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Sunday, May 28, 2023
 Recent Reviews
SYMPHONY
ALASDAIR NEALE’S JUBILANT FAREWELL TO MARIN SYMPHONY
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, April 22, 2023
J. Constant (l) and A. Neale April 22 (MS Photo)
Alasdair Neale’s final program as director of the Marin Symphony April 22, was, simply put, a triumph. Mr. Neale is leaving after 22 years for Paris and the next stage of his career, and he will be sorely missed. It has been Mr. Neale’s practice to introduce from the stage Symphony programs, and t...
OPERA
SANTA ROSA'S MAJESTICAL MAGIC FLUTE IN WEILL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, April 15, 2023
Tenor Victor Cardamone
The Santa Rosa Symphony scored a triumph April 15 in Weill Hall with its concert presentation of Mozart’s final opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), completed and premiered only months prior to the composer’s death in December of 1791. The collaboration with Mozart’s librettist and fellow Free...
CHORAL AND VOCAL
SPLENDID GOOD FRIDAY RUTTER REQUIEM AT CHURCH OF THE ROSES
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Friday, April 7, 2023
Composer John Rutter
The choral music of British composer John Rutter holds a special place in the hearts and voices of choral groups worldwide. Like his American counterparts Eric Whitacre and Morten Lauridsen (to name just two of a very large field of the most popular living choral composers) Rutter has spent a lifeti...
CHAMBER
A JOURNEY THROUGH MUSICAL TIME
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 2, 2023
Telegraph String Quartet
The Telegraph Quartet, resident quartet at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, created a “Journey for the String Quartet” for Chamber Music Marin April 2 that put the expressive versatility of the form on full display. Compositions by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Gabriela Frank were played with muc...
SYMPHONY
ORCHESTRA SHOWPIECES CLOSE SO CO PHIL'S SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 1, 2023
M. Stern (l) Receives Congratulations from N. Gamboa
Closing a long season April 1 the Sonoma County Philharmonic, the North Coast’s premiere nonprofessional orchestra, performed just two large-scale works that demanded committed instrumental playing. Before 200 in the Jackson Theater conductor Norman Gamboa had his hands full with the eight-part Fan...
SYMPHONY
FROM THE DANUBE TO PUERTO RICO
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 26, 2023
Violinist Jennifer Frautschi
What can be sandwiched between two waltzes and followed by a concerto? The answer is a short symphony. Or at least that was the answer given by the Santa Rosa Symphony during its March 26 program in Weill Hall. The waltzes were the canonical “Artist’s Life” and “Blue Danube” masterpieces by Johann S...
CHAMBER
SAKURA AND THE MUSICAL ART OF ARRANGEMENT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 12, 2023
SAKURA March 12 (A. Wasserman Photo)
In Japanese, sakura means the five-petaled cherry blossom, and members of SAKURA Cello Quintet treated their Chamber Music Marin audience March 12 to a rare musical flowering. All but one of the eleven selections in the program were arrangements, not surprising because until SAKURA formed, f...
CHAMBER
WEIGHTY RUSSIAN SONATAS IN MALOFEEV'S 222 GALLERY RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 12, 2023
Pianist Alexander Malofeev
Russian pianists on American tours often play blockbuster programs, so it was no surprise that Alexander Malofeev’s s recital in Healdsburg’s posh 222 Gallery had Rachmaninoff’s monumental B Flat Sonata as the capstone. The 21-minute work in the 1931 version received a thunderous reading that favor...
CHAMBER
ARRON-PARK DUO IN CAPTIVATING OAKMONT RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, March 9, 2023
Cellist Edward Aaron
The chance of having two virtuoso cello recitals in the North Bay in less than 30 days was not good. The sensational Steven Isserliss Napa recital Feb. 14 simply couldn’t be bettered, but Edward Arron’s Music at Oakmont recital March 9 came close. Very close. With pianist Jeewon Park Mr. Arron ma...
SYMPHONY
MAGNIFIQUE MUSIQUE FRANÇAISE AT MARIN SYMPHONY
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, March 4, 2023
David Fung March 4 (A. Wasserman Photo)
Remarks from Conductor Alasdair Neale introduced Marin Symphony’s March 4 French-themed concert by extolling the “glittering orchestral colors” of Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps (Of a Morning in Spring), begun in 1917 as a duet for violin and piano and completed as an orchestral tone poem ...
Local Concerts  
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 6, 2023
Francesco Lecce-Chong

Conductor Franceso Lecce-Chong

TWIN PEAKS AND TWIN PIANOS AT THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 6, 2023

The May 6 Santa Rosa Symphony concert began and ended on two different mountains, with several perilous ascents and descents marking the space between. The first mountain was Ukraine’s Bald Mountain, as depicted by Modest Mussorgsky in “Night on Bald Mountain,” and the second mountain was Heimgarten, a peak near the Bavarian Alps, as depicted by Richard Strauss in “An Alpine Symphony.”

According to legend, Bald Mountain is the site of a yearly Witches’ Sabbath on Midsummer Night. (The “mountain” is actually a hill with a bald top located in the city of Kyiv.) Mussorgsky seizes on the witch legend in the opening measures and never lets go. From the beginning, the air is filled with the eerie sounds of low brass, shimmering strings and evocative woodwinds.

The strings’ precise bowings and solid unison lines were impressive in the midst of the boisterous revelry. Meanwhile, Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong coaxed several effective crescendos and decrescendos out of the players as they made their way through the frenetic scene. All the notes were in place, and many were inspired.

The world premiere of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra,” with sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton as soloists, occupied the space between Bald Mountain and the Bavarian Alps.

The piece, which follows the standard three-movement concerto form, opens with both pianos playing a foreboding theme in unison in their lower registers. The theme soon changes to jazzy riffs as the orchestra enters, with the pianists still playing in unison. Thereafter the jazz theme dominates, with plenty of blue notes, even as the unison playing continues from the pianos. At the end of the movement, one of the pianos holds a long sustained note. Normally these kinds of notes come from organs rather than pianos, but it’s possible that the piano on stage had a particularly good “sostenuto” pedal.

In contrast to the jazz-inflected first movement, the second features calm and stately themes. Another change is that the pianos stop playing in unison. One piano takes upper line, and the other piano takes the lower line. This greater flexibility in the piano line(s) ushers in some lush and atmospheric music, which the pianos seem to float over.

The third movement opens with a piano duet on jazz themes, with occasional drums in the background and seemingly perpetual runs up and down both keyboards. Here the Naughton sisters showed off their potent skills, not only as performers, but also as agile and effective communicators with each other.

As the piano runs tailed off, a slow passage arose, bringing with it the ghost of Rachmaninoff. For several measures, Zwilich’s concerto sounds like the opening of the Russian master’s third piano concerto. There was soft percussion in the background, a tentative entry from the pianos, and then a welcoming response from the orchestra.

After the ghost departed, the pianos initiated a long build-up to the end of the concerto. The playing of the Naughton sisters and the orchestra continued to be impeccable and inspiring. The decisive ending notes gave rise to a sustained ovation and several call-backs to the stage for Mr. Lecce-Chong and the Naughton sisters.

Strauss’s “An Alpine Symphony“ is endurance test for audiences and musicians alike. The program listed the “estimated duration” at 52 minutes, without a break. Strauss, one of classical music’s greatest orchestrators, ensured a diversity of timbre and tone by adding four Wagner tubas, twelve cowbells and a heckelphone (baritone oboe) to the instrumental mix, along with 16 offstage players, including two trumpets, two trombones and a dozen horns.

The Symphony tells the story of an all-day hike that Strauss and his companions took to the top of Heimgarten, a peak at the north end of the Bavarian Alps, when Strauss was still a teenager. The symphony is one long movement, but it’s helpfully divided into 22 “episodes” that depict sights and events along the way. The episodes begin with “Night,” “Sunrise” and “The Ascent,” followed by “Entering the Forest’ and “Wandering Near the Stream.” Once you figure how Strauss depicts the content of each episode, the symphony becomes more coherent and less of a long haul.

The musicians did an admirable job all around of maintaining the energy and accuracy necessary for a memorable performance. They were helped considerably in this effort by Mr. Lecce-Chong, who conducted without a score. The opening bars set the symphony on the right path. The strings held sustained low notes with slow bow movements. They were shortly joined by the brass, also on low (really low) notes. Rather than falling apart, the strings and brass got stronger and louder as they ascended the scale, leading to a tumultuous rise to a suspended (unresolved) chord. Other composers might try to resolve the dramatic rise of the strings and brass into a climactic chord, but not Strauss. He is just getting going with his narrative and needs to persist until the end.

As the symphony proceeded through the waterfall, the apparition, the blooming meadows and the Alpine pasture, the players offered a wonderfully engaged performance. There were good solos from several sections, including the first violins and the woodwinds. The dozen cowbells, which were hanging from a wooden frame, proved a welcome addition when Strauss’s hike reached the summit.

Hikers say that the descent down a mountain is more difficult than the ascent, and that proved to be true for the orchestra as they played their way down to the bottom of Strauss’s mountain. Some sections began to drag slightly, and this reviewer began to wonder how they could sustain Strauss’s frantic tempi and his wild dynamics for the rest of the piece. As it turned out, there was no need for doubt.

A woodwind solo beyond this reviewer’s sight (was it the heckelphone?) seemed to inspire the players in the woodwind section to go all out, followed by a similar burst of energy from the violins. As the orchestration grew denser, an organ entered the fray, suggesting singing from a distant church.

The organ wasn’t enough. No sooner was it done playing than a tremendous storm whipped up, leading to rapid bowing from the strings and the unveiling of the wind and thunder machines in the percussion section. These were played adroitly, conjuring up a thunderstorm within seconds. At last, the sun went down, the sound of the storm dissipated, and night descended.

The applause was instantaneous and sustained. After all the fires, floods and pandemics of recent years, the Santa Rosa Symphony was back in fine form.

Events Calendar

RECITAL
Jura Margulis
Sunday, June 4, 2023
4:00 PM - Petaluma
Jura Margulis, piano
Scarlatti: Sonatas in E Major, F Minor and D Minor; Beethoven: A-Flat Sonata, Op. 110; Liszt: E Major Polonaise; Chopin: Polonaise in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 44; Strauss (arr. Andrei Schulz Evler): Concert...
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OPERA
Cinnabar Theater
Friday, June 9, 2023
7:30 PM - Petaluma
Michelle Drever, soprano; Alex Boyer, tenor; Spencer Dodd, baritone. Additional singers: Jordon Eld
Puccini: opera "Tosca". Tickets $30/$50, online Additional performances: June 11 (2 p.m.); 16 (7:30); 18 (2); 23 (7:30); 25 (2). Performances will sell out ...
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CHAMBER
ECHO Chamber Orchestra
Saturday, June 17, 2023
6:30 PM - San Anselmo
Margot Golding, oboe; Steve Braunstein, bassoon; Brooke Aird, violin; Joel Cohen, cello; Doug Morton
A Musical Promenade 3. Haydn: Simfonia Concertante; Horacio Fernandez Vasquez: TUMBAO...
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CHAMBER
Valley of the Moon Music Festival
Saturday, July 15, 2023
4:00 PM - Sonoma
Kier GoGwilt and Ravenna Lipchik, violin; Elizabeth Blumenstock, viola; Elizabeth Reed and Tanya Tom
Mozart: Quintet, K. 478; Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36 (arranged for Piano Trio) Tickets $10 to $55...
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SYMPHONY
Mendocino Music Festival
Sunday, July 16, 2023
6:30 PM - Mendocino
Festival Orchestra. Allan Pollack, conductor. Jessica Fellowes, violin; Katie Kadarauch, viola
Shostakovich: Festive Overture in A Major, Op. 96; Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante...
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OTHER
Valley of the Moon Music Festival
Sunday, July 16, 2023
2:30 PM - Sonoma
Nic McGegan, lecturer
Blattner Series Lecture Free with concert ticket (following lecture)...
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CHAMBER
Valley of the Moon Music Festival
Sunday, July 16, 2023
4:00 PM - Sonoma
Eric Zivian and Axel Tyrolese, piano; Ravenna Lipchik and Carmen Johnson-Pájaro, violin; Liana Bérub
Clara Schumann: 3 Romances, Op. 22; R. Schumann: Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 44; Liszt: Ballade No. 2 in B Minor; Wagner-Liszt; Liebestod from the Opera "Tristan und Isolde" Tickets $15 to $55...
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CHAMBER
Valley of the Moon Music Festival
Tuesday, July 18, 2023
7:00 PM - Sonoma
Musicians TBA
Alfresco Concert No. 1 - Music of Latin American Composers Free admission...
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CHAMBER
Valley of the Moon Music Festival
Thursday, July 20, 2023
7:00 PM - Kenwood
Rachel Allen Wong, violin; additional musicians TBA
Selections from Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony (sextet version)...
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RECITAL
Mendocino Music Festival
Thursday, July 20, 2023
3:00 PM - Mendocino
Kindra Scharich, soprano; Jeffrey LaDeur, piano
Program TBA Tickets $15 to $30; limited seating...
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