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 Recent Reviews
CHORAL AND VOCAL
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
Conductor Jeffrey Thomas
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth...
SYMPHONY
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T...
CHAMBER
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Lincoln Piano Trio
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito...
SYMPHONY
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Morgan Harrington Nov. 14
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister...
CHAMBER
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Manhattan Chamber Players
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D....
CHAMBER
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Ives Collective Chamber Ensemble
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder...
SYMPHONY
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
Conductor Alasdair Neale
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba...
SYMPHONY
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Apollo's Fire Oct. 30 with Visual
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,...
CHAMBER
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li...
RECITAL
AUTHORITATIVE BEETHOVEN SONATA IN KLEIN'S OCCIDENTAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, October 8, 2021
Andreas Klein in Occidental
People attending the first Redwood Arts Council Occidental concert in 20 months found a surprise – a luxurious new lobby attached to the Performing Arts Center. It was a welcome bonus to a recital given by pianist Andreas Klein where the music seemed almost as familiar as was the long shuttered hal...
Local Concerts  
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, January 9, 2022
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor. Olga Kern, piano

Pianit Olga Kern

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours.

Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that some of their wind players might have been exposed to Covid, so the decision was made to replace the scheduled concert with a strings-only version, supplemented with piano pieces played by the scheduled soloist, Olga Kern.

As conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong explained from the podium, he selected the string pieces in about two hours on Sunday morning and then came to Weill Hall to rehearse them. That rehearsal was ongoing on 3 p.m., so the start time was pushed back to 3:30.

After the audience settled in, the orchestra launched into a spritely rendition of Mozart’s early Divertimento for String Orchestra, K.136, written when he was 16. Despite the composer’s tender age, the divertimento is relatively difficult to play well, so it was a pleasure to hear the string players sustain a remarkable unanimity throughout, with nary a wrong note or intonation problem to be heard. The close attention to dynamics and phrasing also paid off. How could a performance be this good with such scant rehearsal? The answer is that the Symphony musicians possess consummate skill and artistry.

After the jovial divertimento, Mr. Lecce-Chong introduced a somber note by explaining that the next piece would be dedicated to the memory of Sara Mitchell, the Symphony’s longtime director of marketing, who died in December. The piece turned out to be Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” again in an impeccable performance that belied its brief rehearsal. The opening notes were serene, leading to a long crescendo in which each line was distinct. When the crescendo reached its climax, the sound shimmered across the auditorium, and its memory filled the long pause before the Adagio resumed. The ending was ethereal.

The conductor set the background for the next piece by noting that he recently married Chloe Tula, a concert harpist with her own career. She happened to be working on Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances” for harp and string orchestra, and she agreed to play it just one hour before the performance.

A harp appeared on stage, followed shortly afterward by Ms. Tula, clad in a glittering silvery gown. Her performance was even more glittering, with her elegant playing easily heard over the orchestral accompaniment. Her phrasing was sensitive and her dynamic control impressive, but her most important asset was capturing the spirit of Debussy’s dances.

Russian pianist Olga Kern was scheduled to play Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto, but she ended up with a string orchestra version of the famous 18th variation from Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” Both Ms. Kern, who wore a tight-fitting dress with a voluminous skirt, and the orchestra luxuriated in the variation’s calm and serenity. Kern played the gorgeous melody with a varied attack, using pregnant pauses between notes to great effect.

The orchestra left the stage, and the concert transformed itself into a mostly Russian piano recital, with Ms. Kern introducing the numbers from the stage. First up were five more pieces by Rachmaninoff: one of the “Moments Musicaux” (op. 16); the Op. 10 Barcarolle; a transcription of Mussorgsky’s Hopak; one of the Op. 33 “Etudes-tableaux”; and the “Polichinelle” (Op. 3, No. 3).

Ms. Kern has an authoritative stage presence. She sits straight on the piano bench with her arms close to her sides, relying on her fingers and forearms for most of the action. She occasionally sways from side to side but is never extravagant in her motions, except when she lifts off the bench during especially dramatic passages. Unfortunately her voluminous skirt blocked this reviewer’s view of the pedals, but her feet sounded quite busy, with frequent stops on the sustain pedal.

Of the five Rachmaninoff pieces, the Barcarolle was the standout. The artist played the melody in her left hand with sustained trills in the right. Her frequent hand crossings were a delight to behold, with her left hand floating down precisely to its targeted keys. The five short Rachmaninoff works led to Tchaikovsky’s “Meditation” (op. 72, No. 55), which was played with admirable restraint. The extended trill at the end displayed both solid technique and meditative calm.

