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Recital
ECLECTIC PIANISM IN SPRING LAKE VILLAGE VIRTUAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
During the pandemic The Santa Rosa Symphony’s virtual concerts received their due in performance praise, but another series, Spring Lake Village, more quietly presented monthly virtual concerts to a select local audience. May 5 saw the latest event, produced by impresario Robert Hayden, and feature...
Symphony
SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor...
Symphony
ZUILL PLAYS ZWILICH WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The Santa Rosa Symphony took a cautious step toward the return of live music in their March 28 virtual concert by sharing the stage with an actual live soloist rather than an apparition. Star cellist Zuill Bailey was still masked, and his back was toward the equally masked and plexiglassed orchestra...
Chamber
ECLECTIC CELLO PIANO VIRTUAL RECITAL FROM TOMKINS ZIVIAN DUO
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 28, 2021
The venerable 41-year Redwood Arts Council Series in Occidental has joined the virtual recital world with low budget but artistically satisfying programs, mostly using videos filmed in the performer’s residences. March 28 saw the Tanya Tomkins-Eric Zivian duo present an eclectic program from their ...
Symphony
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....
SYMPHONY REVIEW
American Philharmonic, Sonoma County / Sunday, April 27, 2008
Gabriel Sakakeeny

Gabriel Sakakeeny

A TRIUMPH OF INSPIRED PROGRAMMING

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Season finales for orchestras seem always to be memorable events, and the American Philharmonic Sonoma County concert on May 18 was no exception. Before an audience of 900 at the Wells Fargo Center, the county's 'other' orchestra provided a rousing ending to an adventuresome season.

How adventuresome' In earlier concerts this season, this orchestra of mainly non-professional performers played Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' and Scriabin's 'Poem of Ecstasy.' Sunday's menu, aimed at young attendees, shunned the usual 'Peter and the Wolf' and 'Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra,' offering instead five substantial and varied works.

Music Director Gabriel Sakakeeny began in a romantic vein, speaking to the assemblage of the tribulations of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and then conducting Tchaikovsky's 'Overture-Fantasy' about the doomed lovers. The beginning in the bassoon and clarinet sections was shaky, but it was to be the last pesky playing of a glorious afternoon. Sakakeeny made the most of generally slow tempos to bring out the thematic richness. The cello section was especially sumptuous.

How better to follow the lush Tchaikovsky than with the pungent and now almost equally popular 'Short Ride in a Fast Machine' by California composer John Adams' This joyous minimalist work from 1981, a precursor to 'The Chairman Dances,' begins with a woodblock playing more loudly than the orchestra, which is already at forte, and continues for just four minutes. Sakakeeny kept the hurtling rhythms in check. An Arizona composer friend once lamented that Adams's great success was partially due to using snazzy titles, but here the 'Short Ride' was appropriate and telling.

Completing the first half was another sonic reversal, the 300-year old Concerto for Two Trumpets by Tomaso Albinoni. Soloists Daniel Norris and Thomas Hyde played what I think were B-flat piccolo trumpets. The opening theme was a call to action, with the bright sounds from the adept solo playing easily cutting through the orchestral fabric. Only the most rapid passage work gave the soloists any clarity trouble. It was a celebratory concerto, well played in a Baroque style. Was it a nod to ancient practice to have half the ensemble standing, and half seated'

There is a mystical and religious feel to most of the compositions of Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), and in his 1970 work 'And God Created Great Whales' the effects are memorable: pre-recorded yelps, snores and grunts of various whales, along with some aleatory parts for the players. The string tremolos, first appearing in the bass viols and then in the violas and violins, were evocative, as were the harp solos and descending trombone slides. An inspired selection, skillfully performed.

The concert concluded with Respighi's colorfully scored 'Pines of Rome,' a four-movement 1924 work. The opening Via Borghese section depicted youthful frolics in Rome's great park, followed by chilling bass sounds from the depths, Catacombs. The highlights came in the Janiculum section, with prismatic arpeggio flourishes from the orchestra's pianist leading to haunting solos from the clarinet, harp, celesta and oboe. The recorded voice of a nightingale provided a benediction.

The brilliant march of the concluding Pines of the Appian Way spotlights off-stage brass and English horn solos, driving the music to an inexorable climax, a champagne orgy of sound fitted to a marching Roman army outbound on a quest for empire. The orchestra's brass section made a generous contribution to the surround-sound effect. Here one couldn't quibble with the Wells Fargo Center's acoustics, as the dramatic effects brought listeners into the army's Appian Way column and ultimately to their feet.

Sakakeeny has said that repertoire choice is crucial to the success of the American Philharmonic, perhaps more so than for the Santa Rosa Symphony or even the San Francisco. People come to the last two orchestras often by tradition, but the American Phil lives or dies by providing familiar and sporadically challenging music to listeners, many of whom are having their initial symphony experience. The orchestra is meeting this need, and their concert was a triumph of inspired programming and adroit playing.