SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis
in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns.
Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100.
The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music. Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed.
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season.
In a programmin...
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis
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 the season’s upcoming concerts.
The evening was important also for some reasons only indirectly related to the music itself, as the new University President Judy Sakaki, in surely what was herlargest public appearance to date, welcomed and acknowledged the Orchestra and several luminaries directly involved in Weill Hall’s emergence as a North Bay cultural mecca. Conspicuously absent from the audience and the printed program were Ms. Sakaki’s immediate predecessor, Ruben Armiñana, and his administrative VP/CFO Larry Schlereth. Green Music Center executive Zarin Mehta was present. Ms. Sakaki received a loud ovation both before and after her measured remarks, which may have come as encouragement for her in light of the announcement two days earlier that the MasterCard pavilion project (championed by Sanford Weill, also present) was being discontinued.
The Band launched into their unannounced opening number with Mr. Marsalis’ stage-front improvised chorus on “What Is This Thing Called Love” preceding the ensemble statement of the Ellington/Strayhorn favorite “Take the A Train”. Mr. Marsalis’ lively, high-reaching solo, replete with trumpet tricks (glisses, “doits”, half-valved fingerings) didn’t give any clue of the switcheroo to follow. Surprise! It was cool to hear the main tune emerging from an improvisation on a different one. The first A-Train solo per se went to another trumpet section member, Marcus Printup, who delivered a bigger, brassier, full-throated interpretation that contrasted refreshingly with the subtler Marsalis opener. Ms. Printup’s rich sound filled the hall and then some, but its more conventional prowess made me appreciate Ms. Marsalis’ tongue-in-eheeky subtleties all the more.
Speaking of full volume: I had been half expecting a cabaret-configuration stage setup with attendant over-amping, as has become the unfortunate norm for Weill concerts of the pop persuasion. Imagine my delight at seeing the conventional open stage, no huge drapes hanging down, the “choir loft” section of seats behind the orchestra not only visible but full of people – and with only the requisite big-band solo mikes in evidence, meaning that we were treated to the kind of acoustical performance the hall was designed for. Whether this choice stemmed from a new attitude on the part of the managers or just reflected Lincoln Center standard practice, I can’t say, but the contrast with the bellowing loudspeakers and cheesy light effects of recent experience was richly appreciated.
The musical program leaned heavily on compositions and arrangements by Lincoln Center Band members themselves, 11 of whom not only perform the group’s repertoire, but help create it. For me the most intriguing such number, composed by saxophonist Ted Nash, was a paean to South Africa’s iconic president Nelson Mandela, consisting of a salsa-style musical backdrop for excerpts from Mandela’s inauguration speech of 1994. Trombonist Vincent Gardner was the sole soloist, plus the reciter of Mandela’s words. The miking was a tad mushy and Mr. Gardner’s imitation of Mandela’s English sometimes difficult to decipher, but the gist came through loud and clear: This number, like the whole Lincoln Jazz “Presidential Suite” that it’s a part of, was about freedom, perseverance, courage, and love. How moving to hear those guiding stars of our collective experience ennobled in a quintessentially American musical idiom.
The evening offered far too many stunning performances for me to detail them all. But a few moments and impressions stand out.
One was the band’s highlighting a couple of compositions by the Duke Ellington, who had been the focus of the kiddie concert earlier in the day. First was the aforementioned “A Train”; second was a riveting alto sax performance of “Isvahan”, from Ellington’s “Far East Suite”, performed by the visually and tonally impressive Sherman Irby. He started with about 15 seconds of bowed-head silence, then introduced an intimate, soulful, sinuous statement that blossomed into a mezzo-forte ensemble bouquet, a background against which Mr. Irby unleashed a bevy of bent notes and bluesy conversational licks, ultimately to return to a mesmerizing pianissimo rendering of the mideast-flavored melody that left the audience dewy-eyed and mute. A quintessentially soulful performance.
Another recurrent high point was the group’s dynamic flexibility, ranging from the softest whisper tones to fulgent fortissimos, undergirded always by the sensitive, supportive beats, crashes, rolls, dings, and skishes of drummer Ali Jackson. It bears repeating: This is the richness that is lost when every instrumental sound is sent through myriad mikes and amps à la rock concert.
An unusual bit of excitement came in Mr. Irby’s arrangement of the lesser-known Thelonious Monk tune “Rhythm-a-Ning”. An upbeat 4/4 chart, it started with a slick drum solo by Mr. Jackson, moved adroitly through its thematic material, then ended with dueling bari and alto sax players first “trading eights” (alternating eight-bar phrases), then fours, then twos, then ones, then – “halves”! I’d never before witnessed this exhilarating variation on the solo-trading convention. Another front-stage solo that left the audience oohing and aahing was soprano saxophonist Victor Goines’ rendition of the Gershwin chestnut “Summertime”. Mr. Goines’ tone resembles that of the storied clarinetist Sydney Bechet, only with a gentler vibrato entirely fitting this group’s polished, genteel persona. His lovely interpretation stayed always within hailing distance of the melody, but stood out for its thrilling rapid passage work that ended with a high note held so long it made you want to cry.
Wynton Marsalis is simply a phenomenal trumpeter, bandleader, storyteller, educator, and cultural ambassador. He spiced the evening repeatedly with tongue-in-cheek asides, stories from jazz history, and engaging didactics, as when he explained at length why we’d see band members laughing with each other mid-chart. Things don’t always go exactly as planned, he pointed out; soloists may get so engrossed in their “blowing” that they choose to go on for a chorus or two longer than the band had practiced, and then the band has to adapt on the fly. And no one’s sure just how the adapting will work out, and that makes things a little tense. So when it works out beautifully, “That’s why we laugh.” The audience loved it.
Saving the best for last, Mr. Marsalis ended this memorable evening with an unforgettable solo, the final of the two encores. Backed by the sax and rhythm sections alone (the brass stayed off stage for the encores), he gave a virtuoso rendering of “hat” technique on a tune I didn’t recognize, playing at various depths and angles into the red-and-white derby “hat” so beloved of 30’s-era big bands, a muting device held in the player’s left hand while he supports the trumpet and works the valves with his right. The subtle tone modulations were delightful.
At a previous live concert and on many recordings I’d heard Mr. Marsalis’ amazingly versatile work with a “plunger”, which works the same two-handed way but produces a more pronounced muffling of the sound when held close to the trumpet bell and an abrupt “wah-wah” effect when moved away. This hat solo, by contrast, was all gentility and nuance, smoothly gliding to shimmering licks in the instrument’s upper reaches, swooping down low as if on a velvet slide, and ending with a fade-out pianissimo that could leave no sentient listener unmoved.
One point of criticism, as given Mr. Marsalis' well-known commitment to civil rights and inclusion, it's jarring that the Lincoln Center Orchestra didn't include a woman musician. But bravo to Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Orchestra! The standard has been set for this emergent fifth-year Weill Hall series.