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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...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Thursday, July 13, 2017
John Novacek, piano

Pianist John Novacek After Playing Intoxication Rag July 13

NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the second half.

After intermission the Los Angeles-based artist began by choosing two of Shostakovich’s great Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues, the inaugural one from the set of 24 (in C Major) and the monumental D-Flat Major. The Prelude had a beautiful shimmer with bell tones, and heavy pedaling lent an aura of mystery to the drawn-out fugue. In the D Flat the pianist underscored the works sarcasm, and played the complicated fugue in just the right tempo. Mr. Novacek is not a colorist but in the demanding fugue nailed the work’s momentum and excitement.

Excitement continued with Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas, an early Op. 2 work that has been popular since its 1937 composition. The Danzas del Viejo boyero was marked by agile playing of thirds, with the right hand only on the white keys, and the left hand on the black. and the haunting Danza de la moza donosa had an attractive “swing.” In the toccata-like finale (Danza del gaucho matero) the rhythmic accents are forceful, but the sound was too loud and clarity was lost in the driving ending.

Regarding the overall Preston Hall sound, this year the house piano was moved 180 degrees to the south wall, and somehow this seemingly unimportant instrument placement sporadically amplified Mr. Novacek’s fortissimo chords and upset contrapuntal balances and thematic clarity. But the Ginastera can take a lot of noisy playing, and the audience of 125 responded to the ending’s double glissando with a roar of approval.

Three of the artist’s own rags closed the program – Schenectady, 4th Street and Intoxication. Easy virtuosity and many false cadences were heard in the first, and the artist mentioned that he liked the rhythmic sound of the title. Fourth Street featured small trills and subtle accents that were languorous and charming with slow offbeat accents and subtle dissonances. This street felt hot and humid. He played it wonderfully.

The final work was intoxicating indeed, a roller coaster ride of pulsating sound and whole sections of ragtime sound played with the damper pedal down for bars at a time. Of course such a barnburner piece brought down the house. Surprisingly the energetic ovation did not produce an encore.

Nothing in the playing of the first half’s two works, Beethoven’s Op. 10, No. 2 Sonata, and Schumann’s masterful Op. 9 Carnaval, was in any way ordinary. But for me the sum of all the parts didn’t quite equal a consummate whole. The opening allegro of the F Major (1796) was played aggressively with a careful control of staccato chords and sharply etched phrases. Mr. Novacek caught the humor in the first and especially the last movement, the latter mirroring several of Haydn’s Sonatas. Articulation was crisp and the presto movement's tempo had firm control.

In speaking to the audience prior to the Schumann the pianist related the 1835 work’s creation, and then said he would verbally describe each of the 21 sections as the piece unfolded. Presumably most of the Preston audience found the process helpful, but some quietly decried the loss of small inter-piece connections and musical flow. I found the decision it a misstep, but a small one. More important was Mr. Novacek’s conception of this many-faceted composition, and his is a contemporary conception that spotlighted section architecture and histrionics rather than tone color, rhythmic flexibility and inner voices.

Some of the afternoon’s best playing came in the Papillon, Reconnaissance (fast repetitions) and Paganini sections. Paganini was played with a seco touch, and at a slower-than-usual tempo, and was persuasive. He omitted the mysterious Sphinx section, in contrast to the iconic Rachmaninoff and Cortot recordings. Aveu was played with a singing touch with time for a one patient big inner left-hand voice and layered pedaling at the pianissimo accelerando.

As the work drew down to the big descending chords preceeding the March Against the Philistines, Mr. Novacek produced the one convincing romantic retard in the performance, a delight, but then followed with fast and blurred playing in the March that became a tsunami of notes. Well, Rachmaninoff did the same thing, and generated the same result that presumably the artist wanted. It was propulsive but in the end did not sew up a lyrical, balanced and convincing Carnaval.