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Symphony
CONDUCTOR PLAYOFFS BEGIN IN SANTA ROSA
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 08, 2017
The Santa Rosa Symphony is calling 2017-18 “a choice season” because the next few months offer the audience and the symphony’s board of directors a chance to choose a new conductor from a pool of five candidates. Each candidate will lead a three-concert weekend set this fall and winter, with a final...
Symphony
DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017
A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium. Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with t...
Recital
ELEGANT PIANISM IN WATER MUSIC CHARMS HOUSE RECITAL AUDIENCE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 03, 2017
A standard component of house concerts often involve listeners hearing the music but also smelling the lasagna and seeing the champagne in the adjacent kitchen. But it was not the case Sept. 3 at Sandra Shen’s Concerts Grand House Recital performance, as her riveting piano playing enthralled the sm...
Chamber
YOUNG MUSICIANS SHINE AT PIANO SONOMA CONCERT
by Lee Ormasa
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
The third in a series of four concerts by Piano Sonoma artists in residence, part of the Vino and Vibrato Series, was held August 1 in Schroeder Hall at the Green Music Center. Entitled “The Masters,” the program included works by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Piano Sonoma is a summer artist-in...
Chamber
THRILLING PROGRAM CLOSES VOM CHAMBER FESTIVAL AT HANNA CENTER
by Lee Ormasa
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The finale of the two-week Valley of the Moon Music Festival closed July 30 with “The Age of Bravura” concert at the Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. The musical selections held to this year’s Festival theme “Schumann’s World - His Music and the Music He Loved.“ This summer Festival features chamber mus...
Chamber
PERIOD INSTRUMENTAL SOUND AT PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, July 30, 2017
In the Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Festival’s penultimate concert July 30 the perennial issue of period and modern instruments was apparent. But only in the concluding Mendelssohn Trio, as the performances in the two first half works easily avoided instrumental comparisons. Clara Schumann’s t...
Chamber
ECLECTIC REPERTOIRE IN FETCHING VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 22, 2017
One of the purposes of summer music festivals is to present unfamiliar music in an attractive and often small audience setting. The Valley of the Moon Music Festival delightfully met these requirements July 22 and 23 with two concerts in the small hall at Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center. Classical Sono...
Recital
ADAMS' PHRYGIAN GATES HIGHLIGHTS MORKOSKI FESTIVAL PERFORMANCE
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
Attendees at the Molly Morkoski Mendocino Music Festival recital July 22 were in for a treat, both pianistically and if they happened to buy a tasty cookie during intermission. The program included Beethoven’s Op. 27 Moonlight Sonata, Adams’ Phrygian Gates, a surprise add-on of Grieg’s Holberg Suit...
Symphony
SOARING VERDI REQUIEM CLOSES 31ST MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Lee Ormasa
Saturday, July 22, 2017
We speak frequently about how there is nothing like the experience of a live performance. Seldom was this truer than at the July 22 closing performance of the two-week Mendocino Music Festival. The Festival Orchestra, conducted by of Allan Pollack, joined with the Festival Chorus in a moving renderi...
Recital
ORGAN REGISTRATION MASTERY HEARD IN WALHAIN'S RECITAL
by Robert Young
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
A group of 65 lucky attendees July 18 had the pleasure of hearing Etienne Walhain’s recital at the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa. Mr. Walhain is organist at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Tournai, Belgium, and played to a varied program Bach, Franck, and Reger. He used the tonal resource...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, February 21, 2009
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, guest artist, piano

Garrick Ohlsson, guest soloist, piano

SHIFTING THE CENTER OF ATTENTION

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Symphony programs often resemble three-ring circuses, organized in time rather than space. In the first ring, the symphony offers an overture or similar fare to whet your aural appetite. Then, in the center ring, comes the main attraction, usually a soloist displaying his chops in a concerto or other showpiece. The final ring is reserved for a symphony or other lengthy work that exhibits the orchestra in its full glory.

The Santa Rosa Symphony’s program on Feb. 21 at the Wells Fargo Center hewed to the familiar scheme, except that the soloist, Bay Area pianist Garrick Ohlsson, played on both sides of intermission, first in Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück, then in Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the gardens of Spain). The former displayed Ohlsson’s staggering technical prowess to full effect, the latter offering more opportunities for musicality.

On this program, though, the outer rings eclipsed the ostensible star attraction. This was less a function of the performances than of the music at hand: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured night) at one end of the program, Debussy’s Nocturnes at the other. When all was played and done, Schoenberg and Debussy put Weber and Falla in the shade.

Not that there’s anything much wrong with either of the concertante works, at least in the hands of Garrick Ohlsson. In the Weber he was commanding from the beginning, playing the opening phrase with as much space between the notes as forward momentum would allow. Every note was discrete, every tone fully resonant. Then came the full attack, marked by intense crescendos and accelerandos and devastating trills.

Throughout all his digital fireworks, Ohlsson sat imperturbable on the piano stool, his upper body planted like a tree trunk as his hands raced across the keyboard. He stared straight forward, occasionally looking down at the keys to make sure his fingers were still attached. He played impossibly fast, often interweaving his hands to dramatic effect. When he was done, the audience erupted in sustained applause.

It was thrilling playing, but the Konzertstück itself is little more than a standard-issue showpiece, patching together one motive after another to display the soloist’s prestidigitations. The rarely performed Falla promised a little more musical meat.

The first “night,” “En el Generalife” (In the Generalife), was somewhat skeletal, with lots of French Impressionist tremolos from the strings and many hand crossings from Ohlsson. Flesh began appearing on the bones in the second “night,” “Danza lejana” (Distant dance). The music turned more Spanish, with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis provoking some fiery tempos from the orchestra and Ohlsson matching them stride for stride. Sadly, the third “night,” “En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba” (In the gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba) with its hints of flamenco, didn’t seem to gel, either in composition or in performance.

The uncertain air of the Falla stood in contrast to the confident personalities of Schoenberg, whose Verklärte Nacht began the program, and Debussy, whose Nocturnes brought it to a magical close. The two pieces, both completed in 1899, are similar not only in their nocturnal subjects, but also in their emotional intensity and musical innovation.

Verklärte Nacht, originally for string sextet, was performed in the composer’s string-orchestra version, which adds basses, splits the various string sections, and frequently alternates between first-chair solos and full ensemble. The additional players make the work even lusher and more romantic than its erotically charged original, but often at the expense of clarity. Although Ferrandis pushed the rhythms and brought out some of the main themes, the orchestra was occasionally muddy. Nonetheless, the performance was heartfelt and emotional, nowhere more so than in a passage near the end where different players began arpeggiating over open strings. The effect of this clear sound after so much dense and often muted texture was liberating, even joyful.

Those same emotions were also at play in the Debussy Nocturnes. From the haunting opening for English horn, beautifully played by one of the symphony’s many unidentified freelancers, the piece transports its listeners to another world. Ferrandis exerted such control over the dynamics in this opening movement, “Nuages” (Clouds), that the entire auditorium was at times enveloped in silence.

The silence found its counterpart in the second nocturne, “Fêtes” (Festivals), which Ferrandis moved along briskly, with precise motions and fastidious attention to orchestral detail. The third and final Nocturne, “Sirènes” (Sirens), featured female voices from the symphony’s choir, blending seamlessly with the orchestra to evoke Debussy’s vision of temptation and longing.

The program ended as it had begun, on the outer rings. Somehow the center of attention had drifted to the edges.

[This article first appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice (www.sfcv.org), and is used by permission.]