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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

Simone Porter

SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close but didn’t quite summit.

Ms. Porter wore a red jumpsuit that complemented her athleticism and musicality. She was often in motion, whether bending at the knees to gather strength or bolting upright to reach the highest notes on her instrument. Her movements often paralleled her phrasing, with forward surges or backward steps marking phrase beginnings and endings.

The main story, however, was Ms. Porter’s gorgeous sound, particularly on the lower strings. Her low notes at the beginning of the concerto’s first movement were simply stupendous. She could have stayed down there for the entire concerto, so awesome was the sound.

Nonetheless, Ms. Porter moved on to the upper strings, complementing her basso profundo with exquisite phrasing somewhere north of high C. It was a visceral performance aided and abetted by flawless bowing and vibrato. Her bow arm was a marvel of fluidity. The highlight of the first movement was a “sul G” passage near the end that the violinist played entirely on the G string while effortlessly shifting up and down the fingerboard. The closing presto was nearly as riveting, and the audience, including me, burst into indecorous applause at the end.

Sadly, the slow second movement didn’t live up to the sprightly first. The horn entries were sometimes ragged, and the orchestra was often too loud, covering Horner to a certain degree. Worse still, the tempo began to plod in the middle, but both Horner and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong made a full recovery in time for the emotional ending.

The third movement was a mixed bag. Ms. Porter played the main theme beautifully, really digging in to the repeated downbows that punctuate the movement. But her many upper-register runs were sometimes rough, with dubious intonation on the highest notes and a lack of clarity in the fastest passages. The beauty and urgency of her playing, however, brought her close to the top. Stardom is a definite possibility after some fine tuning.

Sticking with the tried and true, Mr. Lecce-Chong conducted Brahms’ second symphony after intermission. Instead of a red-clad soloist, attention shifted to the orchestra itself, where full participation is needed to unveil Brahms’ intricate and monumental construction. The strings began with assurance, producing a lush but crisp sound in the opening bars. The conductor's gestures on the podium were compact and exact, displaying a lapidary polish and precision. One could close one’s eyes and imagine a bucolic alpine meadow, surrounded by imposing mountains.

The cellos opened the second movement with an expansive line that warmly embraced a limpid solo by horn principal Meredith Brown. Suddenly, everything was moving at once, with each line distinct and easily heard. Mr. Lecce-Chong achieved clarity amid Brahms’ density, allowing each section its moment in the sun. A wonderful pause near the end actually increased the dramatic intensity.

The exactitude and precision continued in the remaining movements. In the third, the dynamics were superb, the melodies playful and lilting. In contrast, the fourth was rollicking and tumultuous, with a staggering level of artistic invention on display. Mr. Lecce-Chong captured just the right spirit by eschewing overly dramatic gestures and keeping to the task at hand. It’s hard to imagine a better performance.

Embarrassingly, I was a few minutes late to the concert because of a forgotten ticket, so I had to watch the opening piece—Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia—on a closed-circuit TV in the lobby. It sounded interesting, but that’s as far as I can go.

Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice