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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Mastercard Performance Series / Saturday, October 28, 2017
Miró Quartet (Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violin; John Largess, viola; Joshua Gindele, cello); Jeffrey Kahane, piano

Miró Quarter and Jeffrey Kahane Oct. 28 (N. Bell Photo)

MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the Academy of St. Martin’s in the Fields, Peter Serkin, and several others have been cancelled at the GMC’s two halls: Weill (1,400 seats) and Schroeder (250 seats).

The silence for classical music lovers came to an end on Oct. 28 with a memorable concert in Weill Hall by the Miró Quartet and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, the former conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony. Kahane has maintained strong ties to Sonoma County, and he proved an ideal performer to help coax fire-weary local residents back into the GMC.

Chamber music concerts in Weill Hall are usually restricted to the ground floor, which is often only half full. For the Miró/Kahane concert, however, almost every one of the 750 available seats was taken. In pre-concert remarks, the GMC’s new executive director, Jacob Yarrow, gave much of the credit to Kahane, who had suggested opening the show to everyone, asking them to “come as they are and pay what they can.” (The box office later confirmed that about one-third of the tickets were complimentary.)

The concert began with five selections from Dvorak’s rarely heard Cypresses for string quartet. The source of the rarity is evident from the piece’s content: 12 “songs without words” adapted from a song cycle written early in Dvorak’s career. Without the overarching narrative supplied by the lyrics, the songs in the instrumental version seem disconnected.

The Miró tried to solve this problem by reading the original lyrics before performing each song. Their solution was only partially successful, however, because they are not trained actors, and their unamplified voices didn’t project well in the large hall. They would have done better to work with a professional actor who could have read the lyrics with drama and volume.

On the other hand, the music was gorgeous. The transparent textures of the songs, coupled with the players’ exquisite sensitivity, allowed the sublime melodies to shine forth with the accompaniment well in the background. All the instruments shared in the melodic line, either in solos or duets. The third song, “When thy sweet glances fall on me,” was exceptionally beautiful, with a languid and ethereal melody that perfectly matched the lovelorn text.

When Kahane entered the stage to perform the Brahms piano quintet, the concert quickly moved from the travails of love to the triumph of the human spirit. Few pieces in the repertoire encompass as much territory as this remarkable quintet, which moves with ease from utmost serenity to unbridled frenzy.

Kahane sat behind the quartet, with the lid of his piano fully open. Because the floor of Weill Hall is only gently raked, he disappeared from view for much of the audience, but he was ubiquitous nonetheless. He interacted with the string players as if he were one of them, never drowning them out or stepping on their lines. The balance among all five players was a model of equanimity.

The ensemble adeptly traded lines and motives, with the prominence shifting repeatedly among the instruments. Everyone seemed fully aware of what their colleagues were playing, especially Kahane, who shifted constantly from foreground to background.

Beyond control of dynamics, the string players achieved remarkable unanimity of sound, playing as one down to the pressure and strokes of their bows. In their and Kahane’s hands, the Brahms became an ever-surprising journey into the deepest possibilities of musical thought. Nothing was predictable, yet everything the performance slowly uncovered seemed inevitable.

During the intermission, the audience exchanged fire stories and detailed their losses, but the mood was upbeat. The second half elevated the mood even more with a sparkling performance of Dvorak’s second piano quintet, a masterpiece on equal footing with the Brahms. In some ways, the Dvorak is the more transcendent of the two, carrying the listener into a realm of boundless joy and festivity.

Dvorak was a violist, and that middle instrument shines brightly throughout the quintet, nowhere more so than in the second movement, a stately dumka (folk ballad). Violist John Largess made the most of his solo opportunities, playing with a deep, rich tone that at times out-deepened the cellist, Joshua Gindele, who often played on his instrument’s upper strings. In contrast, Largess played entire phrases on his lowest string, shifting effortlessly and imperceptibly along its length.

All five musicians played the subsequent furiant (frenzied dance) movement with tremendous energy and agility, careening forward without pause into the final Allegro, an irresistible rondo. Despite the breathtaking speed, nothing was unruly, and all the lines were crystalline, with each player clearly evident. The rock-solid chorale near the end brought the music down to earth for a brief moment before the exhilarating closing bars. The ovation was immediate and sustained.

After being called back on stage a third time, the ensemble performed the last movement of Schumann’s piano quintet, considered the originator of the genre. Unfortunately, the performance was not quite up to the Brahms or Dvorak, perhaps because the movement was taken out of context or insufficiently rehearsed. The blend was muddy at times, and the arch of the narrative was often lost. But the performance was stirring nonetheless, yet more evidence that the GMC is back in full swing.

Reprinted by permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.