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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...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Béla Fleck and Francesco Lecce-Chong Nov. 4 in Weill Hall (J. McNeill photo)

MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL

by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 4, 2019

It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here.

The evening began with two spiritual announcements from the stage, starting with Symphony President Alan Silow pointing to the powerful message great music gives to the North Bay undergoing physical affliction, and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong describing the support from community and colleagues that overcame dislocations to produce luminous music in the second set of seven triple concerts in the 92nd season. The conductor added that with Weill closed at least one rehearsal was held in the nearby Graton Casino, and that Copland’s opening Four Dance Episodes from the 1942 Ballet “Rodeo” would be shortened to just the final episode, due to inadequate rehearsal time.

But as a surprise, Mr. Lecce-Chong conducted a seven-minute pastiche arrangement by Carmen Dragon of the 1910 iconic “America The Beautiful”. When the conductor turned to face the audience of 1,100 they responded with muted and happy singing. The applause was loud.

Quickly changing the mood was the special excitement that Copeland wove into music of his 1930-1945 period, excitement that was borne on the virtuosity of the brass (Bruce Chrisp’s trombone solo), percussion effects, wood block and even a bit of piano sound that usually is inaudible in orchestral works. It was a lively and persuasive performance, and seemingly prepared the audience for the rare chance to experience banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck playing a concerto that he composed. The Juno Concerto from 2016 is in three movements and has frequent references to Copland’s themes but only faint shadows of the familiar Copland orchestration.

Over 29 minutes the work’s mood varies from minimalism to dramatic instrumental outbursts in a conservative harmonic idiom. Fine playing in the first movement was heard from Stacy Pelinka (piccolo), horn duos with clarinetist Roy Zajac, and timpanist Andrew Lewis, giving a movement-ending single note an individual character.

The middle movement involved banjo phrasing that had the air of questioning, with the Orchestra answering, and had references to such compositional opposites as Gerald Finzi, Glass and Reich. The Cadenza in the middle combined the banjo part with Laura Reynolds' solo oboe. Lovely flute playing was heard in a march-like section of big sonorities, but the ending was lightweight with the banjo line ending at the top of the fingerboard with three mysterious pianissimo notes. Beautiful.

In the finale Mr. Fleck’s music contrasted his wonderful finger picking with the woodwinds, but also evolved with scant relationship of the solo banjo and the orchestral texture. In this movement there were faint sounds of country banjo phrases. Using amplification, Mr. Fleck gave new weight throughout to banjo virtuosity. Strangely enough, at least from a balcony seat, the banjo sounded unlike the familiar banjo of pop and country music, and perhaps the electronic rendering contributed to lessening the “edge” of the banjo’s twang and dry harmonic flavor.

Returning to the stage with huge applause, the soloist launched into what surely was the longest encore in the Hall’s history, an eight-minute improvisation that was captivating and richly satisfying. The waiting Orchestra members appeared to love the exhibitionism and false cadences in the encore, the best encore in my memory since Lang Lang’s deliciously tasteless “Minute Waltz” in Weill’s inaugural 2013 concert.

Following intermission what could fit with the musical memory of the unique Juno Concerto and its formidable composer-performer? An extravagant orchestral showpiece was in order, and Mr. Lecce-Chong (not using a score) delivered a stunning Mussorgsky Pictures at and Exhibition in the Ravel arrangement. Scott Macomber’s opening trumpet solo was exact, with clarion playing in the 15 short sections from hornist Meredith Brown, bass clarinetist Mark Shannon, the bassoons and the three-musician percussion section. First violin clarity in fast ascending passages was exemplary, and the second violin and contrabass (seated stage left) sound was unusually transparent and fulsome.

This Mussorgsky performance found Mr. Lecce-Chong in a particularly animated posture, with gymnastic body movements and cues, but also producing with his marvelous Orchestra over 35 minutes a champagne orgy of sound and potent musical histrionics. At the thunderous conclusion of the Great Gate of Kiev section the audience rose almost as one in an extended tsunami of applause and appreciative yells.