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Symphony
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...
Recital
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 ...
Chamber
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 itís 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 Handelís seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if itís the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
Opera
PURCELL'S DIDO IN YOUTHFUL SSU OPERA
by Abby Wasserman
Wednesday, December 05, 2018
A doomed royal love affair, the theme of Purcellís Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the schoolís Schroeder Hall. Conducted by faculty member Zachary Gordin, who also played continuo, the performance was only the second opera production presented by the...
Symphony
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 Rossiniís ďWilliam TellĒ overture, at which point even the dull-wi...
Symphony
A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018
The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonicís 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...
Recital
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...
Recital
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...
Chamber
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...
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.