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Chamber
SCHUBERT "MIT SCHLAG" AT VOM FESTIVAL MORNING CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
The spirit of 19th century Vienna was present July 29 on the final day of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival in the second half of July glittered with innovative programming and the new, old sound of original instruments played by musicians who love music with historic instruments. ...
Chamber
PASSIONATE BRAHMS-SCHOENBERG MUSIC CLOSES VOM FESTIVAL SUMMER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 29, 2018
An extraordinary program of chamber music by Brahms and Schoenberg attracted a capacity crowd to the Valley of the Moon Music Festival’s final concert July 29th in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. It opened with a richly expressive reading by Festival Laureate violinist Rachell Wong and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur...
Chamber
PRAGUE AND VIENNA PALACE GEMS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 28, 2018
The remarkable Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented a concert called “Kinsky Palace” July 28 on their final Festival weekend in Sonoma’s Hanna Center. Two well-known treasures and one lesser gem were programmed. Starting the afternoon offerings were violinist Monica Huggett and Fest...
Chamber
INNOVATIVE CHAMBER WORKS IN HANNA CENTER CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Sunday, July 22, 2018
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival presented a July 22 concert featuring three giants: Haydn, Schubert and Schumann, composers who altered music of their time with creative innovations and artistic vision. In the fourth season the Festival’s theme this year is “Vienna in Transition”, and VOM Fes...
Chamber
VIENNA INSPIRATION FOR VOM FESTIVAL PROGRAM AT HANNA CENTER
by Nicki Bell
Saturday, July 21, 2018
A music-loving audience filled Sonoma’s Hanna Center Auditorium July 21 to begin a record weekend of three concerts, produced by the Valley of the Moon Music Festival. The Festival’s theme this summer is “Venice in Transition – From the Enlightenment to the Dawn of Modernism” Prior to Saturday’s m...
Chamber
VANHAL QUARTET AT VOM FESTIVAL DISCOVERY AT HANNA CENTER
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, July 15, 2018
A near-capacity crowd of 220 filled the Sonoma Hanna Boys Center Auditorium July 15 for the opening concert of the fourth Valley of the Moon Music Festival. This Festival presents gems of the Classical and early Romantic periods performed on instruments of the composer’s era, which presents a few ch...
Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
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...
Chamber
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...
OTHER REVIEW
Jazz at Lincoln Center / Saturday, October 01, 2016
Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. Wynton Marsalis, trumpet

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.