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 Recent Reviews
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...
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 ...
Local Concerts  
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, November 15, 2020
Adelle-Akiko Meyers, cello soloist
Jay Zhong and Michelle Maruyama, violin soloists

Conductor Franceso Lecce-Chong

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 behind the performance would have been that orchestral musicians make music with their hands, not their mouths. In 2020, the reality is that it’s still possible to play music if you keep your distance.

The concert, originally recorded at the Green Music Center on Nov. 7, featured two dances by contemporary American composers, rags by Scott Joplin, a Canzone for cello and orchestra by Max Bruch, and Beethoven’s masterful second symphony. Each piece was introduced by a member of the orchestra, a format that helped put the players in the spotlight, rather than the conductor, Francesco Lecce-Chong.

The Symphony played everything well, but the standout performance was by Principal Cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns in the Bruch Canzone (a song resembling a madrigal). Kearns, who introduced the piece, produced a beautiful tone in her cello’s upper registers, and she played Bruch’s magisterial themes with authority and grace. Never rushed, her line flowed almost continually throughout the piece, helped by seamless changes in bow direction, spot-on intonation and a wonderful vibrato that helped each note stand out.

The effect was serene. The orchestral accompaniment barely rose above a murmur, letting the cello’s rich sounds expand throughout the hall. At the end, Kearns’ fellow players burst into applause.

Symphony soloists were also on display in contemporary Chinese-American composer Chen Yi’s “Romance and Dance for Two Violins and String Orchestra.” The two violins were played by Associate Concertmaster Jay Zhong and Michelle Maruyama, the assistant principal second violinist. Zhong introduced the piece, noting how well it integrates Chinese and Western musical traditions.

The full title of the opening movement is “The Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in,” two traditional Chinese instruments. According to Chen Yi’s program notes, the orchestra plays the part of the ch’in, a seven-string zither. One infers that the violin soloists play the part of the hsiao, a vertical bamboo flute that carries melodies. And what melodies they were! From the opening note, Zhong and Maruyama launched into a heartfelt duet marked by expressive glissandos, wide vibratos and occasional unison playing at the octave. The orchestra plucked along, creating a soothing backdrop for the violins’ romance.

The dance in the second movement opened with a traditional-sounding Chinese melody but quickly evolved into rapid phrases from the soloists, with a percussive orchestral accompaniment. Both soloists played splendidly, taking turns spinning out their riffs over the constantly moving background. Their tremolos near the end were particularly effective.

The concert opened with a string orchestra version of the “Coquetos” movement from “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout,” by Berkeley native Gabriela Lena Frank, whose ancestry is Peruvian, Chinese and Lithuanian. As implied by the title, Frank is also a musical anthropologist, and she drew her inspiration for the piece from visits to South America.

True to its roots, “Coquetos” features strongly syncopated themes with a forceful rhythmic drive. The themes moved around the various sections of the string orchestra, all of which played with vibrancy and flair. The bass section was often propulsive, highlighting the powerful melodies that soared above them. Sadly, the piece came to an abrupt end only three minutes after it began.

Two other American compositions rounded out the first half: Scott Joplin’s piano rags “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag,” as arranged for orchestra by Gunther Schuller. The switch from piano to orchestra proved revelatory. The strings often served as the piano’s left hand, whereas the winds and brass played the “ragged,” syncopated melodies of the right. The trumpet solo in the “Maple Leaf Rag” was pure delight.

The second half of the concert was given over to Beethoven’s second symphony, which lurks in the shadows of the first and third. Fortunately, no shadows were evident in a performance that bristled with tenacity and energy. The brooding opening movement, with its multiple sforzandos, ratcheted up the tension until the cellos burst forth with the main theme. Each section of the orchestra could be distinctly heard, aided and abetted by Lecce-Chong’s rhythmic clarity. Beethoven’s strong narrative impulse was evident throughout.

The orchestra played the remaining movements with the same brilliance as the first. Lecce-Chong, who conducted without a score, was unrelenting in his brisk pacing and precise gestures. The second movement was idyllic and the third continually surprising. In the fourth, Lecce-Chong increased the tempo, but the orchestra kept pace, with the strings dashing off impeccable runs. The orchestra was building up to a blistering climax when they reached one of Beethoven’s dramatic pauses and collectively caught their breath. And then they were off again, right up to the final chord.

Comments are welcome; send an email to Steve Osborn.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]

Events Calendar

SYMPHONY
Santa Rosa Symphony
Saturday, February 13, 2021
7:30 PM - Rohnert Park
Aram Demirjian, conductor. Michelle Cann, piano
Still: Darker America; Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue, Second Rhapsody; Copland: Ballet Music from Appalachian Spring...
Details

SYMPHONY
Marin Symphony
Saturday, March 6, 2021
8:00 PM - San Rafael
Alasdair Neale, conductor. Marin Symphony Chorus
Ann Clyne: Within Her Arms; Brahms: A German Requiem (1868) Same program is March 7, at 3 p.m....
Details