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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
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 REVIEW

Conductor Jayce Ogren

SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HERALDS THE HOLIDAYS

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 2, 2018

Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-witted reviewer made the connection.

Instead of having Tell stride on stage and shoot the apple off his son’s head, the orchestra offered a bull’s-eye performance that split the overture right down the middle. Audiences of a certain age are accustomed to hearing only the latter part of the piece, where the Lone Ranger gallops across the screen shouting “Hi ho, Silver”; but there’s much more to it than that.

Principal cellist Adelle-Akika Kearns opened with a beautifully played solo, accompanied at times by four of her cello colleagues. Her tone was gorgeous, her vibrato smooth and her long trills outstanding. Next came solid work from the trombones, a lovely flute and English horn duet, and the heraldic trumpet entry that brings on the Lone Ranger. Guest conductor Jayce Ogren set a furious pace but proved adept at controlling dynamics and eliciting meticulous playing despite all the frenzy. Boisterous applause followed the rousing performance.

So far so good, but then the Swiss legend gave way to an English melancholic of far less heroic proportions. Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy,” based on Lord Byron’s semi-autobiographical poem “Childe Harold,” is a symphony masquerading as a concerto. The viola, ably played here by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, takes on the role of Harold observing various Italian tableaux. While the viola part is sometimes of interest, it is nowhere near as virtuosic or impassioned as true viola concertos by Bartok, Walton and other modern composers.

Ngwenyama spent most of her time playing long notes or arpeggios, with very few dazzling runs or assertive solos. She also hampered her stage presence by playing from a computerized score, which she kept advancing with a foot pedal. In addition, Berlioz’s awkward orchestration often had her doubling lines played by other orchestral sections, particularly the French horns. Her strings vibrated and her bow moved, but the horns drowned her out.

The viola is relatively prominent in the first two movements, but it begins to fade out in the third, deferring to the English horn for a prominent solo. By the fourth movement, the viola plays almost nothing except for a brief passage near the end, all of which entails a considerable amount of standing around.

Perhaps a better way to perform “Harold in Italy” would be to place the soloist in the principal viola spot inside the orchestra. The soloist would still be the main character, but only within a larger context that hides the long stretches of viola silence.

The soloists in Vivaldi’s “Gloria” also did a fair amount of sitting around, but that is de rigeur in works for orchestra, chorus and soloists. In a gesture to Baroque performance practice, the orchestra was reduced to 30 players, all but four of them strings. (The non-strings were a trumpet, an oboe, a bassoon and a small organ.) In contrast, the chorus remained at full strength, with about 70 singers from Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College arrayed on the stage behind the orchestra.

The numbers worked to the choir’s advantage, allowing them to be heard clearly at all times. They enhanced their clarity by careful enunciation of the Latin text and by blending well as a group. The bass, tenor, alto and soprano sections were evenly balanced, and nobody stuck out.

The choir’s singing in the opening “Gloria in excelsis Deo” was sprightly and vivacious, and their performance of the subsequent “Et in terra pax” was restful and calm. Ogren did an admirable job of balancing the singers and the instrumentalists, offering clear signals and expressive hand gestures.

The solos began with a wonderful rendition of the “Laudamus te” soprano duet by Sonoma State alumnae Jennifer Thuman and Esther Rayo. Their voices were radiant, and they projected well in the large space. After another chorus, Thuman followed up with a sublime “Domine Deus” displaying a well-controlled vibrato and solid trills. The final soloist, mezzo-soprano Chris Fritzche, also impressed in another “Domine Deus” and the penultimate “Qui sedes.”

The chorus had the last word with a rousing “Quoniam tu solus sanctus,” leading to an emphatic and life-affirming “Amen.” The applause was long and loud.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.