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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...
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 REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Festival Orchestra. Allan Pollack, conductor. Spencer Myer, piano

Pianist Spencer Myer

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 literature and music embraced the emotional extremities of Dionysian drama, both tragedy and comedy, as a source of revelation.

Mendocino Music Festival’s July 24th concert in the large tent featured the Festival Orchestra and demonstrated elements of these aesthetic values in a beautifully interwoven program of three of the giants of the Romantic music movement: Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. These three geniuses were intimately connected with one another in life, and all three were shaped and molded by their deep studies of Bach and Beethoven.

Mendelssohn was just 20 years old, fresh from his triumph of resurrecting Bach’s St. Matthew’ s Passion, when he went off on a Grand European Tour, beginning in the British Isles. The sites and sounds he encountered planted seeds of inspiration for many of his greatest works in the years to come and the emerald waters and luminous vistas Mendelssohn saw in Scotland while crossing to Fingal’s Cave, and gave birth to his overture/orchestral tone poem “The Hebrides,” Op. 26. Conductor Alan Pollack opened the work masterfully with a halo of string sound, evoking a gossamer violin veil typical of  Mendelssohn’s early works which was then promptly answered by the cellos with lush sonorities. The orchestra deftly conveyed the essence of the Scottish landscape with surging waves, jaunty snatches of sea chanteys and shimmering shafts of sunlight merging in between bouts of tempestuous winds in a tempo that was spacious and lilting.

It was under Mendelssohn’s baton that the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra first played Schumann’s A Minor Piano Concerto as it appeared in its first form as a one movement work in 1841. This Piano Phantasie was only considered a partial success and could not find a publisher until it underwent expansion and revision with the addition of two additional movements. The final result, the Op. 54 Concerto, has become a staple of the concert hall and it eventually spawned a host of imitators, notably the concertos of Grieg and Rachmaninoff.  Unusual for its time, Schumann’s work inseparably interweaves the piano and orchestra together. While the work holds plenty of technical challenges, it’s not a showcase of virtuosity, but more an amalgam of chamber music, symphony and concerto. Like Schumann’s own personality, the writing is mercurial: bold, fiery and impassioned at one point (the side of his personality Schumann dubbed “Florestan”, after Beethoven’s operatic hero)  and tender and reflective the next  (the side Schumann labeled “Eusebius” ) with sudden interruptions  and abrupt  transitions between the two.

The first movement, allegro affetuouso,  begins dramatically with an orchestral thunderclap, and the solo piano boldly blasts down the keyboard with a series of cascading chord progressions before yielding to a melody heartsick with longing first played by the oboe. If soloist Spencer Meyer lacked precision, dramatic drive and raw muscular power as the “Florestan” personality, he  delighted in the poetic “Eusebius”  passages, offering a true spirit of collaboration with his rapt attention to the woodwind section as together they wove a duet of  intimate yearning in the major key second theme.  The delicate, playful second movement (intermezzo) conveyed well the marking of andantino grazioso and flowed without mishap into a triumphant, exultant  allegro vivace. While the opening pages of the third movement are some of the most energetic, joyful passages in all of concerto literature, the coordination between orchestra and soloist is notoriously fraught with peril and has created many a concert hall disaster across the years.

Congratulations were in order to all the musicians for holding the finale together through the hair-raising sections of rhythmic dismemberment and for achieving a tonal balance that allowed for the melodic passages to emerge with warmth and clarity. Schumann was the most Dionysian of all composers, in both life and in musical personality.  The performance perhaps too perfectly mirrored the weather outside: sunshine and gentle mildness, without a hint of the unbridled passion, mad intoxication or intense delirium that is a necessary component of Schumann’s style. Still, the audience wasted no time leaping to their feet with appreciation of the amiable collaboration between artists.

Mr. Meyer’s encore, the Brahms Intermezzo (Op. 117, No. 1) was  a beautiful match for the pianist’s poetic temperament. This inward and thoughtful lullaby was rendered with mature grace, offering an exquisite kaleidoscope of autumnal shades conveying resignation, peace and a tinge of nostalgia.

Mendelssohn’s was the work of an adventurous youth, and the Schumann Concerto a product of a man in his prime. Brahms’s E Minor Fourth Symphony, Op. 98, was written at a juncture of almost existential despair for the composer after a series of deaths and disappointments and with a cloud of foreboding as he surveyed the world events around him.  Big, majestic and tragic in its scope, it is not a work that a summer festival orchestra comprised of a mixture of disparate professional and community members easily tackles for a single performance.  If at times their reach exceeded their grasp, it was still a laudable reading with many moments to savor. The agitated opening, though marked allegro non troppo is restless and filled with short pauses. Redolent with the same sweeping gestures that characterized the Mendelssohn, the violin and cello sections once again impressed with their lush tone color. The serenity and pathos of the andante moderato was bizarrely interrupted by the cacophony of nearby aerial fireworks. The conductor wisely chose to stop, wait out the ruckus, and then begin again with the gorgeous second theme, this time played even more beautifully by the orchestra.

The allegro giocoso third movement has been described as a “savage scherzo,” filled with “brutal and sarcastic humor”. Mr. Pollock leapt into its visceral rhythm with aplomb, showing the most verve and energy of the evening as he unleashed the tympanist Tyler Mack to ring out sound with force and joy.

The finale allegro energico e passionato is a monumental Passacaglia that pays homage to the past. An eight bar phrase, drawn from Bach’s Cantata No 150 (Bach dir, Herr, Verlanget much), is intoned in stark chords and then develops seamlessly into a succession of 32 increasingly agitated variations built on this same harmonic progression. Unusual for a final movement of a symphony, Brahms does not transform the e minor tonality into a blaze of triumph by modulating into the parallel minor (as Beethoven did in the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies), but rather uses the tight, compressed structure to evoke a sense of inescapable fate.

Brahms epic last Symphony requires an orchestra that possesses instrumental virtuosity, conductoral control, cohesion and soul-stirring passion, and a complex and heroic quest beyond the reach of this performance. That there were moments of depth and beauty (such as the triumphant unison entrance trombone in the rousing fourth-movement coda) was no small victory. The audience was effusive applause in standing applause.