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!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...
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’...
Symphony
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 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.