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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...
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
A SLICE OF HEAVEN FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 13, 2019
Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzlin...
Recital
KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019
In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and ...
Chamber
A COMPLETE MUSICAL PACKAGE IN ARRON'S OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Cellist Edward Arron has been a welcome artist at the Music at Oakmont series, and after his Jan. 10 recital it’s easy to understand his popularity. His artistry is a complete package, with potent instrumental technique wedded to integral musical conceptions. In a nearly flawless concert with pian...
Choral and Vocal
COMPELLING WEILL HALL MESSIAH ORATORIO FROM THE ABS
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Each holiday season when a Classical Sonoma reviewer is assigned to cover a concert with Handel’s seminal Oratorio The Messiah, the question arises about what new commentary can possibly apply to the often performed choral work. Well, if it’s the American Bach Soloists performing the piece, written...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Sunday, November 18, 2018
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Jesse Barrett, oboe

Conductor Norman Gamboa

A HERO'S ODYSSEY IN SO CO PHIL CONCERT

by Art Hofmann
Sunday, November 18, 2018

The audience at the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Nov. 18 concert was warned at the outset that the old Santa Rosa High School auditorium boiler was turned off, and there was a steady eminently audible tone in the hall. Conductor Norman Gamboa said the tone was an A, a high one. But there it was, absolutely audible, especially during softer passages throughout the whole concert, always seeming to call out for an engineer, whether trained as a musician or not, and preferably one with a hammer.

Following announcements Mr. Gamboa took the podium and conducted of Apu, a Tone Poem for Orchestra by Gabriela Lena Frank, and written just last year. A smaller than usual ensemble, strings, percussion and some winds, was playing to a house that was about three quarters full, many people likely kept away by the smoke lingering in the air from fires up north.

This tone poem evokes a journey through the mountains and forest of Peru, whose the Apu figure is mischievous spirit, who accompanies and sometimes harasses travelers on their journeys through the forests and mountains, perhaps a bit like Kokopeli in the Southwestern U.S. With the Debra Scheüerman’s flute assuming the title role, it featured angular rhythms, often up tight against the beat, or offset with sharp percussive effects from the tympani and xylophone (marimba). The string section provided another strong contrastive element, again as foil for the impish flute.

Lyrical passages in strings were interrupted by passages where violins and cellos were suddenly plucked, not pizzicato, but like monotone rhythm guitars. Nothing was for sure on this journey, where breezes turned into winds, things appeared and disappeared in the ether, and the musical travelers are offered odd prospects. The conductor seemed firmly in control throughout and his musicians were intently focused on their task in this recent, strange, interesting work.

The orchestra was rearranged on stage, and a second ensemble emerged, and played Bosquejoes para Oboe y Cuerdas (Sketches for Oboe and Strings) by Benjamin Gutiérrez. The composer is a fellow countryman of Mr. Gamboa, and was one of his teachers at Conservatorio de Castella, where the conductor began his musical education. The piece was written in 1982 and was a debut performance, probably for the entire North Coast. It features a demanding solo oboe part that was played with consummate artistry by Jesse Barrett, who also plays in the Santa Rosa Symphony. Mr. Barrett captured the soloist’s part that called for virtuoso playing with high piping sounds that at times seemed beyond that instrument’s range, and made the many difficult dissonant runs seem easy. He has enormous facility with the instrument.

Sonorous cello chords opened the piece, which quickly evolved into a tapestry of sounds carried by the violins, alternating with somber cello chords. Violist Robby Morales played a lovely theme, and thus formed a continual backdrop for the musical embroidery of Mr. Barrett’s fine and often piercing woodwind sonority. Mr. Gamboa’s introductory remarks warned that in the piece his teacher had employed rarely used scales (so dissonance was no surprise) but there were also lyric moments in this difficult to categorize composition. Again Mr. Gamboa was in control of his ensemble, and they played with palpable focus and passion.

Ein Heldenleben (Op. 40), a long Strauss tone poem, formed the entire last half of the program. It is a well known, oft played work and one familiar to many concertgoers. Giant figures hover in the background of this piece: Beethoven looms large, as does Wagner, and philosophically, Nietzsche as well. If Strauss was an epigone, he was a tall one. He believed in merit and talent and by that point in his a career (1898) he could show that he had both. Ein Heldenleben is a recapitulation of that career in which he musically “quotes” his many previous successes, especially in the fifth section, where the musical hero retires and seeks peace.

The Philharmonic proceeded to generate a convincing and potent performance of this work. Cellos and horns Eric Anderson especially) did exemplary work throughout the entire piece, and in the first movement they introduced the hero’s leitmotif and established his thematic presence with ascending E-flat major chords. Clean, clear playing throughout gave a portrait of the hero fellow and his emphatic, bold presence. The hero faces challenges, critics portrayed in music grumble and mutter and spew their gloom in minor keys and dissonance until dispelled by a fanfare from the trumpets, and finally there is a restatement of the heroic theme, albeit darkened.

This negativity is lifted in the next section, said to be a portrait of Strauss’ complex wife, Paulinha de Ahna, which features an extended violin solo played against a background of low strings, winds, and brass. This music was played by the concertmaster Pam Otsuka, masterfully at moments, less so at others where the playing might have benefitted from more robustness.

With love declared and done, the orchestra launched into battle with well-executed trumpet fanfares. Into the musical fog of war there was strong playing from the percussion section, until a recapitulation of the hero’s theme in altered form - of course he has changed – and signals his triumph. Mr. Gamboa exhibited sterling control of the complex instrumental ensemble.

In the penultimate section the composer reflects on his musical past by weaving a masterful blend of his favorite melodies from his career into the score. A mood of reflective quiet pervades the work’s final section, with the musical hero withdrawn into a meditative retirement. There are final musical glimpses of the past, a variation of the hero theme and a last serene conclusion. The hero is fulfilled.

The audience expressed its approval in an extended ovation. On the conductor’s signal the concertmaster stood to acknowledge in the applause, as did brass (trumpeter Dave Lindgren was outstanding), the horns, winds (Ms. Scheüerman), cellos, percussion and lastly the entire violin section.

Following the concert the audience steeled itself collectively to return to the smoky air, not a new condition in Sonoma County, but one that continues to call for renewed heroics and tenacity.















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