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STUNNING LINCOLN CENTER CONCERT LAUNCHES FIFTH WEILL SEASON
by Philip Beard
Saturday, October 01, 2016
Happy times in a packed Weill Hall Oct. 1: The insouciant, irrepressible, immensely talented trumpeter / bandleader Wynton Marsalis and his powerful, polished Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra opened Weill’s fifth season with a superb program of jazz classics and classics-to-be that set a high bar for t...
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LATE BEETHOVEN EXPLORED AT MMF CONCERT IN PRESTON HALL
by Paula Mulligan
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The Mendocino Music Festival performance in Preston Hall July 22 was titled “Late Beethoven,” and was the final presentation in the tribute to the composer that was part of this year’s Festival.  Pianist Susan Waterfall has been giving a series of lecture dealing with Beethoven’s life and music, and...
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ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL'S BIG TENT
by Kayleen Asbo
Sunday, July 10, 2016
The Mendocino Music Festival is highlighting Beethoven this summer, and July 10’s program in the tent could have appropriately borrowed the subtitle from Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography of the composer, Anguish and Triumph. The Festival’s second classical concert paired two Beethoven works wit...
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ARCANE ARENSKY TRIO HIGHLIGHTS NAVARRO'S SEASON OPENING CONCERT IN SCHROEDER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 04, 2015
One would have thought that the glitz surrounding Lang Lang’s 101 Pianists Foundation program Oct. 4 in Weill would have upstaged chamber music at the same time in nearby Schroeder Hall. Not to worry, as the Trio Navarro continues to perform sometimes-neglected gems from the trio literature with a ...
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TRUMPET ON FIRE
by Philip Beard
Friday, September 11, 2015
Chris Botti’s show at SSU’s Green Music Center Sept. 11 was a real barnburner. The highly acclaimed, much-traveled trumpeter--his group is on the road over 300 days a year, playing always to large audiences--was making his second appearance at Weill Hall and Lawn, two years after his sold-out first ...
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GRAND GESTURES IN VIEAUX'S WEILL HALL GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Friday, October 18, 2013
Weill Hall is an imposing building situated on the Sonoma State campus, and still has that “new car smell” about it. I was looking forward to hearing guitarist Jason Vieaux’s performance October 18, not only to hear the artist but to experience the acoustics of the hall about which I have been heari...
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BOTTI'S BAND TRUMPETS HIGH-WIRE DERRING DO IN SUMMER-ENDING WEILL CONCERT
by Philip Beard
Sunday, August 25, 2013
No question about it: Weill Hall was the happening place to be on Aug. 25 with trumpeter Chris Botti and his entourage delivering two and a half hours of jazzy, rocky, funky, high-wire derring-do to an audience that loved every minute of it. Almost. The performance was stunning both figuratively an...
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LATE WINTER TURNS TO SPRING IN CREATIVE ARTS SERIES CONCERT
by Michael J. Mello
Sunday, February 24, 2013
A concert of Renaissance and Celtic songs for voice, lute and recorder was presented by soprano and lutenist Doris Williams with the assistance of recorder virtuoso Claudia Liliana Gantivar and mandolinist Mike Bell. The Feb. 24 event in Santa Rosa’s Resurrection Parish Church was part of the Creat...
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MESSIAEN PIANO PRELUDES HIGHLIGHT SMITH RECITAL IN SANTA ROSA
by Beth Zucchino
Sunday, January 27, 2013
Marin Pianist Jean Alexis Smith played a stunning recital Jan. 27 in the first 2013 concert for the Creative Arts Series. In remarks to the Resurrection Parish audience, the pianist explained that although her program has a range of styles from Baroque to Contemporary, all the composers involved wr...
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TANAKA PLAYS AUTHORATIVE MOZART IN CREATIVE ARTS SERIES FORTEPIANO RECITAL
by Richard Wayland
Sunday, April 29, 2012
A pleasant surprise greeted me April 29 when I attended a fortepiano recital at Resurrection Parish in Santa Rosa. The venue was simple, modern, beautiful, and seating was comfortable. The décor reminded me of Pi, a Parisian artist of the fifties. The performer for the season’s final Creative A...
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Mendocino Music Festival / Sunday, July 10, 2016
Festival Orchestra, Alan Pollack, conductor. Stephan Prutsman, piano.

Pianist Stephan Prutsman

ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH IN MENDOCINO FESTIVAL'S BIG TENT

by Kayleen Asbo
Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Mendocino Music Festival is highlighting Beethoven this summer, and July 10’s program in the tent could have appropriately borrowed the subtitle from Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography of the composer, Anguish and Triumph.

