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Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Ken Iisaka / Sunday, January 25, 2009
Ken Iisaka, Pianist

PIANISTIC LARGESSE IN MARIN

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Marin pianist Ken Iisaka has been getting around lately, playing frequent concerts, competing in high-level competitions, writing about music and investigating rare repertoire that incites new interest. But he is seldom heard in a formal winter recital setting, with a good piano, and with somewhat standard compositions. The oversight was remedied January 25 when he presented four big works at San Rafael’s JB Piano Emporium under the auspices of the Concerts Grand piano series.

The afternoon’s music began with Haydn, specifically the effervescent Sonata No. 60 (Hob. XVI/50) that Lang Lang has frequently performed. Iisaka’s reading had all the humor and digital dexterity of Lang, along with exceptionally effective blurred pedal effects in the opening Allegro and deftly handled modulations in the Finale.

Brahms’ big Handel Variations, Op. 24, closed the first half. This monumental work from 1862 received an ardent reading, somewhat conventional compared to the text changes made in the classic Petri and Solomon recordings, but altogether achieving a powerful drama. The playing was not note perfect, but Iisaka generated momentum and majesty at the expense of precision. Tempos were brisk and allowed colorful inner details to shine. Iisaka had his arms solidly around the work.

Following an intermission spiced with gratis champagne and lots of audience piano playing on the store’s instruments (thankfully not the Grotrian 275 on the stage), Iisaka presented one of his signature pieces, the Berg Sonata, Op. 1. This sonata is a highly chromatic and thick-textured work, with seemingly everything growing from the first measures. Iisaka played it with fastidious attention to inner lines and polyphonic detail. Early Berg looks back toward the Romantic era, and Iisaka deftly spotlighted the connections.

Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) remains one of the Rodney Dangerfields of 20th century piano composers – never getting much public respect and eternally in the shadow of Rachmaninoff. His F-Sharp “Sonata Ballada,” Op. 27, concluded the program, and Iisaka played the cyclic forms so favored by Medtner with sharp relief. Iisaka clearly loves this music, and he lavished great care with the ephemeral themes and distinct contrasts. The constant breaks between the lyricism and passionate parts were effectively juxtaposed.

Iisaka tends to be generous with his pianistic largesse, and he offered two big sets of variations as encores. First came Kapustin’s Op.80 Theme and Variations, a tour-de-force fusion of jazz rhythms and the descending-note motif from Stravinsky’s “Sacre du Printemps.” This reviewer was not alone in being unable to find the theme in the cascade of notes, and the pianist kindly showed the errors of our ways by demonstrating the motif prior to introducing yet another long and demanding encore, Mozart’s 12 variations on “Ah! Vous Dirai-Je, Maman.” Here Iisaka reveled in the complexity of the variation forms, displaying a light touch and droll phrasing. An éclair to end a recital of provocative music.

The reviewer is the Producer of the Concerts Grand series