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SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Symphony
ORFF AND HINDEMITH SONIC SPLENDOR AT FINAL SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Sonoma County Philharmonic concerts are continually artistically successful but on the Santa Rosa High School’s stage the orchestra rarely numbers above 40, and in the 900-seat hall audiences can be scant. Violinists can be in short supply. An opposite scene occurred at the March 17/18 concert set...
Symphony
A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018
In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for t...
Symphony
MONUMENTAL NIELSEN SYMPHONY CAPS SO CO PHIL CONCERT AT SR HS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 27, 2018
Turning again away from conventional repertoire, the Sonoma County Philharmonic programmed Jan. 27 three works in what were local debut performances in Santa Rosa High School’s Performing Arts Center. Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, Op. 29, called “Inextinguishable,” closed the program with an extravaga...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, December 03, 2017
Andrew Grams, conductor. Stewart Goodyear, piano

Conductor Andrew Grams

ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE WITH SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017

Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two.

Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have stemmed from his chosen repertoire. According to Symphony staff, each of the conductor candidates (Grams is the third of five) chooses his or her own repertoire, with the exception of the piano concerto. The only requirement is that at least one of the pieces needs to be “modern,” i.e., written after 1900. The previous two candidates chose works written within the last 20 years, but Grams played it safe by selecting Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” which hails from 1940 but is unabashedly Romantic. Grams’ other selections were Berlioz’s rarely performed “King Lear” overture and an orchestrated version of Debussy’s piano classic, “Clair de Lune.”

The choice of the King Lear overture was particularly unfortunate. In introducing the piece, Grams said that it “gets programmed rarely — and you’re about to find out why.” And indeed, there isn’t much to it. Grams asserted that the music “sounds like it would be from a mad king,” but to contemporary ears, it sounds pretty tame, almost like a Rossini overture. The musicians played well, and Grams conducted solidly, but there was no kindling to ignite.

In contrast, the subsequent Ravel concerto (the one for two hands) was crackling within seconds. Goodyear is a self-effacing pianist who plays it straight, but the sounds coming from his fingers are incendiary. His technique is dazzling, his rhythmic sense is infallible, and the speed with which he traverses the fingerboard is astonishing.

The first movement of Ravel’s concerto sounds like a French version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” with some nearly identical phrases. Goodyear slid right into his part, balancing well with the orchestra while bringing out the syncopation. He likewise eased into the second movement, playing his simple but evocative part with great sensitivity. His playing was so peaceful and tranquil that it got everyone’s attention, and a sustained hush descended on the audience.

Goodyear broke the silence with a relentless perpetuum mobile in the Vivace finale. He played with tremendous energy, but was always in control and delightfully expressive. Grams and the orchestra matched him note for note, including a torrid bassoon solo.

After intermission, the attention was once again on Grams, who had arranged the orchestra in a somewhat unusual pattern of first violins, cellos and basses on stage right, with violas and second violins on stage left. The arrangement gave the orchestra a deeper sound, but it was often difficult to hear the violas.

The “Symphonic Dances” is one of Rachmaninoff’s best works. The driving rhythms and descending triplets in the opening bars become etched in the brain as Rachmaninoff restates, develops and expands upon them. Grams was precise in cueing entrances, and he paced the first movement exquisitely, the gradual build-up at the outset resolving into a thundering fortissimo.

Grams’s beat is easy to follow. His left and right hands function independently, allowing him to add expressive effects with his left. He used every square inch of the podium as he addressed the different sections of the orchestra.

Despite all that, Grams’s head often seemed to be buried in his score, detracting from full engagement with the orchestra. All the tempi and dynamics were there, but there were few sparks and not much forward momentum.

Thankfully, momentum arrived in the finale. Here Rachmaninoff displays his skill as an orchestrator, and the musicians proved equal to the task, negotiating the tricky rhythms and rapidly changing instrumentation with ease. Grams led them flawlessly and spiritedly.

Another odd repertoire choice ended the concert as a kind of encore: André Caplet’s orchestration of Debussy’s beloved piano piece, “Clair de Lune” (Moonlight). Here Grams was in his wheelhouse, evoking lush sound from the orchestra with grace and confidence.

Reprinted by permission from San Francisco Classical Voice