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Chamber
FLORESTAN TRIO'S MENDELSSOHN AT SPRING LAKE VILLAGE CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 08, 2019
Spring Lake Village’s monthly concerts usually clock in under an hour, but the March 8 Florestan Trio’s performance was more extended as so much good music was on tap for the 125 residents attending at Santa Rosa’s premiere retirement residence facility. Four short pieces made up the first half, be...
Chamber
TILDEN TRIO'S BOHEMIAN ENERGY AT DOMINICAN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 03, 2019
Hard on the heels of the Trio Navarro’s late February concert in Sonoma State’s Schroeder Hall, Northern California’s other premiere resident piano trio, the Tilden, played an equally convincing program March 3 in Dominican University’s Angelico Hall. Clearly each hall’s acoustics, stage pianos and...
Recital
24 SONGS IN A MENKE-THOMPSON RECITAL ODYSSEY
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Sonoma County pop and country singing enjoys continued popularity but it rare to see a professional classical vocal concert announced. Diva Ruth Ann Swenson was once a local star, but she has long departed and not much virtuoso recital singing can be found in the North Bay. But the exception to th...
Chamber
UNEXPECTED ARENSKY AND MENDELSSOHN BY THE NAVARRO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
The 100 people entering Schroeder Hall Feb. 17 for a Trio Navarro concert were handed a program that appeared to feature two popular piano trios, Mendelssohn and Arensky. But continuing the Navarro’s tradition of repertoire exploration, the pieces were not the usual first Mendelssohn and first Aren...
Recital
GLOVER'S ECLECTIC PROGRAMMING HIGHLIGHT'S CINNABAR RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 17, 2019
Daniel Glover is arguably the busiest virtuoso pianist in the San Francisco Bay area, but rarely is heard in North Bay concerts. So 90 local pianophiles were anxious to hear him Feb. 17 in Petaluma’s charming small Cinnabar Theater, and they were rewarded with an eclectic program of sometimes unfam...
Symphony
MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019
The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concer...
Recital
INTRIGUING BELL-HAYWOOD RECITAL BEFORE FULL HOUSE IN WEILL HALL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, February 08, 2019
A big portion of the capacity audience in Weill Hall February 8th came to hear violinist Joshua Bell’s virtuosity, and were treated as well to splendid playing from Sam Haywood, Mr. Bell’s regular pianist since 2010. The duo performed three engaging sonatas, highlighted by Mr. Bell’s sterling techn...
Symphony
TRIPLE PLAY UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT AND TCHAIKOVSKY SERENADE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 27, 2019
Over the years the Ukiah Symphony’s concerts have been in the Classical Sonoma Calendar sections, but rarely has this Orchestra, now in its 39th season, had a full winter season concert review. The provocative Jan. 27 program in Mendocino College’s Center Theater seemed a good reason to reacquaint ...
Symphony
JACKSON THEATER WELCOMES A NEW RESIDENT ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the...
Symphony
ECLECTIC PASSIONATE PROGRAMMING AT MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, January 26, 2019
The Marin Symphony’s second Masterworks concert of the 2018-19 season featured works by John Adams, Sibelius and Brahms, a masterful assembly. In a spoken introduction before the program’s first half, conductor Alasdair Neale primed the audience for the “terra incognita” of Adams’ The Chairman Dance...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Hans Brightbill, cello

Cellist Hans Brightbill June 19 With the So Co Phil in the Teatro Nationál (Mary GG Photo)

!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 tenuous prospects. They hit the proverbial home run in a convincing gala performance in the capitol San José’s historic Teatro Nacionál on the third day of an epic week-long Orchestra tour.

Led by Costa Rica native Norman Gamboa, the So Co Phil was augmented by nine local musicians (advanced students and several instrumental teachers) that added to the old hall’s warm acoustics and sonic heft. With several layers of ornate box seats and short sight lines, the Teatro embraced a direct orotund sound with reverberation just under one second. Perfect for the works Mr. Gamboa chose and had been perfected in dedicated pre-trip rehearsals and sound checks.

