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Recital
PERLMAN TRIUMPHS IN LOW TEMPERATURE SOLD OUT WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 15, 2019
Itzhak Perlman did a rare thing for a classical musician in his Sept. 15 recital – he sold out Weill Hall’s 1,400 seats, with 50 more on stage. Clearly the violinist has an adoring local audience that came to hear him perform with pianist Rohan De Silva in a concert of two substantial sonatas mixed...
Recital
TRANSCRIPTIONS ABOUND IN GALBRAITH'S GUITAR RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Master guitarist Paul Galbraith’s artistry was much in evidence Sept. 14 in his Sebastopol Community Church recital. Attendees in the Redwood Arts Council events were initially bothered by the afternoon’s heat in the church, but it was of small importance when the Cambridge, England-based artist be...
Recital
ECLECTIC DRAMATIC PROGRAMING IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Marin-based pianist Laura Magnani combined piquant remarks to an audience of 100 Sept. 11 with dramatic music making in a recital at Spring Lake Village’s Montgomery Center. Ms. Magnani’s eclectic programming in past SLV recitals continued, beginning with three sonatas by her Italian compatriot Sca...
Chamber
PERFORMER AS PROMOTER: CLARA SCHUMANN AND MUSICAL SALONS CLOSE VOM FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 28, 2019
The July 28 closing performance of the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival could have been subtitled "Friends", as it was devoted to works by both Clara and Robert Schumann, and those of their friends and protégés Brahms and virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom Clara toured extensively...
Chamber
ROMANTIC CHAMBER WORKS HIGHLIGHT VOM FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Saturday, July 27, 2019
Now in its 5th season the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival presented July 27 a concert titled “My Brilliant Sister,” featuring Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s compositions for combinations of voice, fortepiano and strings. Fanny and her brother Felix were close, and Felix occasionally published ...
Symphony
ROMANTIC DREAMS AT THE MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kayleen Asbo
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Romanticism, contrary to many popular perceptions, wasn’t simply about diving into the habitat of the heart. Romanticism began as a literary movement that elevated the power of nature as a transcendent force and sought with keen nostalgia to rediscover the wisdom of the past. The Romantics in both l...
Chamber
CHAUSSON CONCERTO SHINES IN A VISIONARY'S SALON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Ernest Chausson’s four-movement Concerto in D Major for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet (1891) is neither concerto nor sonata nor symphony, but it somehow manages to be all three, especially when played with fire and conviction by an accomplished soloist. Those incendiary and emotional elements w...
Chamber
EUROPEAN SALON MUSIC CAPTIVATES AT VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Two stunning programs of 19th and 20th century chamber music were presented on July 21 and 28 as part of the Valley of the Moon Music Festival at the Hanna Center in Sonoma. Festival founders and directors pianist Eric Zivian and cellist Tanya Tompkins were both on hand to contribute brilliantly at ...
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...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Russian River Chamber Music / Saturday, February 23, 2008
Borromeo String Quartet

The Borromeo String Quartet

ISLANDS IN THE STREAM

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Borromean Islands consist of three small islands and two islets in Lake Maggiore, near the town of Stresa, in northern Italy. In this beautiful location almost 20 years ago, four young musicians from the Curtis Institute decided to form a string quartet. They settled on the serendipitous name of Borromeo, a reference not only to the islands but also to the illustrious Italian family that has owned most of the outcroppings since the fourteenth century.

"Borromeo" has four syllables that blend together seamlessly to form a single word that seems to glide off the tongue, free of any glottal stops or harsh consonants. Likewise, the four players of the Borromeo String Quartet blend together to create a sound that is unequalled in its unanimity, fluidity, and grace. Their performance for the Russian River Chamber Music series on Feb. 23 was nothing short of magnificent, one of the best concerts I've ever heard.

