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...
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 ...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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.