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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 / 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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