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Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three...
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...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Nicki Bell and Leslie Gardner After Playing Ravel's "La Valse"

SIX PEDALS AND 176 KEYS

by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Concerts featuring two pianos have been on the upswing in Sonoma County, due mainly to the work of the Twenty Fingers Club, a group of well-trained amateurs devoted to conventional and arcane repertoire for 176 keys and six pedals. Club members don’t perform as often as they would like, as two-piano venues are rare.

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts solved the venue problem with a February Two-Piano Festival, bringing in a second instrument for five concerts and a gaggle of performers – 24 in all. Due to schedule conflicts, I was only able to attend the final event, an afternoon recital Feb. 24 by resident Sebastopol pianists Nicki Bell and Leslie Gardner. Twenty-five rapt listeners found the eclectic program of Piazzola, Brubeck and Ravel a change from the usual Mozart and Rachmaninoff two-piano works.

Astor Piazzola’s tangos are popular these days, and one hears the Libertango and Infinity everywhere as encores. The Bell-Gardner duo chose six less performed tangos, composed from 1968 to 1988. Beginning with the mysterious Michelangelo 70, the set unfolded with snippets of dreamy and languid themes, some works akin to bad film music and peppered with raucous repeated dissonances. I found the contrapuntal lines and sharp contrasts of the Fuga y misterio the most convincing, along with the lyrical and somber fifth work, Soledad. Some of this music is sectional and plodding, with the pianists making every effort to keep together with too many score pages to turn quickly. Nonetheless, instrumental balance was excellent.

Dave Brubeck’s “Points on Jazz” ballet suite followed. Rather than a transcription, this piece was originally written for two pianos, and its six movements form distinct character pieces in Brubeck’s inimitable style. The syncopated modes quickly became the benchmark of the work. The opening Prelude was light-hearted, the following Scherzo up-tempo and bluesy. Bell’s ardent pianism was apparent in the torch-song slow Blues, ending with a brassy piano line from Gardner and 11 (were there that many?) insistent mezzo forte chords. The pianists were equally effective in a clamorous fugue with husky chords unfolding over an ostinato bass. A Tin-Pan Alley Rag with deliciously interwoven pop tunes led to a final Chorale. Here the performers were sometimes not together, even though the tempos was slow. The contrary motion ending, played beautifully, lifted the theme quietly into the ethos and resounding applause from the crowd.

Ravel’s masterful La Valse concluded the concert, and it seemed a work in progress for the performers. It’s a virtuoso handful with swirling waltz rhythms and insinuating rhythmic patterns leading to a powerful close, depicting the demise of the classic Viennese waltz era. The playing was muddy, the phrases tentative rather than ringing, the orchestral ending lacking impact. All through the recital the lack of vocal line clarity, due in part to the less-than-professional instruments and the room acoustics, hindered the music’s transparency.

The Bell-Gardner duo played with ardor and focus, a fitting end to a festival of unfamiliar music and congenial performers.