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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 it’s 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 Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s 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 Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, was brought to lovely life at Sonoma State University Dec. 5 in the school’s 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 Rossini’s “William Tell” 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 Philharmonic’s 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 / Sunday, October 08, 2017
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor. Joyce Yang, piano

Pianist Joyce Yang

CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final decision expected next March.

The conductor for the opening set was Francesco Lecce-Chong, a 30-year-old Colorado native who began his career as a pianist. Currently music director of the Eugene Symphony and associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, he appears poised for lift-off into the classical firmament.

Lecce-Chong strode onto the stage for the Sunday performance clad entirely in black, topped by jet-black hair without even a hint of gray. He immediately brought his youthful enthusiasm to bear on the opening number, “Garages of the Valley,” by Mason Bates, an homage to the low-tech spaces in Silicon Valley where the digital age began.

“Garages,” filled as it is with the insistent rhythms of number crunching machines, was a perfect vehicle for Lecce-Chong to display his exuberant yet compact style. He stood with feet firmly planted shoulder-length apart and conducted almost entirely with his upper body, moving his right hand forcefully, with equally forceful use of his head and left hand.

Lecce-Chong never strayed far from his initial pose, choosing to focus the orchestra on his steady beat and precise cues. The result was an exacting performance of a challenging score that thrives on intricacy. There was a lot of col legno from the strings and rapid passage work from the winds. The dynamic range, however, was quite limited, and the piece never achieved much forward motion. One kept waiting for a theme to arise out of the brilliantly orchestrated background. Perhaps the best verdict on “Garages” came from a woman behind me, who opined to her companion that “It had a lot of nice color.”

Forward motion and thematic development arrived in the next piece, Beethoven’s third piano concerto, brilliantly played by Joyce Yang. She brings a graceful fluidity to every aspect of her playing, and her entry after the long orchestral introduction was electrifying. Every note was crystal clear, with remarkable command of dynamics.

Lecce-Chong ably assisted Yang from the podium, keeping the orchestral volume way down to let her lines emerge in the near-perfect acoustics of Weill Hall. At times, she seemed more like a singer, turning each phrase into a vocal expression of innermost feelings. Her cadenza in the first movement was a virtual showcase of brilliant runs, perfectly sustained trills and bewitching turns of phrase.

The Largo second movement was truly largo, with vast distances between the beats. Sustaining momentum at that speed is quite difficult, but Yang did so with serenity, swaying slowly back and forth as if in a trance. Near the end, she leaned way in to play a pianissimo phrase and held that pose for a long moment before the orchestra moved on.

The last movement was a romp dominated by Yang and Lecce-Chong’s superb control of dynamics. The softest passages were often the most energetic, and the loud ones never get out of hand. At the end, it felt like one had heard this much-played concerto for the first time.

Lecce-Chong fared admirably in the Bates and the Beethoven, but the real test came in the second half with Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony. The conductor resumed his basic stance--feet planted firmly apart, arms close to the vest--and summoned the powerful volley from the brass that opens the symphony. That was glorious, but the subsequent response began to drag and lacked sweep.

As the movement unfolded, Lecce-Chong’s shortcomings became apparent. His range of motion is limited, and his left-hand movements often replicate those of his right hand, placing more emphasis on the beat than on expression. Instead of using his left hand to control the volume, he used his upper body, leaning forward for soft passages and snapping back for louder ones, sometimes with whiplash motions of his head. He seemed to be confined to a box, moving from measure to measure rather than phrase to phrase.

Lecce-Chong’s problems were most evident in the slow second movement, but he solved many of them with a sprightly and energetic rendition of the third-movement scherzo, a dazzling combination of pizzicato and soaring woodwinds, capped by an outstanding piccolo. He set a furious pace for the Allegro con fuoco final movement, eliciting forceful playing from everyone on stage, with impressive fanfares from the trumpets. At the end, Lecce-Chong’s tremendous energy carried the show. The question is whether he can harness that energy into a more expansive conducting technique.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice]