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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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Francesco Lecce-Chong Dec. 9 in Weill Hall

EVERLASTING LIGHT AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Monday, December 9, 2019

The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night. The soloists were good, but the choir was superb. Located within the orchestra instead of the choir loft, the choristers were fully integrated into the sonic texture, aided in no small part by their excellent diction and well-controlled dynamics.

Instead of the standard Sussmayer version of Mozart’s unfinished masterpiece, conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong chose a contemporary version by musicologist Robert Levin. The differences are mostly subtle, but Levin adds a fully embellished “Amen” fugue at the end of the “Lacrimosa” section and tinkers with the “Sanctus.” The tinkering works, but the new fugue sounds more Baroque than Mozartean.

Those quibbles aside, the performance was nearly transcendent, displaying Mozart’s genius and humanity at its most profound. Conducting without a score, Mr. Lecce-Chong displayed complete command of every measure, eliciting a crisp sound from the orchestra and expressive singing from the choir. The articulation from both players and singers was knife-edged, with every note and syllable distinct. The tempos were brisk and steady.

Standout moments included the “Dies Irae,” which took off like a rocket. The choir’s eyes were glued to the conductor rather than buried in their scores, and they reacted swiftly to his graceful cues. The subsequent “Tuba Mirum” moved at a similarly brisk pace and featured strong solos from bass Philip Skinner and trombonist Amy Bowers. The vocal quartet in the “Recordare” was fine, but the top three singers’ limits became evident over the course of the movement. Soprano Shawnette Sulker had too much vibrato and seemed preoccupied with her score; alto Laura Krumm had good tone but was drowned out; tenor Benjamin Brecher had a sweet sound, but his voice was often constricted. As in the “Tuba Mirum,” Mr. Skinner proved the most consistent.

Mr. Lecce-Chong took a long pause at the end of the new “Amen” section, perhaps to gather his forces for the majestic “Domine Jesu” and “Hostias,” which really cooked. Everyone on stage was swept up by the conductor’s relentless energy, as each gorgeous phrase flowed into the next. The momentum carried into the “Sanctus,” whose “Hosanna in excelsis” lines were downright rollicking. In the “Agnus Dei,” the choir showed off its precise articulation, enunciating “qui tollis peccata mundi” with clarion fervor. The final words of the Requiem—“et lux perpetua luceat eis” (let everlasting light shine upon them)—lived up to their double meaning, referring not only to the light of heaven, but also to Mozart’s eternal genius.

Genius of another kind inhabited the first half of the concert, which opened with a sparkling performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 39. Mr. Lecce-Chong conducted the reduced ensemble (strings, four horns, two oboes and bassoon) while standing before an elevated fortepiano, on which he interpolated occasional unscored continuo parts. The fortepiano was mostly inaudible, but it did rise to the occasion when the strings played pianissimo.

Haydn’s symphony is a real gem, as deserving of respect as his later efforts. The orchestra opens very quietly, with pregnant, jokey rests between phrases. Despite the quietude, the ensemble bristled with energy that carried over into the later, louder sections. The Andante second movement was spare, elegant and courtly, with bows in perfect sync. A unified, reverberant sound from the strings dominated the Minuet and continued in the dramatic Allegro di molto finale, where the players spun off a series of exemplary runs at a furious pace.

Furious pacing was nowhere in evidence in the next work, “Records from a Vanishing City,” by contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery. In his introduction, Mr. Lecce-Chong said the piece “creates a sense of place” by recreating the “white noise” the composer heard while growing up in the lower east side of Manhattan. The conductor's description turned out to be accurate, but unfortunately the piece never went beyond atmospherics.

Ms. Montgomery is clearly skilled at orchestration, and the density of her sound is remarkable. Nonetheless, her basic modus operandi is to place solos atop a constantly shifting cloud of sound. The results were often beautiful, but the piece never went anywhere, and development was hard to detect.

Reprinted by permission from San Francisco Classical Voice