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Choral and Vocal
SOMBER GERMAN POETRY IN SONG AT ROSCHMANN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Two weeks does make a hefty difference. Feb. 3 saw the diva Renée Fleming beguile a full Weill Hall house in a mix of Brahms, Broadway show songs and Dvorak chestnuts. It was a gala event with couture gowns and colorful extra-musical communication between singer and her rapt audience. Dorothea Rösc...
Chamber
NOVEL AND FAMILIAR WORKS FROM THE TILDEN TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 11, 2018
North Coast chamber music fans have the luxury of two fine resident piano trios, with the frequently performing Trio Navarro at Sonoma State, and the Tilden Trio at San Rafael’s Dominican University. The Tilden plays less often, but their Feb. 11 performance brought several hundred to Angelico Hall ...
Symphony
A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for t...
Recital
HAUNTING RACHMANINOFF WORKS IN HU'S MAO RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 08, 2018
Ching-Yun Hu made a return Music at Oakmont appearance Feb. 8 in Berger Auditorium, reprising a recital she made in the same hall four years ago. Many of the recital’s trappings were the same, but the music Ms. Hu chose to play was decidedly different. All afternoon the pianist was in an aggressiv...
Chamber
A COMPLETE ARTISTIC PACKAGE IN FLEMING'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Vaida Falconbridge and Mary Beard
Saturday, February 03, 2018
The diva Renée Fleming strode on the Weill Hall stage Feb. 2 in her first couture gown of the evening, a gray and swirling cream strapless sheath with flamboyant coordinating stole. For this concert, Ms. Fleming stayed to somewhat lighter fare, foregoing heavier dramatic and coloratura arias for a v...
Recital
ZNAIDER-KULEK DUO CHARMS AND CHALLANGES WEILL AUDIENCE FEB. 2
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 02, 2018
Weill hall has mounted several exceptional piano recitals, with Garrick Ohlsson’s titanic Liszt concert, and of course Lang Lang’s two insouciant but also compelling performances topping the list since 2013. But arguably the virtuoso violinists have on balance been more impressive, and thoughts g...
Chamber
VIVID GERMAN ROMANTICISM IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Though not new to Sonoma County, the Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) concerts are relatively recent in the Green Music Center’s Schroeder Hall. So the first of three spring concerts Jan. 27 provided a picture of what’s in the repertoire leading up to their Festival this summer at Sonoma’s Ha...
Symphony
MONUMENTAL NIELSEN SYMPHONY CAPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT AT SR HS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Turning again away from conventional repertoire, the Sonoma County Philharmonic programmed Jan. 27 three works in what were local debut performances in Santa Rosa High School’s Performing Arts Center. Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, Op. 29, called “Inextinguishable,” closed the program with an extravaga...
Chamber
ECLECTIC ANDERSON & ROE TRANSCRIPTIONS CAPTIVATE WEILL HALL AUDIENCE
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, January 21, 2018
From the first moment when Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe walked Jan. 21 on the Weill Hall stage and spoke to the audience about their two-piano program, it was clear that an afternoon of drama, humor, virtuosity, warmth, transcendence and excitement was in store. This dynamic and mesmerizing ...
Chamber
BALCOM TRIO HIGHLIGHTS DELPHI'S RAC CONCERT IN OCCIDENTAL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, January 20, 2018
The Redwood Arts Council audience first met the Delphi Trio (Jeffrey LaDeur, (piano), Liana Berube (violin), and cellist Michelle Kwon) in 2013, and subsequent concerts in the same Occidental hall have become crowd favorites. The January 20th program before a capacity audience seemed to have enthus...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Saturday, July 09, 2016
Geoff Nuttall, violin; Stephan Prutsman, piano.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall

BACHANALIAN BEGINNING AT MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL

by Kayleen Asbo
Saturday, July 09, 2016

In ancient Greece there were two gods of music, representing two different musical principles. Apollo, God of the Sun, was associated with intellectual clarity, and his was a kind of music that focused on order, balance, refinement and mathematical precision. Dionysus (known to the Romans of a later age as Bacchus) the god of Drama and Drinking, was connected to music of searing emotional intensity: ecstatically joyful or tragic; blisteringly raw or comedic. Apollonian music is savored with the mind, which appreciates its formal constructs and subtle nuances. Dionysian music, on the other hand, affects the whole body: tears leak from eyes and feet begin tapping of their own accord in delight.

The best composers are a blend of both Apollo and Dionysus, with head and heart in perfect harmony. Bach, Beethoven and Brahms in part have become the pillars of the pantheon of classical musical because they embody both polarities in polyphonic perfection.

Too often musicians perform Bach as if he were all Apollonian intellect. Perhaps persuaded by the Haussmann portrait of 1742 where Bach looks like a dry, stiff and stern schoolmaster, they interpret his music as if it were only a brilliant academic exercise, playing from the wrists down and neck up. In truth, there has seldom existed a more passionate human being, and Bach was a man who outlived his first wife and buried ten of his twenty children. Grief was an omnipresent companion during his years, but Bach never lost the capacity to love, to laugh and to dance. Exuberant Bach family reunions consisted of singing four part chorales, dancing up a storm and sharing puns and jokes.

