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Symphony
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...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Symphony
ORFF AND HINDEMITH SONIC SPLENDOR AT FINAL SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts are continually artistically successful but on the Santa Rosa High School’s stage the orchestra rarely numbers above 40, and in the 900-seat hall audiences can be scant. Violinists can be in short supply. An opposite scene occurred at the March 17/18 concert set...
Symphony
A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for t...
Symphony
MONUMENTAL NIELSEN SYMPHONY CAPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT AT SR HS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Turning again away from conventional repertoire, the Sonoma County Philharmonic programmed Jan. 27 three works in what were local debut performances in Santa Rosa High School’s Performing Arts Center. Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, Op. 29, called “Inextinguishable,” closed the program with an extravaga...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, October 15, 2016
Philharmonic Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan, conductor. Robert Levin, piano

Robert Levin (left) and Nicholas McGegan in Weill Hall Oct. 15

BAROQUE NO MORE IN STIRRING BEETOVEN CONCERT IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 15, 2016

Seasoned listeners for Beethoven’s symphonies and concertos know that interpretations can follow contemporary fashion, from the heroic and sonorous grand manner readings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the architectural approach after WW II, and even conductor Roger Norrington’s recent sleek and fast renderings.

In Weill Hall on Oct. 15, conductor Nicholas McGegan fashioned persuasive readings of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony and third Piano Concerto with his Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, an ensemble sharply reduced in size (30 musicians) from convention, and with soloist Robert Levin using an 1820-era fortepiano rather than the hall’s usual concert grand.

The Op. 37 C Minor Concerto occupied the entire first half and Mr. Levin’s performance captured the energy inherent in the composition that, unlike the composer’s later two piano concertos, never quite breaks out. Following the long orchestral introduction with fine clarinet (Bryan Conger) and flute (Janet See) playing, the piano’s reduced sound sparkled in fast runs but sporadically was lost in the sonic fabric. In comments to the audience Mr. Levin said he would discard Beethoven’s much-loved first-movement cadenza and would improvise one, as well as similar but shorter cadenzas in the second and third movements.

This he did artistically and as well he played through tuttis, something never seen (or heard, as the piano’s sound here was almost mute) in Weill. A soloist playing inside the orchestra fabric (Golden Age pianists like Hofmann and Busoni did this in movement-ending tuttis) is simply not done now, but with the fortepiano’s reduced resonance it made little difference. Mr. Levin played without pedal in the exposition and used little thereafter, highlighting left-hand sforzandos and arpeggiating chords that were not so indicated in the score but were deliciously effective. Mr. McGegan set a judicious tempo throughout.

Unexpected pianistic improvisations with lots of pedal continued in the entrancing Largo, only to be interrupted by a stuck key in the piano action, and while Mr. Levin provided witty remarks the Orchestra’s on-site technician fixed the mechanism and the movement started over. Featured here were snazzy rhythms and fast descending runs on top of the keys where the composer indicates an entire theme while depressing the pedal, and a distantly related key of E Major. Exquisite.

In the concluding Rondo there were more savory surprises with sharply etched dissonant seconds and new turns and agogics. Often the conductor looked at length over his shoulder at Mr. Levin, waiting for the extemporizing to end and to cue the orchestra to enter. It was a visual and sonic treat, and playing loyal in every way to Beethoven’s intentions. The last cadenza was gay and even coquettish, and again Mr. Conger’s clarinet solos were superb.

Following intermission the F Major “Pastoral” Symphony was played, Beethoven’s only symphony with a set literary program. However bucolic, Mr. McGegan’s tempos were hardly pastoral and he charged quickly ahead with little attention to ritards or spaces between long phrases. But make no mistake, the conductor was a master of small details in this extraordinary music and drew from the Orchestra playing of distinct articulation and luminous sound. The winds were captivating, especially oboist Marc Schachman and bassoonist Andrew Schwartz. Less impressive were wrong notes from the valveless horns, and often in runs they were unable to match tempo.

In the Andante, Mr. McGegan adroitly brought out the bird call flourishes that for me were mixtures of mockingbirds and thrushes, and the trading of wind phrases (Lars Johannesson’s piccolo, Mindy Rosenfeld’s flute, Mr. Conger’s clarinet) were always exemplary. In the Allegro third and fourth movements Mr. McGegan summoned dramatic contrasts and moved convincingly between agitated and slightly raw dances (“Merry Gathering”) to a musical thunderstorm of palpable ferocity. Weill’s orchestra clarity was in evidence, as was Kent Reed's timpani playing.

The final Allegretto was transitional and transparent with the dignified main theme played resplendently by the violins over a pizzicato line in bass and cello. It sounded strangely “modern,” certainly a tribute to the composer’s amazing skill at variation and creativity, and Mr. McGegan’s strict tempos and deft control.

It was a performance of clarity and vigor, and for the audience of 500 seated solely in the Hall’s orchestra section there was no reason to regret the absence of a numerically larger ensemble.

To the standing ovation no encore was offered.