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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
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Conductor, Soloists and the VSO March 31 in the Empress Theater

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 Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72, and he drew from the orchestra many small but effective climaxes in the 16 minute work, with sterling flute and piccolo playing by Melanie Keller, and Kale Cummings’ resonant trumpet solo that seemed to come from the audience. The Hall has clear acoustics but a short reverberation time, presumably helped when each of the 432 seats is filled.

Fauré’s Op. 48 Requiem was probably the piece on the program that was the afternoon’s attraction, and Mr. Taddei introduced it from the stage with comments about the current and coming VSO seasons. He is a witty speaker. Soloists were baritone Brad Walker and soprano Shawnette Sulker, the latter frequently heard with the American Bach Soloists and at the Mendocino Music Festival. American Canyon High School’s Chamber Choir occupied the rear of the small stage, with 35 singers.

It was an earnest performance of the seven sections, but ultimately an underpowered one. The Choir, prepared by Jamie Butler, could not effectively cut through the orchestral fabric for a clear sound, despite Mr. Taddei’s deft sonic control of the Orchestra. Mr. Walker’s resonant voice in the offertoire gave underpinning, along with the small organ, to the sound where often there were no high strings employed, and he held the section’s final note with vigor.

The composer is anecdotally known as “old arpeggio,” and the sanctus produced those chordal figurations, and harpist Anna Maria Mendieta could be clearly heard, along with a lovely long trill from the first violins ending a meandering theme. Ms. Sulker sang mostly as a duo with the organ (sans violins) in the pie jesu, leading to a long descending orchestral line with indistinct choral projection in the agnus dei.

Mr. Taddei never let the pace slack in the libera me and the finale in paradisum where at key points the cellos, bass and viola sound covered the Choir. A long fermata ended the wonderful Fauré work and Mr. Butler joined the soloists on stage for loud applause.

A “call or summons” from timpani leading to rising strings began the Sibelius 7th Symphony, closing the concert’s first half and for me the event’s highlight. Harmonies in this 1924 work, the composer’s last symphony, faintly echo Wagner’s Tristan and surprisingly Howard Shore’s music to the films “The Lord of the Rings.” With Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich, Sibelius is the master of big climaxes, but in the Op 105 work the climaxes are few and not so big, and were well shaped by the conductor. The pace taken in the one-movement work, lasting 21 minutes, was generally slow and unfolded naturally.

There was a burnished feeling to Mr. Taddei’s interpretation, with lots of tympani (John Weeks) and building horn solos from Margarite Waddell’s section and unison string playing. There were faint references to the composer’s famous “Valse Triste” toward the end, in an autumnal character leading to a strange C Major key, and Mr. Taddei uniquely quickly cut off the soft ascending phrase that concludes the work. Some conductors like to have the sound linger but Mr. Taddei had perfectly logical ideas in shaping the final pianissimo mildly dissonant and restrained ending. I found his reading convincing and always beautiful.

Of course the hero of the day was Mr. Taddei, whose name appeared on the Virginia Street theater marquee alongside big VSO lettering, and who mixed with the audience and musicians in the spacious lounge after the performance, responding to arcane musical questions and his previous life in New Zealand.

The 2019-2020 season, announced during the concert and featuring the final three symphonies of Dvorák and those of Barber (No. 1), Roy Harris and Ives (both No. 3), will continue the format of two-set performances. Success breeds success.