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Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Composer and Conductor Gabriel Sakakeeny

SAKAKEENY'S LION AND ROSE HIGHLIGHTS SO CO PHIL'S 20TH SEASON OPENER

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fresh from a triumphant tour in Latin America the Sonoma County Philharmonic opened its 20th season Sept. 22 in a celebratory concert in the Santa Rosa High School Auditorium.

Keeping to the evening’s orchestra history and past performance, conductor emeritus Gabriel Sakakeeny, who led the So Co Phil in a tour of China, was at the podium to direct one of his own works, The Lion and The Rose, which was composed in 1987 and premiered in 2008 in a concert in Santa Rosa’s Wells Fargo Center. Mr. Sakakeeny clearly has not lost his mastery of balances and orchestra color, and the work has a shimmering quality that grows larger as the 15-minute cantata unfolds. The stage was crowded with 29 singers from the California Redwood Chorale, the 49-member Philharmonic and the powerful mezzo-soprano Sophia Santulli.

In remarks to the audience of 200 Mr. Sakakeeny characterized the work as a “musical rendering of a poem that interprets the gradual relinquishing of mind and ego in the course of spiritual meditation,” and a “timeless experience of delight and awe.” Whether the composer’s musical description generated a clear conception is subject to some question, but it’s a beguiling work that flows easily to the ear and at several climaxes packs a potent sonic picture.

Throughout the picturesque piece novel instrumental effects were heard – wood block taps, harp and marimba chime-like notes, timpani and horn interplay. What were barely audible was the piano part (only in Shostakovich’s orchestra works can I hear the piano) and the Chorale standing stage rear. Ms. Santulli’s singing, often in melisma, mixed artfully in ensemble under the composer’s baton, and at the biggest climax actually soared over the orchestra. Her words “Thy Will Be Done” put a stamp of finality to a long crescendo of sound, leavened only slightly by the entry of the Chorale. Pam Otsuka’s violin solo blended beautifully with the playing from the harp (Christina Kopriva), marimba and Ms. Santulli’s elegant singing.

Audience reaction generated the loudest ovation of the concert, with Ms. Santulli and Mr. Sakakeeny beaming with delight center stage.

In his 20-minute pre concert remarks to the audience conductor Norman Gamboa suggested that though the works of the first half had substantial merit, they might be forgotten when the warm themes of Dvorák were heard and would stay in the mind while driving home. It was so. It’s interesting that since about 1960 Dvorak has increasingly been found on concert programs, similar to piano programs with Schubert. He is popular. The D Minor Symphony (No. 7) from 1885 is arguably the Czech composer’s best, and was supposedly written to mirror Brahms’ F Major Symphony. For me it’s an odd and wrong juxtaposition, as the Brahms Third is lyrical throughout, and the Dvorák darkly intense in its four movements.

Mr. Gamboa was at the podium for the Symphony and drew a cohesive and potent interpretation, surprisingly leading without score. Clearly he has a reverence for the music, even increasing the volume in the opening allegro maestoso to blaring climaxes that put drama into Dvorák’s wealth of thematic ideas. The key of D Minor for Mr. Gamboa is indeed drama and muscular sonority.

Rich thematic support continued in the adagio with lovely clarinet and bassoon solos, fine horn playing (Eric Anderson, principal) and concise repeated-note phrases from oboist Chris Krive. String playing in pianissimo was very good, set off by soft woodwind chords and string pizzicato. A captivating movement, played wonderfully.

Czech rhythms dominated the vivace-scherzo and there was less folksy flavor to the music than the composer’s usual scherzos. Mr. Gamboa brought out a sound that was extended and at the same time relaxed, and moved seamlessly to the allegro finale. Here there were strains of Brahms (Tragic Overture) in a chorale and theme played warmly by the cellos. Mr. Gamboa had his hands full in the tempestuous climax and change to a somber D Major, and the upper strings were stretched to keep up an even ensemble. However, he kept the momentum under control and led his orchestra to a driving, albeit dark, finish.

Henri Tomasi’s Fanfare Liturgiques opened the concert, a unique amalgam of brass playing (13 musicians) that was joined by the percussion section. There were solos galore in the 20-minute Suite, composed in 1942 and taken from Tomasi’s opera Don Juan de Mańera. Standout playing was everywhere: Floyd Reinhart’s tuba; Jeff Barnard's trombone in the Evangile section; the five horns and five percussionists; and trumpeter Tom Hyde. There was intriguing dissonance in several unison parts and jarring sound from two snare drum players. The chaste concluding Procession du Vendredi-Saint was played slowly and then became a final eruption of exalted orchestral sound.

Mr. Gamboa had sovereign control in this unique composition, as he did all afternoon.