Next up were two Op. 42 Scriabin etudes, Numbers 4 and 5. Ms. Kern told the audience that number 4 was like listening to twinkling stars, whereas number 5 was something she’d played since childhood. Her pianissimos in the first etude were even more compelling that her many fortissimos in the Rachmaninoff pieces, and her rolling momentum in the second complemented a long crescendo to the climax.

The program proper concluded with Balakirev’s towering “Islamey” from 1865,” notorious among pianists for its technical difficulty. Ms. Kern started at a furious pace that proved unrelenting. It was hard to believe that her hands were playing so many notes as they flew up and down the keyboard. The power of her attack was awe-inspiring, especially when she levitated off the bench after delivering one of her withering blows.

Ms. Kern was undeterred by the prospect of encores, of which there were four: a Prokofiev etude; Lyadov’s charming miniature “Musical Snuffbox”; Moszkowski’s staccato study “Sparks,” Op. 36, No. 6; and Rachmaninoff’s transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” Each was delivered with fervor and technical brilliance. Kern said she could have played more, but darkness was descending, so the last-minute concert came to a close.

Events Calendar

SYMPHONY
Green Music Center. CANCELLED
Friday, January 21, 2022
8:30 PM - Rohnert Park
New Century Chamber Orchestra. Daniel Hope, conductor. Leah Hawkins, soprano
Copland: Suite from the Ballet "Appalachian Spring" for 13 instruments; Florence Price: Adoration for Violin and Strings (arranged Paul Bateman); Songs of the Harlem Renaissance for Soprano and Orches...
Details

CHORAL AND VOCAL
Sonoma Bach
Friday, January 21, 2022
8:00 PM - Rohnert Park
Organist TBA
Music of Buxtehude, Anna Laver, Lionel Rogg and Natalie Draper....
Details

RECITAL
Redwood Arts Council. POSTPONED
Saturday, January 22, 2022
1:00 PM - Occidental
Ilya Yakushev, piano
Music of Haydn, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Beethoven POSTPONED...
Details

OTHER
Sonoma State University Department of Music
Sunday, January 23, 2022
2:00 PM - Rohnert Park
Trio Navarro. Jill Brindel, cello; Victor Romasevich, violin; Marilyn Thompson, piano
Kodaly: Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7; Schubert: Piano Trio in B Flat, Op. 99 COVID protocols are in place...
Details

RECITAL
Mill Valley Chamber Music Society
Sunday, January 23, 2022
5:00 PM - Mill Valley
Ilya Yakushev, piano
Haydn: D Major Sonata, Hob: XV1/37; Beethoven: Sonata No. 17, Op. 31, No. 2 ("Tempest"); Scriabin: Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, No. 2; Prokofiev: B Flat Sonata, Op. 83...
Details

CHAMBER
Minetti Quartett
Friday, January 28, 2022
7:00 PM - Sebastopol

Austrian Odyssey. Music TBA...
Details

SYMPHONY
Marin Symphony. DATE CHANGED
Saturday, January 29, 2022
8:00 PM - San Rafael
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Joyce Yang, piano
Higdon: Blue Cathedral; Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements; Tchaikovsky: Concerto in B Flat Minor, Op. 23 Single Tickets $25 to $87. Open seating DATE CHANGED TO JUNE 18...
Details

SYMPHONY
Vallejo Symphony. CANCELLED
Saturday, January 29, 2022
8:00 PM - Vallejo
Marc Taddei, conductor. Jared Redmond, piano
Trey Makler: Pixie; Scriabin: F-Sharp Minor Concerto, Op. 20; Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 CANCELLED...
Details

CHAMBER
Napa Valley Music Associates
Sunday, January 30, 2022
1:30 PM - Napa
Jassen Todorov, violin; Elena Akopova and Mark Osten, piano; Taraneh Seta, mezzo-soprano
Mozart: Violin Sonata in G Major (K. 301) and B-flat Major (K. 454); Das Lied de Trenning (K. 519); An Chloe (K. 524); Rident La Calma (K. 152); Dans Im Bois Solitaire (K. 308); Mitradate, Redi Ponto ...
Details

SYMPHONY
Vallejo Symphony. CANCELLED
Sunday, January 30, 2022
3:00 PM - Vallejo
Marc Taddei, conductor. Jared Redmond, piano
Scriabin: Concerto in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 20; Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67; Trey Makler: Pixie CANCELLED...
Details