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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...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Telegraph Quartet in Mill Valley Nov. 10 (A. Wasserman Photo)

SPIRITUAL LATE BEETHOVEN QUARTET HIGHLIGHTS MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT

by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 10, 2019

Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, called “unparalleled in its inexhaustibility” by critic Thomas May, is a daunting challenge. Orchestral in concept, filled with wit and charm, melancholy and fury, it almost overwhelms listeners. Playing the frenetic Scherzo, a violinist once commented, was “like galloping through hell.” But the piece is sublime, and the Telegraph Quartet, performing it Nov. 10 at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church for the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society, fully met its challenges.

The San Francisco-based group: Eric Chin and Joseph Maile, violins; Pei-Ling Lin, viola; and cellist Jeremiah Shaw, delivered a performance of great eloquence, and did so after preceding the Beethoven with two other grand works: Berg’s Quartet No. 3 and Bartók’s Fourth Quartet. The concert was a tour-de-force.

Comments and brief musical illustrations by Messrs. Maile and Chin prefaced each selection. Mr. Maile described Berg’s two-movement piece from 1910 as “packed full of character emotions and overwrought feelings.” In it, Berg, self-taught before composer Arnold Schoenberg became his mentor and teacher, straddles Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique and the Romantic tradition of their Viennese forbears Brahms and Mahler. Schoenberg wrote of the piece, Berg’s first mature work, that it “surprised me in the most unbelievable way by the fullness and unconstraint of its musical language, the strength and sureness of its presentation, its careful working and significant originality.”

Its first movement, Langsam, is a moody soundscape of sighing rises and sonic falls and agitated trills. Bowing effects conjured up different characters for a four-way dialogue; and even when they harmonize, there’s a broad edge of dissonance. The second movement, Mässiger viertel (“moderate quarter”), further engages the players in a conversation that is punctuated by string tremolos, ponticelli, pizzicati and glissandos. Momentum flags and gathers anew, but the piece ends abruptly, as though its musical momentum has hit a sonic wall.

Bartók’s five-movement Quartet, Mr. Chin explained prior to the performance, is structured in an arc: movements one and five and two and four are connected thematically, with an ethereal third movement, Non troppo lento, as the anchor. He also pointed out that Bartók loved bugs, and we would hear them scurrying around in the piece, as well strong rhythms and haunting melodies of Hungarian folk music the composer meticulously researched and championed.

Throughout the quartet one heard slashing rhythms that brought Stravinsky to mind, but not because Bartók was copying; rather, both composers incorporated similar folk music into compositions. Biting notes and offbeat rhythms characterized some of the most exciting moments in the Bartók, which the Telegraph players attacked with virtuosity and also nuance. The third movement was shimmering night music: melodic, plaintive and moonlit. A bird song similar to Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” hovered exquisitely toward movement’s end. Bartôk’s music often shows the importance of inserting calm into the sonic fabric of great intensity, and here he employed different effects to make the strings speak changing idioms. The Allegretto pizzicato fourth movement showcased how varied “mere” string plucking can be, from light clicks to vigorous slaps that Bartôk claimed as his own, the string lifted high so that descending, it loudly slaps the instrument’s wood.

Following intermission the audience settled in for a performance of one of Beethoven’s transcendent quartets. Mr. Maile speculated that chronologically, the Beethoven would have come first on the program, because the others “wouldn’t have been possible” without its innovations. The C-Sharp Minor Quartet is 40 minutes long and has seven movements (unprecedented at the time) and each is played without pause. It begins with a slow fugue, creating a fateful atmosphere that while chorale-like, is reminiscent of Bach’s “descending angels” in some fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The Telegraph players’ instruments blended thrillingly, even in unison projecting distinctive, individual voices.

The most powerful of the seven movements was the fourth, (Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile), a theme and variations where each variation is played in a different style and by different instrumental combinations. The ensemble’s lively, witty Presto (movement five) sounded like an obsessive spinning wheel, and the final Allegro in sonata form incorporated and reorganized the fugue from the first movement. Responding to the music’s vital force, the Telegraph potently conveyed the resignation, anger and defiance Beethoven wrote into the piece.

As the final passionate notes faded, the Mill Valley audience rose to shower the Telegraph Quartet with accolades.