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Chamber
ECLECTIC INSTRUMENTAL COMBINATIONS IN VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 20, 2019
A Lovely summer afternoon in Sonoma Valley, an excellent small concert hall, enthusiastic audience, exciting musicians and creative programming with interesting story lines. All these were combined July 20 at a Valley of the Moon Festival concert titled “An Italian in Paris.” This is the fifth seaso...
Opera
'ELIXIR' A WELCOME TONIC IN SPRIGHTLY ANNUAL MMF OPERA
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 19, 2019
In most of the Mendocino Music Festival’s 33 seasons a single evening is given over to a staged opera, with bare bones sets, lighting, costumes, minimal cast and short length. No Wagner or Verdi here, no multiple acts and complicated production demands. Light and frothy are the usual, and so it wa...
Recital
PUNGENT WALTZES AND VIRTUOSITY IN LADEUR'S SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
San Francisco based pianist Jeffrey LaDeur has become one of the most sought-after North Bay virtuosi, and cemented that reputation July 17 in a short but eclectic recital in Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village Chamber Music Series. Before 140 in the Village’s auditorium Mr. LaDeur began with Schubert...
Choral and Vocal
NOBLE BRAHMS REQUIEM PERFORMANCE CLOSES SONOMA BACH'S SEASON
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, June 01, 2019
Sonoma Bach, conducted by Robert Worth, presented a truly grand finale to their 2018-19 "Light Out of Darkness" season in two sold out Schroeder Hall performances June 1 and 2. The program "A Human Requiem" was received rapturously with a well-deserved standing ovation for the main work, Brahms' ...
Chamber
THREE SONG CYCLES HIGHLIGHT VIBRANT SLV RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks-Gailey
Wednesday, May 08, 2019
An ambitious recital of vocal and piano music was presented May 8 at Santa Rosa’s Spring Lake Village by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich and pianist Jeffrey LaDeur. The duo engaged the enthusiastic audience with scholarly friendliness and artistry in performances of Beethoven's short cycle of six song...
Symphony
ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 05, 2019
An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony c...
Symphony
MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON CLOSES WITH AUTUMNAL ELGAR AND THEATRICAL BEETHOVEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 28, 2019
Mozart’s enchanting Overture to his opera The Magic Flute, a miniature tapestry of gems from the 1791 work, opened the Marin Symphony’s final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Under conductor Alasdair Neale, the playing of the sprightly seven-minute piece by a reduced-size classical ensemble sparkled...
Recital
SHAHAM-EGUCHI DUO'S EXCITING MUSICAL GENEROSITY IN WEILL
by Abby Wasserman
Friday, April 26, 2019
Violinist Gil Shaham may be the most modest virtuoso on the concert stage today, and it is the great music he most wishes to put forward, never himself. Generosity, a quality he is known for, was abundantly clear in Weill Hall April 26 when he performed, with pianist Akira Eguchi, a generous program...
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...
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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