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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, April 12, 2008
Bruno Ferrandis, conducting
Christopher O'Riley, piano

Christopher O'Riley

SONIC TATTOOS

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, April 12, 2008

In newspaper ads touting his appearances with the Santa Rosa Symphony, Christopher O'Riley wore a black T-shirt, the better to show off a massive henna tattoo running the length of his arm, right down to the ends of his fingers. In his April 12 concert, the tattoo was no longer in evidence, but he did manage to tattoo the symphony's resident Steinway with some of the richest sounds to emerge from that instrument in a long time.

Clad in a knee-length black coat, O'Riley got right to work on Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece the Santa Rosa Symphony had never performed in its 80-year history. In a preconcert conversation with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, O'Riley opined that the concerto ' Bart'k's last completed work ' evokes the sonic landscape of New York City in the 1940s, in distinct contrast to the rural folk inspirations of his other concertos.

O'Riley's playing was consistent with this interpretation. He began with emphatically disconnected notes, a collision of sounds without any apparent unity that sounded like the jarring street noises of Manhattan. Within a few measures, however, he smoothed out the edges and began playing with a seemingly effortless legato. He maintained this level of contrast throughout the concerto, altering his tone and attack in keeping with the music and the orchestra's exertions.

Cooperative Soloist

It is rare to see a soloist pay such careful attention to the conductor. O'Riley kept his eyes glued on Ferrandis and his expressive left arm during the constant rhythmic challenges of the first movement, meshing in perfect tempo and volume with the orchestra. Instead of 'piano versus orchestra,' the performance was a fused creation, an orchestriano.

The intensity of the first movement was matched by the serenity of the second. The performers not only kept the adagio pace without flagging, but they also fully invested the movement with the feeling of the second part of its tempo marking: 'religioso.' Despite barely moving his upper torso, O'Riley managed to get an enormous amount of sound out of the piano, intoning a series of resonant chords.

The allegro vivace last movement started a bit meekly but then caught fire after a muted section in the strings. O'Riley still didn't move much, but he seemed to be talking to himself, perhaps mouthing the intricate beats emanating from the podium. The run-up to the end was absolutely thrilling, with O'Riley sprinting from one end of the keyboard to the other, and Ferrandis jumping in the air. The standing ovation was immediate and sustained.

Ferrandis warmed up the audience with Jan''ek's overture to his opera From the House of the Dead, also a last work. Like the Bart'k concerto, Jan''ek's overture is suffused with rhythmic complexity. The orchestra followed Ferrandis' steady baton to a person, with nary a player out of step. Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg played the solo passages beautifully, joining his stand partner, Erin Benim, for some equally effective duets.

Acoustic Challenges

The only problem with the Jancek was the deadening acoustic of the Wells Fargo Center. Passages that should have rung out simply died somewhere between the low ceiling and the carpet. Audiences can only hope that the new Green Music Center ' still one or two years away ' will solve this nagging problem.

In the second half of the program, the familiar melodies and driving rhythms of Brahms' Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, put merely acoustic considerations aside. Ferrandis launched into the symphony with vigor, rotating his arms like pistons and fully extending his lengthy fingers. He conducted from a miniature score, which seemed to function strictly as a memory aid; he rarely consulted it, other than to turn pages.

As always, Ferrandis' podium antics were a joy to watch. He was in constant motion, using every square inch of the podium's surface, moving forward and back, side to side, and even leaning dangerously backward against the protective rail. He is a two-fisted conductor, conveying as much with the digits in his left hand as with the baton in his right. He has an angular fluidity that commands respect.

Brahms' first symphony is more than familiar, but I never grow tired of it. Of the many beautiful moments, the oboe, clarinet, and violin solos in the middle movements stood out, as did the pizzicato section at the beginning of the last. The energy in this final movement was particularly well-sustained, beginning with the pizzicato, moving through the brass-and-timpani fanfare, the melodic interplay of the woodwinds, the majestic closing theme, and then the headlong rush to the triumphant final chords. When it was over, Ferrandis had to mop his brow before turning to face the audience, which was once again on its feet.