

The Debussy and Ravel pieces in the second half were not only cast from the same impressionist mold, they also tackled the same subject: Spain. The pairing led to a certain amount of department of redundancy department experience, with a faintly academic tinge. Nonetheless, there was enough difference to sustain interest.

Debussy’s “Iberia” might be more properly titled “Debusseria,” for all the resemblance it bears to Spain. Debussy spent only one afternoon of his life in Spain--and that at a bullfight--so the piece is more his imagination of what Spain sounds like than the actually reality of Spain.

Regardless of the music’s program, the result is pure Debussy, with a constant subsurface tension that spills over at dramatic moments. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis used liquescent gestures to coax forth the dreamy sound, creating an atmosphere of mystery. Most haunting were the bells in the “Spanish night” movement. The tension kept building through the next, “Spanish festival,” until a triumphant arrival in the final bars. The playing was impeccable.

Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” was truer to Spain and more daring in its structures. The descending four-note half-scales at the beginning of the opening movement (Prelude to the night) set the stage for extended flights of musical fancy. As in Debussy, the atmosphere is always expectant, always about to explode. Ferrandis heightened this tension with carefully controlled dynamics, by turns hushing the orchestra and letting it loose.

The dances of the middle movements (Malagueña and Habanera) were played with a strong feeling for the syncopations and the rhythmic sway. The fireworks came in the last movement, thanks to Ravel’s magnificent orchestration and fine playing from every corner of the orchestra. Each layer of notes was audible in Weill Hall’s wonderful acoustics, and the tremendous crescendo at the end was a sound to behold.