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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
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, January 24, 2021
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor

Conductor Franceso Lecce-Chong

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 rendering of Bach’s “Ricercare a 6” from The Musical Offering. At that time, the dominant Bach transcriber was Leopold Stokowski, whose lush and heavily orchestrated transcriptions transformed Bach from a cerebral Baroque composer into an unabashed Romanticist. Webern’s approach is almost the complete opposite. His orchestration is spare, and his method is reverent. The net result in both cases, however, is the same: you’re definitely not listening to Bach.

Webern’s main transcribing device is to divide Bach’s fluid lines among several instruments. A melody that starts in the flutes, for example, migrates to the oboes and thence to the strings, each one playing only a few notes. While the Symphony’s playing was uniformly excellent, one wished for a smaller ensemble a 6 where each player could have a full say.

Zwilich’s Concerto Grosso for Chamber Orchestra (1985) continued the transcription motif, albeit in a more indirect way. The five-movement piece is based on the opening theme from a Handel violin sonata, complete with harpsichord. Both the first and last movements quote the Handel theme directly, interpolating it with sections written by Zwilich. The inner three movements are pure Zwilich, although Handel lurks in the background.

Zwilich’s interpolations in the outer movements consist primarily of ascending Coplandesque arpeggios that stand in stark contrast to Handel’s flowing lines. It’s hard at first to discern a connection between the two, but Zwilich sticks with the alternating pattern until the harmonic, rhythmic and harmonic connections become evident.

The inner movements -- a Largo surrounded by two Prestos -- have the same clearly delineated structure as the outer ones, with continuing use of ascending arpeggios. The dramatic melody of the Largo was particularly well played, with the musicians really leaning into the tragic lines. The only complaint one could make is that the harpsichord was difficult to hear.

Next up was a rarely played Sinfonia by Marianna Martines, a contemporary of Mozart’s in Vienna. According to the program notes, the Sinfonia is the only known symphony of the Classical period (1750-1820) composed by a woman. While that distinction accords the Sinfonia a certain level of interest, the work can also stand on its own merits. The orchestration is inventive, and the spritely ascending arpeggios imbue it with joyfulness. The lilting final movement is a standout. Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong heightened its effect by giving strong downbeats and eliciting firm dynamic contrasts. The echo effects were excellent, as was the hard-charging tempo.

Mozart’s 39th symphony is played so often by so many orchestras that it’s hard to hear anew; but the virtual concert format, coupled with Mr. Lecce-Chong’s sensitivity and expertise, did offer a new way of listening to this masterpiece. To begin with, the reduced forces onstage helped bring out the individual lines, and the sound achieved a limpid quality usually found in string quartets.

Beyond that, Mr. Lecce-Chong’s conducting was magnificent. Using spare motions, he coaxed Mozart’s serene Allegro melody out of the opening Adagio. The first violins sounded like opera singers as they floated above the orchestral underlay throughout the first movement. In the Andante second movement, the inescapable ascending arpeggios set up a fervent response to Mozart’s elegant theme. Mr. Lecce-Chong gave strong beats, but it was his motions between beats that allowed the musicians to bend the notes and flex the rhythm.

The third movement was greeted with a cough from the stage, an apt reminder of the live concert experience. Here the strings put their bowing techniques on display, alternating between a light spiccato and an expressive legato. The clarinet duet by Roy Zajac and Mark Wardlaw was likewise superb.

The finale was stirring. The violins led off with a pitch-perfect blur of notes, with each run clearly articulated. The conductor bent his knees in time with the music, moving everyone hastily along, even as the top lines played melodies of exquisite delicacy. It was hard to imagine so much serenity atop a hurtling object, but everyone landed safely on the resounding final chords.