THREE SONG CYCLES HIGHLIGHT VIBRANT SLV RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks-Gailey
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
An ambitious recital of vocal and piano music was presented May 8 at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The duo engaged the enthusiastic audience with scholarly friendliness and artistry in performances of Beethoven's short cycle of six song...
ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 05, 2019
An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony c...
MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON CLOSES WITH AUTUMNAL ELGAR AND THEATRICAL BEETHOVEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Mozart’s enchanting Overture to his opera The Magic Flute, a miniature tapestry of gems from the 1791 work, opened the Marin Symphony’s final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Under conductor Alasdair Neale, the playing of the sprightly seven-minute piece by a reduced-size classical ensemble sparkled...
SHAHAM-EGUCHI DUO'S EXCITING MUSICAL GENEROSITY IN WEILL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, April 26, 2019
Violinist Gil Shaham may be the most modest virtuoso on the concert stage today, and it is the great music he most wishes to put forward, never himself. Generosity, a quality he is known for, was abundantly clear in Weill Hall April 26 when he performed, with pianist Akira Eguchi, a generous program...
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport.
Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater.
Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
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.