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Recital
GLITTERING PIANISM IN LI'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Piano prodigies have always been a fascination for the music public, and the greatest of them (some were Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Saint Saëns, Hofmann) went on to legendary fame. George Li, who made is local debut at a Music at Oakmont recital April 11, was a remarkable recent keyboard prodigy t...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL'S SEASON CLOSER WITH EXPANSIVE PROKOFIEV 5TH IN JACKSON
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 07, 2019
Closing their 20th season with their usual programming aplomb, the Sonoma County Philharmonic played a provocative set of concerts April 6 and 7 in the Jackson Theater, the Orchestra’s new home at the Sonoma Country Day School by the Sonoma County Airport. Local composer Nolan Gasser’s Sonoma Overt...
Choral and Vocal
SISTINE CHAPEL INSPIRATION FOR THE TALLIS SCHOLARS IN WEILL HALL
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, April 05, 2019
Returning to Weill Hall April 5 after a seven year absence, the ten singers of the Tallis Scholars brought the sacred choral tradition of Palestrina and his contemporaries to an audience of delighted music lovers. Under the direction of Peter Phillips, the 1973 founder of the group, the program was...
Symphony
AUTUMNAL SIBELIUS 7TH HIGHLIGHTS VSO'S SEASON CLOSING CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 31, 2019
Closing their 87th Season March 30 and 31 the Vallejo Symphony has moved from a single weekend concert to a set of two, and the late March response was two full houses in the charming downtown Vallejo Empress Theater. Conductor Marc Taddei opened the Sunday program with a rousing performance of B...
Recital
SHARED INSTRUMENTAL BEAUTY IN VIEAUX-MEYERS WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Exciting timbral sound and intricate counterpoint, made possible when two artists with complementary instruments play together, were richly explored by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and guitarist Jason Vieaux March 30 in Weill Hall. Whether in close harmony, or unison, or weaving separate melodies to...
Chamber
RARE MAHLER QUARTET AT MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Piano quartets are relatively rare in the classical literature, and there are only about 40 compositions for the combination of piano, violin, viola and cello, mostly from the Romantic period of the mid to late 1800s. It therefore was special March 24 to hear three great works of this medium, perfor...
Symphony
AMERICAN CLASSICS SPARKLE UNDER KAHANE’S BATON
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the Weill Hall podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”), emotional (Barber’s violin concerto) and triumphant (...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, September 22, 2018
Norman Gamboa and Gabriel Sakakeeny, conductors. Sophia Santulli, mezzo-soprano. California Redwood Chorale, Robert Hazelrigg, director

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.