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Symphony
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 so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, April 19, 2009
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Gary Hoffman, cello

Gary Hoffman

THE SUITE SMELL OF SUCCESS

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 19, 2009

A ballet suite is not a symphony, but don’t tell that to Bruno Ferrandis. Throwing caution to the winds, Maestro Ferrandis programmed not one but two ballet suites for the April 19 concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony, opening with selections from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane and devoting the entire second half to a suite of suites from Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. Only an obscure, two-movement cello concerto by Nikolai Miaskovsky broke the long string of dance numbers.

Listening to a ballet suite without the requisite ballerinas and ballerinos is a bit like watching a movie with the sound off. You can infer what’s going on, but it sure would be helpful to have a human voice or a dancer confirm your suspicions. On the other hand, the dialogue or dance steps you imagine in the absence of same can be more engaging than the real thing.

From the summary of Gayane given in the program notes, imagining the ballet may be preferable to watching an actual performance. The Stalinist-era plot concerns a young village wife who conspires with a Soviet guard to foil her evil husband’s schemes against the people.

From the four acts of this drama, Ferrandis excerpted only three pieces, starting with the “Dance of the Rose Maidens,” which the orchestra played crisply and at a brisk pace. The ensuing “Lullaby” began with a lovely oboe solo, followed by contributions from the other woodwinds. Just to their right sat a saxophonist, who joined in during the last number, the famous “Saber Dance,” beloved of circuses and cartoons. The playing here was saber-rattling, if a touch sedate.

Next up was the Miaskovsky Cello Concerto, composed at the tail end of World War II. This rarely played work (at least in the U.S.) exhibits considerable anguish, perhaps because of the composer’s experiences during the war. Whatever their source, the concerto’s elegiac moods found a sympathetic interpreter in soloist Gary Hoffman. Despite playing from a score, he built strong rapport with the audience and delivered a convincing performance in every respect, save for occasional intonation problems on some of the trickier double stops.

Hoffman’s score became the unexpected center of attention when the cellist arrived on stage and discovered that a resident poltergeist had moved the ceiling spotlight that should have illuminated his music stand. “We need light,” Ferrandis pleaded, to no avail. The solution was to move Hoffman back toward the orchestra until he came in range of another spotlight, which was fine, except that now the second violins had to move back. No dominoes fell beyond the string section, however.

The incident, which caused much tittering among the audience, made me wonder why Hoffman hadn’t memorized the score. His playing was superb as it was; perhaps it would have been even better if he hadn’t been looking at the notes.

The concerto itself is somewhat formulaic, in that the orchestra provides mere background for the soloist’s sinuous meanderings. Hoffman has such a gorgeous tone that he could have held the audience’s attention by merely playing scales. Some of the solo passages, indeed, were not far removed from scales, often consisting of arpeggios moving up and down the fingerboard, as if the composer were searching for a melody.

In contrast, melody is never elusive for Prokofiev, whose Cinderella concluded the program with a bang. The composer himself made three separate suites from his wildly successful ballet, and Ferrandis in turn made a suite from these. The resulting metasuite involved a certain amount of page-turning from the orchestra, but the results were remarkably coherent.

At first, the decision to program a second ballet suite — this one consisting of 12 dances — seemed a bit odd. The opening movements were too short to really settle in, but by the middle of the suite the dances began to lengthen out, and the fairy tale came to the fore. The central waltz was truly evocative, with Ferrandis himself dancing around the podium and the musicians responding in kind.

With his precise rhythms and sharply articulated gestures, Ferrandis is particularly well-suited to Prokofiev, whose music often resembles an intricate machine composed of dozens of independently moving parts. Ferrandis kept them all in sync, in terms of both rhythm and dynamics. The forte and piano passages were well-contrasted, and the orchestra never flagged.

By the concluding “Midnight” dance, the musicians were playing at fever pitch, and the arrival of the fateful chimes was spine-tingling. Poor Cinderella fled, but the audience stayed on to give a loud, long ovation. On my way out of the theater, I heard several patrons repeat the exact same sentence to their companions: “That was wonderful.” Indeed.

[This article first appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice (www.sfcv.org), and is used by permission.]