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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
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.