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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 / Saturday, January 23, 2010
JoAnn Falletta, guest conductor
Michael Ludwig, violin

Conductor JoAnn Falletta

THE RED AND THE WHITE

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 23, 2010

In the old days, barbers were also surgeons, as adept with a scalpel as a razor, their red-and-white barber pole an emblem of both surgery (red) and hair-cutting (white). At its Jan. 23 concert, the well-coiffed Santa Rosa Symphony enacted this dual role, offering both some serious blood (from a real Barber) and an bit of hair-trimming (from Carter, Corigliano and Copland).

First to the Barber blood, which was last on the program but well worth the wait. For many classical listeners, Samuel Barber is the “Adagio for Strings” and maybe one or two other compositions. That number might have to be expanded to three or four after hearing the Santa Rosans’ performance of “Symphony in One Movement,” a compact work from 1936 that contains as much genuine excitement and raw emotion as symphonies three times its length from European masters.

Under the steady baton of guest conductor Joann Falletta, the orchestra showcased all its many talents in a full exploration of Barber’s masterpiece. The duets and trios from the woodwinds were particularly evocative, but everyone contributed to bringing out the romanticism and lyrical expansiveness of Barber’s score. Short but sweet, Barber’s symphony plunges right into the emotional depths, illuminating the journey with brilliant orchestration and finally surfacing with a sure command of musical form. The performance was all one could have asked for.

In contrast, the program leading up to the Barber seemed more consumed with style than substance. The opening work, Elliott Carter’s “Holiday Overture,” was both rousing and festive, but it never settled into anything weighty. Some of the lack of heft might be attributed to Falletta’s conducting technique, which is quite fluid but curiously immobile. She tends to plant her feet on the podium and conduct with her upper body. The effect is graceful, but the musical narrative is often confined.

A similar problem afflicted John Corigliano’s “Red Violin Concerto,” performed by the virtuosic Michael Ludwig, who recently recorded the work with Falletta and her main orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic. Viewers of the movie “The Red Violin,” released in 1998, will probably recall snatches of the score, such as the recurring main theme and a metronome sequence where a young orphan plays faster and faster in servitude to his beloved instrument.

All those elements are present in the “Red Violin Concerto,” but without the movie to tie them together, they struggle to cohere. The first movement, which begins with a series of double-stops on the violin, is perhaps the most successful. Reading from a score, Ludwig took off running, his intonation impeccable, his vibrato expressive, his bowing a model of fluidity. Most blessed of all was his sound projection, with his diminutive violin easily carrying over the full orchestra behind him.

At times, the opening movement sounded like one of the Bach sonatas for solo violin, particularly in the lengthy cadenza, with its stately tempo and drone-like use of the lower strings. Ludwig took full advantage of the powerful melody, echoing its refrains through many iterations.

The musical materials in movements two through four, however, were far less resonant. The second tried to stir things up with an insistent tremolo; the third searched in vain for a gripping theme; and the fourth reenacted the metronome scene with an obvious contrast between orchestra (metronome) and soloist (doomed young boy).

Throughout the concerto, Ludwig displayed impeccable skill and musicianship, no matter what the music. The standing ovation elicited one encore, Fritz Kreisler’s “Caprice Viennois.” Here both Ludwig and orchestra shone, investing the legendary virtuoso’s light-hearted fare with just the right amount of feeling.

That leaves only Aaron Copland’s “El Salón México,” which seems to have been intended as a space filler for the second half, given the brevity of the Barber symphony. Aside from a wonderful bassoon and saxophone duet, the piece never caught fire. It was a victim of its own simplistic structure, too self-evident to inspire much interest.

Fortunately, the Barber soon followed, bringing the evening to an inspired finish.