Chief among the four programmed works was Elgar’s E Minor Cello Concerto, Op. 65, with So Co Phil principal Hans Brightbill as the soloist. Mr. Brightbill has played the work three times since January, and has persuasive ideas about it that began with a solemn introduction and laconic lyricism that in subtle ways dominated each of the four movements. E Major sunshine sporadically broke through the sad but never despairing themes, only to return finally to the Minor. The soloist’s low register warmth and steady control of tempo led into a perfectly gauged pizzicato reference to the first theme and the beguiling next allegro molto.

Improvisatory in design, this movement received the cellist’s deft flexibility of phrase, mimicking his interpretation in the June 15 Bon Voyage Santa Rosa concert where poignant control of soft passages could easily be heard over the Orchestra. Mr. Gamboa fashioned nobility in the sound but never allowed the pathos to diminish. The finale’s light and joyous sections were tempered by Mr. Brightbill’s artful echoes of tunes of the preceding movements.

This complex but elegant work from 1919 received a performance that seemed to be a summary of instrumental introspection and chaste virtuosity, and sensuous agreement of conductor and soloist. Mr. Brightbill brought his own special instrument for the tour, the same for some section players but local instruments were supplied for tympani, percussion, harp and double bass.

Following intermission Mr. Gamboa drew from the Orchestra the best playing I have yet heard of Frank La Rocca’s Crossing the Rubicon, a 1994 piece that had an extra measure of sonic “shimmer” than in past performances. I suspect the additional string weight and theater acoustics made a difference, and for the first time Christina Kopriva’s harp part could be clearly heard, along with solos from clarinetist Nick Xenelis and jazz riffs from Tom Hyde’s always sterling trumpet. The conductor crafted distinct references to Copland’s early 1940 ballet pieces, Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and Adams’ The Chairman Dances and Eldorado.

Completing the concert was the 1942 symphonic suite (arr. Robert Russell Bennett) from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The playing was a feast of dramatic orchestral color in 29 minutes, with pungent solo playing all around: Jocelyn McCord (marimba); Ms. Kopriva; Robby Morales (viola); Miranda Kinkaid (bassoon); Chris Krive (oboe); Debra Scheüerman (flute); Emily Reynolds (piccolo); Pam Otsuka (violin); Gary Anderson (cello); Mr. Hyde and Mr. Xenelis. In several dramatic passages Mr. Gamboa drove the forte sound to the point that it generated tremors in the wood flooring of the second tier box where I was sitting. Fidgety feet indeed. The famous “Bess, You Are My Woman Now” aria had a memorable performance, highlighted by Mr. Morales’ rich viola realization. Anthony Perry’s English horn solo, mysterious and luxurious, reminded me of a similar statement in the Prelude to the third act of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. It was beautifully enigmatic. The Orchestra's three stellar saxophone players (Matthew Bringedahl and Jerome Flag, alto E Flat;Teresa Meikle-Griswold, tenor B Flat) added a unique sound that surprisingly blended well with the piquant Gershwin sonic texture. It was a fetching mix.

With such splashy orchestral playing an encore was demanded, and Mr. Gamboa complied with a strident and boisterous two-minute "Circus Galop" Sousa march. Percussion and cymbal effects slashed through the sprightly music, ending a special concert that saw the United States Ambassador to Costa Rica Sharon Day mount the stage to congratulate Mr. Gamboa and the Orchestra’s President David Poe.

In a musical gift to his native country, Mr. Gamboa programmed Costa Rican composer Julio Fonseca’s Suite Tropical: Fiesta Campestre, to open the concert. Somewhat of a specialty work for the conductor, as he learned the 12-minute Suite in his youth, he clearly relishes pushing the playing from all 12 brass/horn players to piercing levels. It’s that kind of piece, lavish with vivid effects and rhythmic sway, and Mr. Gamboa’s seasoned ensemble triumphed.

Two additional concerts in provincial cities are described in a separate article.