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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...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
BEETHOVEN'S VALENTINE'S DAY GIFT IN RAC SEBASTOPOL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, February 14, 2020
Continuing a season of Redwood Arts Council successes, the Kouzov Duo performed an eclectic Valentine’s Day concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church before an audience of 125. Beethoven’s charming Op. 66 Variations on Mozart’s “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from the opera the Magic Flute was a bouncy ...
LUSH BACH PERFORMANCE IN DENK'S WEILL HALL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, February 13, 2020
Memorable artistic interpretations of musical masterpieces are often at extremes, and with the Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC - Book I) that Jeremy Denk played in Weill Hall Feb. 13, the pianist was only sporadically at unique or ebullient musical ends. But his playing wasn’t exactly at opposite...
CHAMBER REVIEW

Aizuri Quartet March 8 in Mill Valley (A. Wasserman photo)

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 Mill Valley Chamber Music Society board encouraged the audience to spread out and suspended their practice of offering refreshments at intermission.

Dvořák first wrote Cypresses as a song cycle set to Czech poems by Moravian poet Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky. It was 1865 and Dvořák was in his twenties. More than 20 years later he transcribed 12 of the songs for string quartet. Of these the Aizuri players played three, unidentified in the program, all lush and evocative. Performing with deep feeling and exquisite calibration, the Quartet gave a rewarding reading, full of thoughtful rubato, pulse and coloration. The music suggested wind in cypress trees, the movement of clouds and the heartbreak of unrequited love. Ayana Kozasa’s viola sang with golden resonance, the violinists Miho Saegusa and Emma Frucht played soaring and sweet phrases and cellist Karen Ouzounian’s deft bow conveyed the ache of longing.

The Aizuri Quartet, based in New York City, was founded seven years ago, and for their Bay Area performances they chose the theme of “Songs and Echoes of Home,” each work referencing folk song and story from a different culture: Czech, Estonian, Armenian, American and Finnish.

Ms. Ouzounian introduced her husband Lembit Beecher’s four-movement work “These Memories May Be True.” Mr. Beecher (b. 1980) based his composition on his Estonian grandmother’s stories “of migration, hardship and overcoming.” The Aizuri performed it with a depth of feeling and virtuosity. Its fragmented themes suggest the fragmentation of his late grandmother’s life after she was forced to flee her country, and a 19th-century Estonian folk song weaves mysteriously throughout, perhaps a link to her past. The four movements are Old Folk Song, The Legend of the Last Ship (and Other Collective Memories), Estonian Grandmother Superhero, and Variations on a Somewhat Old Folk Song. Each was at turns wistful and haunted, with spurts of dissonant harmonies, flurries of vitality, and quiet moments of suspended breaths. The audience responded enthusiastically to the nuanced performance.

Ms. Kozasa next introduced a set of Armenian folk songs arranged by Komitas (1869-1935), calling them “a window into the Armenian soul.” Née Soghomon Soghomonian, Komitas led a productive but ultimately tragic life, collecting and transcribing more than 3,000 Armenian folk songs as well as collecting Kurdish folk songs. The Quartet performed five charming folk songs. “It’s Cloudy” flowed gently, while “Festive Song” evoked lively ritual and festivities. “Dance for Shushiki,” in three-quarter time, pranced and twirled. It was followed by a muscular dance and a children’s song (“Song of the Partridge”) with string pizzicato, delicate harmonics and strong unison playing.

After intermission, the Quartet performed “At the Purchaser’s Option” by Rhiannon Giddens (b. 1977), arranged for string quartet by Jacob Garchik for the Kronos Quartet. Ms. Saegusa said by way of introduction that this was a dark side of American history - slavery. “Through music we get a glimpse into pain and sorrow but also determination and resolve,” she added.

The South Carolina composer’s song was inspired by a 19th-century advertisement for the sale of a young woman and her baby. The words to the song, printed in the program, reveal the young slave’s strength (“You can take my body/You can take my bones/You can take my blood/But not my soul”). It’s a poignant melody and the arrangement was a pleasure to hear, but ultimately the song is thin fare for a string quartet. The simple, repetitive clarity that make it compelling when the words are sung with banjo and bass accompaniment create little opportunity for compositional development with four string players.

The afternoon’s greatest work came last: Sibelius’s titanic five-movement String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56, composed in 1909 between his third and fourth symphonies. The quartet evokes the wild landscape of Finland and the deep interior reflection such a landscape inspires.

The first movement, Andante – Allegro molto Moderato, begins introspectively with a mournful four-measure dialogue between violin and cello. As the other instruments join in, the music becomes harmonies in motion, like waving fields of grain or windswept tundras, and this grace continues throughout the work. The Adagio di molto second movement was played fast and bright with much use of tremolo, and had a scurrying quality and frequent references back to the main theme. The third movement (Allegretto) is the heart of the piece and the Aizuri gave a reading of deep yearning. Sibelius penned “voces intimae” on the score above three muted repeating chords in this movement. There were interior shifts to lightness, foreboding, a catharsis and a final burst of intense musical feeling before coming to resolution. The fourth movement, Allegro (ma pesante), began ominously with an intense, almost existential questioning in phrases that persisted to its conclusion. The finale Allegro movement was performed with restless momentum and shadowed in perpetual motion, building to a cadence that rushed to an exciting close.

Clearly elated with the performance, the audience honored the musicians with a standing ovation. There was no encore, and afterwards the musicians lingered in the lobby to greet friends and wellwishers, and many stopped to personally thank them.