Violinist Geoff Nuttall and pianist Stephen Prutsman viscerally conveyed Bach’s sense of humor and vitality at the Mendocino Music Festival’s opening chamber music event July 9 in the big Festival tent in Mendocino. It was an ambitious concert that provided the rare opportunity to hear the entire collection of the Six Sonatas for Clavier and Violin, unduly neglected works that provide an encyclopedia of emotion. In their best moments, the artists captured the soul-searing tenderness of the arioso-like slow movements and brought a vigorous, infectious energy and joie de vivre to the intricacies of the technically demanding fugues.

The B minor sonata offered an intimate invitation to enter into a lament, almost as if the audience were overhearing a soliloquy. Mr. Prutsman’s understated use of the damper pedal (a most appropriate choice in translating the score from harpsichord to a modern instrument) helped establish a long legato line in the poignant descending repeated chords before the first sustained solitary and keening tone emerged from the violin and the instruments spun out the elegant and elegiac melody.

The dramatic shift between this opening dirge and the succeeding movement could not have been more dramatic. Throwing himself bodily into the Allegro Mr. Nuttall literally pounced on the downbeats and continued to dance his way through the buoyant rhythms to follow. At times this Dionysian approach sacrificed precision, control and intonation for physical intensity and comedy.

Following the infectious rendition of the fourth movement, where the duo admirably handled the rapid-fire passagework, it became clear why Mr. Nuttall is called the “The Jon Stewart of the Violin”. The artist wittily addressed the audience from the stage about Bach, offering insights into the succeeding works that were both comedic and insightful and captivated the near capacity crowd. For example, he offered a preview of the climactic section of the A Major sonata, demonstrating the difference between how it is written on the page (as a single chord accompanied with the word arpeggione) and how it is to be translated into performance, describing it as the violin’s “bluegrass moment”. He let it be known that he could not keep from dancing during this movement and invited the audience to jump into the aisles to join him.

It was tempting to take him up on his offer, and even the two pre-teenagers sitting in front of me were able to grasp and appreciate the unbridled exuberance of this performance, bursting into grins, and sitting on the edge of their seats as Mr. Nuttall threw himself with Dionysian abandon into the most difficult passagework.

Performing in a large tent yields many challenges, and finding the right balance between parts without adequate feedback from the stage is one. More disturbing were the interruptions that plagued the emotional epicenter of the program. The performers had prepared the audience to receive the tenderness of the Adagio ma non tanto of the E Major Sonata by deconstructing its parts. A third of the way into what promised to be the highlight of the day a percussive cell phone went off and thirty seconds later sirens from the nearby fire department blared, and towards the end of this exquisite playing they sounded again. Stalwart, the performers continued with unabated concentration, but it was painfully frustrating. I was reminded of T.S Eliot’s lines: Humankind cannot bear too much reality. The stark beauty of the naked spiritual vulnerability of the their oblation could only be perceived dimly through the veil of worldly cacophony. How I longed for the performers to repeat this work as an encore.

The recital’s second half offered many moments of delight: the C Minor sonata blossomed with an elegance and suppleness in the slow movements and the fourth movement ‘s polyphonic writing was treated with a much-appreciated lightness and grace in the piano (a quality I had longed for during much of the program). The fifth sonata’s Largo found the delicate balance between direct emotional expression and intellectual clarity and restraint, and the first movement of the final sonata had the audience tapping their toes once again.

We live in an age that seems almost pathologically afraid of silence. Much more silence was needed during this concert, not just listener silence or a reprieve from the occasional motorcycles rumbling outside the tent, but also more silence within the concert itself, before, during and after each sonata. Mozart said the most important part of the music was the silence, and taking the time to allow each movement to echo before immediately plunging into the next notes allows the audience to truly savor the sonic richness they have experienced. Quite often final notes in this performance were cut short to make a dashing and dramatic visual effects or to hurry to the next movement.

Perhaps the duo was afraid the audience could not tolerate such silence, and Mr. Nuttall quipped after intermission, “Wow, look how many of you stayed! I had a nightmare that this concert would be like the Haydn Farewell Symphony, with only two of us left on stage at the end”. He should not have feared, as the dynamism and engagement of the duo’s approach was palpable, and had immediate appeal to an audience. A woman next to me said as the standing ovation continued, “I was so surprised! I didn’t know that Bach could be so much fun!”

We live in a time where there is a need to create more passionate and informed listeners, and Messrs Nuttall and Prutsman did just that. Can you find more refined, elegant and delicate interpretations of these masterworks? Yes, Frank Peter Zimmerman, for one. However, I don’t know of any other performers who would have engaged, entertained and educated an audience so brilliantly. It was a triumph in that the duo succeeded in converting skeptical listeners to the concept that fugues can be fun, and that for sheer unbridled exuberance, Bach can be better than bluegrass.