The four members of the quartet--only two of whom are from the original group--present a striking image on the stage. The first and second violins, both men, sit on piano benches, a seating option normally reserved for cellists. The first violin, Nicholas Kitchen, of average build and height, nearly blocks the view of the rail-thin and youthful second, Kristopher Tong. The female contingent sits in ordinary chairs on the other side of the stage, with the intensely expressive violist Mai Motobuchi on the outside and the implacable cellist Yeesun Kim near the center of the action.

The concert opened with Beethoven's Opus 18, number 3, perhaps the most virtuosic of his early quartets, with a fiendishly difficult first-violin part. Kitchen dashed off his opening runs without breaking a sweat, but attention soon focused on the violist Motobuchi, who leaned into the center of the quartet, her eyes peeled and ever-widening, a gaze from which nothing escaped. Swaying back, forth, in, and out, she placed her instrument's complementary lines right between the soaring violins and the solid cello. She plays an extra-wide viola that produces a distinctive sound, neither shrill nor booming. It was a perfect match to her colleagues: a polyphony of tone as well as range.

Every aspect of the Beethoven was superb, from the beautiful legato in the second movement, to the elegance of the third, and the breathtaking pace of the last. The most distinctive feature, however, was the outstanding blend. Every part could be heard, with each player laying back or coming forward as the music required. The sforzandos and subito pianos were played to maximum dramatic effect, and the dynamics throughout were harnessed to a compelling narrative line. Beethoven's early quartets capture the fervor of youth, and all four players reflected that spirit, none more so than Tong, who literally threw himself into the part, at times rocking back on his bench with such force that one hoped he wouldn't fall over.

The genius of Beethoven carried over into the next piece, an extraordinary string quartet by the contemporary American composer Pierre Jalbert, born in 1967. Composed in 1995, when Jalbert was still in his twenties, the quartet is equal parts Jimi Hendrix, ethereal harmonics, and unusual glass-rod bowing. As explained by first-violinist Kitchen in a helpful introduction, the composition won the first annual Borromeo Quartet award from Copland House, a center for new music north of New York City. Kitchen described the Jalbert quartet as "very natural music" that reflects the composer's culture and upbringing. The first movement is "car horn music": when you're stuck in a traffic jam, your best option is to enjoy the honks. The second movement, marked "barbaric, driving; scherzando," is inspired by Hendrix; and the third is a hymn, complete with glass rods.

The performance was all of the above and more. The first movement did indeed evoke car horns; but it also offered the opposite, in the form of an absolute pianissimo fortified by an unerring unanimity of sound. For the second movement, the players obeyed Hendrix's injunction to "move over Rover, and let Jimi take over." A spectacular viola solo was followed by extended trills from all players above a solid rock-like beat. The range of sound was remarkable, as was the level of energy sustained throughout.

After the palpable intensity of the second movement, the third offered welcome sonic relief. It began not with the quartet per se but rather with the sound of rain falling heavily on the roof. This normally unwelcome intrusion merely added to the cornucopia of sound subsequently produced by the players. Harmonics appeared again, along with the unearthly glass rods; but the predominant sound was the gorgeous unanimity of tone and the perfect blend of all four parts. Jalbert is clearly a composer of great talent, and he has found a strong advocate in the Borromeo Quartet.

The second half consisted of Schumann's quartet in A minor, a real showcase for the viola, which gets to start most of the melodies and plays in almost every bar. It was Schumann, after all, who wrote one of the few great viola pieces (the M'rchenbilder), and the dark-toned instrument is often reflective of his tortured soul.

Every movement was great, but the galloping horses of the second-movement scherzo were particularly impressive, as was the haunting cello solo in the third. Matters came to a head in the final movement, with its mercurial moods and its manic-depressive pace. Both violinists dug into their solos, playing with unbridled passion and energy. The final section was a genuine revelation. If ever a quartet offered a window into a composer's soul, this was it.

The instantaneous standing ovation was followed by a pleasant reception at the Flying Goat, in downtown Healdsburg. A better evening of music and festivities is hard to imagine. Russian River Chamber Music, led by artistic director Gary McLaughlin, is to be commended for their efforts to bring great musicians to Sonoma County. In this case, the musicians were world-class.