The Festival’s second classical concert paired two Beethoven works with Tchaikovsky’s brooding Fifth Symphony in E Minor, Op. 64. It was an apt pairing, showing both sides of the two mercurial composers, each of whom were both plagued by acute despair, struggled through enormous life challenges, and used music autobiographically to wrestle with their demons and chart a course towards renewed hope and confidence.

The program had a rousing start with the jubilant finale of Beethoven’s A Major (Seventh) Symphony, Op.92. Written at the apotheosis of his fame and fortune, this symphony was during Beethoven’s lifetime one of the most celebrated and cherished of his compositions, with movements frequently repeated in performance, excerpted to stand alone, and even inserted into other symphonies. The brisk tempo and passionate, climactic crescendo (supported ably by the stirring tympani) set the tone for the concert: this would be an evening of bold gestures and dramatic contrasts.

Pianist Stephen Prutsman then performed the Beethoven Third Concerto, Op. 37, to exuberant applause. Clearly well beloved by the Festival audience, his affable smile showed him to be confident and at ease in approaching this pivotal work. Written in Beethoven’s “fate” key of c minor (the same key of his iconic Fifth Symphony), the dark and ominous opening was crisply articulated by the strings before the theme was boldly proclaimed in brass. Mr. Prutsman’s initial pianistic entrance stressed the heroic aspect of the composer’s musical personality before giving way to gossamer trills and delicate arpeggios. The alternating “velvet and steel” approach was particularly effective in the developmental section as a rising wind began to whip around the performance tent, adding outside drama. If technically there were some moments of stumbling in the challenging cadenza, there were also moments of great beauty, as when Mr. Prutsman lavished deep tenderness on the gorgeous second theme.

Though orchestra and soloist needed more communion and perhaps eye contact in order to be in sync with one another at the end of the pianistic runs, the conclusion of the cadenza brought them together. Beginning sotto voce they rose in urgent unison to deliver a stirring and effective climax.

As in the previous day’s concert of Bach, the most sublime moment of the versatile Mr. Prutsman’s performance was damaged by noise beyond his control. The opening of the pensive Largo was a soulful model of exquisite gentleness. Stretching the outer reaches of the score’s slow tempo and pianissimo markings, Mr. Prutsman poured his soul into the opening melodies. Tragically, the coughing, rustling and talking of the audience, combined with the mounting stirring of the wind rattling the tent, meant that some of the most delicate and inward moments that followed were simply inaudible. What was clear was the ethereal and shimmering Arpeggios of the middle section as a floating melody was passed lovingly back and forth between flutist Mindy Rosenfeld and bassoonist Carolyn Lockhart with grace and loveliness. The movement was brought to a serene close with almost hymn-like solemnity.

The playing in the concluding good-natured Rondo offered a peasant-like contrast to the tender fragility of the second movement. Mr. Prutsman showed the giocoso side of his pianistic personality with athletic energy, good humor and almost comedic dynamic contrasts. The finest ensemble playing of the Concerto occurred in the virtuosic finale, showing how capable Mr. Prutsman can be with sparkling passagework as the driving momentum of the coda brought the delighted audience cheering to their feet.

After intermission the Festival Orchestra took on the challenge of Tchaikovsky’s mighty Fifth. This piece was written in 1888 during a period of mid-life despair, and could be titled “Though the Dark Woods”. The repeated use of a “fate” motif is one of Tchaikovsky’s links with Beethoven. The persistent “march of doom” is re-iterated over and over, swelling and transforming to a harrowing and brilliant fanfare of brass and tympani before returning once again to darkness and obscurity. The orchestra achieved a beautiful tonal balance throughout, at times haunting, at other times blazing with power and passion. Once again bassoonist Ms. Lockhart stood out for her expressive playing.

The second movement begins with one of the most poignant horn soloes in all of the orchestral literature. The frequent swelling crescendos and unresolved harmonic sequences, a hallmark of the composer, were awash in swooning Romanticism.

The third movement (Scherzo, Pizzicato Ostinato) requires lightening orchestral quickness and exact precision in instrumental sections. Beginning as a graceful waltz, the scurrying passagework is played pianissimo in the strings and had echoes that are reminiscent of the lyric sweep that characterizes the composer’s Ballet “Sleeping Beauty” from 1890.

The finale transforms the “fate” motif almost violently into a major key. Here conductor Allan Pollack drew a shimmering sonority from the orchestra, building an accelerated momentum with playing that had intense energy and commitment. Rapid tempo changes were exact and the Symphony ended in a blaze of glory.

It has been twenty years since I last heard the Festival Orchestra, and it’s playing now is far more professional. Mr. Pollack was visibly pleased with the Festival Orchestra performance, beaming at the players between movements, and the ecstatic “bravos” from the audience were boisterous amidst the second standing ovation of the night.