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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
Marin Symphony / Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Zuill Bailey, cello

Cellst Zuill Bailey May 1 At Marin Symphony Concert (AW Photo)

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 musically, as conductor Alasdair Neale pointed out in a brief introduction to the program, they had in common a mastery of orchestral colors and the ability to tell a story.

Strauss’s one-movement Serenade for Wind Instruments in E-flat Major opened the program. Scored for thirteen players, the standard double winds plus four horns and contrabassoon, it is in sonata form and has the feel of Strauss’s hero Mozart. It was composed when Strauss was only 17, and was his first major success as a composer. Chorale-like harmonies and lyrical solos by each instrument in turn had the ease and comfort of long intimacy. The piece conjured a verdant countryside and changing skies. Despite a brief juncture when the ensemble seemed to waver, it was a charming introduction to the youthful Strauss and set the stage for a tone poem from his maturity, Don Quixote (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character, Op. 35), featuring cellist Zuill Bailey as the misguided Don who is sure that what he sees is real, when nearly always it is not.

Based on picturesque incidents in the Cervantes novel, Strauss’s 40-minute vivid soundscape makes full use of the symphony orchestra’s colors. Written the same year as tone poem The Hero’s Life and closely followed by Thus Spake Zarathustra, this is Strauss at his most powerful. Mr. Bailey is a nuanced performer and riveting to watch. His cello playing had gorgeous duets with concertmaster Jeremy Constant’s violin (the youthful spirit of Don Quixote) and with violist Jenny Douglass as Sancho Panza. Tubist Zachariah Spellman underscored Sancho Panza’s common sense and genuine warmth. Through the medium of his amber-hued cello, Mr. Bailey gave life to the Don. And within the orchestral soundscape, beautifully shaped by Mr. Neale, all the characters were clearly heard: the trotting of Don Quixote’s horse, Rocinante; the herd of sheep that Quixote believes are an army; the windmills he is certain are evil giants.

The orchestra played well and there was palpable camaraderie among the players, conductor, and soloist. Each emotion so eloquently formed in Mr. Bailey’s cello lines were elegant, and near the end, when the music suggests the demise of the elderly knight, Mr. Bailey remained motionless until the conductor lowered his baton. The audience rose with an ovation, and the soloist, presented with a bouquet, graciously re-gifted it to Ms. Douglass, who beamed.

For the second half Mr. Neale and the orchestra turned to music by Stravinsky, prefacing a major work, Suite from the ballet The Firebird, with a small one, Scherzo a la Russe. This spritely, modern-sounding one-movement piece was first orchestrated for the Paul Whiteman Band, and re-orchestrated and premiered in 1947 by the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by the composer. Based on Russian folk songs, the piece often sounds as though it belongs to Stravinsky’s early ballet, Petrouchka. Full of sharp, dotted rhythms and possessing a frenetic energy, it was performed by the MSO with great style. Its ending is a complete surprise, abrupt and unexpected. To emphasize this, Mr. Neale spun on the podium after the last note and the orchestra leapt to its feet. Delighted laughter from the audience mingled with applause.

With the Firebird Suite the MSO entered a magical world of fairy birds, princesses, and evil sorcerers. The full ballet debuted in 1919, and Stravinsky subsequently adapted the music to form three concert suites, of which this is the most frequently performed. Principal cellist Madeleine Tucker’s solo was among the notable threads in this beautifully textured tale. Its five movements include the enchanting dance of the Firebird, the dance of captive princesses (with lovely solos by flute and oboe). In the infernal dance of the villain, King Kashchei, the percussion section shone, and in its enthusiasm almost overwhelmed the rest of the orchestra. The gentle, swaying Berceuse revealed the extraordinary cohesion of the string players, the violin section’s ensemble a whisper beneath Carla Wilson’s gorgeous bassoon solo. The Finale brought back the Princesses’ theme and rose to an exciting climax. The audience responded with a standing ovation that lasted through the curtain calls as Mr. Neale acknowledged each of his soloists with great appreciation.