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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 / Monday, May 10, 2010
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Ute Lemper, vocalist
Hudson Shad, male vocal quartet

Ute Lemper

SINS, SWANS AND DONS

by Steve Osborn
Monday, May 10, 2010

Patrons returning for the second half of Monday night’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert witnessed the unusual sight of five microphones: one to the left of the conductor’s podium, next to a black stool, and four to the right, with accompanying chairs. The stool and chairs were soon occupied, respectively, by vocal soloist Ute Lemper and the male vocal ensemble Hudson Shad.

These peculiar forces and accoutrements had been assembled by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis for Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, a rarely performed work from 1933, originally written as a ballet with accompanying lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. In the original version, a soprano sings the role of Anna I, one side of a split personality, and a ballerina dances the role of her counterpart, Anna II, with occasional brief vocal interjections.

Instead of adopting the ballet format, the powers that be chose to combine Annas I and II into a single person (Lemper), even though the stage had plenty of room for a dancer. While Lemper mostly sang, she did make a few faintly balletic moves by twirling her floor-length black dress or swaying suggestively.

The awkward format was but one of many problems with the performance. The libretto stuffed into the programs, for example, was only in English, even though Lemper was singing the original German. The absence of a parallel text made following along difficult.

Equally puzzling was the lack of supertitles. In this day and age, supertitles are a given for opera, and there’s a compelling case for bringing them into symphonic vocal performances, as well. Their presence would reduce the rustling of librettos, if nothing else.

The microphones were yet another problem. Classical soloists generally avoid these contraptions because they fundamentally alter the quality of sound produced. Instead of a voice ringing out from an actual person, you get a disembodied voice squawking out of a box. The first has a full sound, replete with subtlety; the latter is reduced to an electronic signal notably lacking in finesse.

The real problem with the performance, however, was Lemper herself. Her voice, amplified or not, ranges from a low-pitched growling sound to a high-pitched whine, with little in between except for a pervasive vibrato. To be fair, that may be the cabaret style of performance required for Weill, but it quickly grows old.

The vocal quartet was much better, and their long chorus representing the sin of gluttony was the highlight of the show. Ranged from left to right on the stage, they seemed almost a caricature of a male vocal quartet, beginning with a short, smooth-skinned, rotund tenor, moving up through a couple of baritones, and ending with a tall, thin, bearded bass. Their voices blended well, and their enactment of the lyrics was often hilarious.

In the background, Ferrandis and the Symphony did their best to make sense of Weill’s music, which offers little variety. The score is mostly an extended recitative for Anna I, with little in the way of melodic invention or thematic contrast. One exception is the “Covetousness” section, where the violins offer an effective counterpoint to the quartet.

The audience, though, loved it, and Lemper performed two Weill encores. The obligatory Mack the Knife (sung in German) was followed by a French lullaby from 1935. In the latter, Lemper dropped her cabaret style and opted for more soothing tones, though it’s hard to imagine a baby being lulled to sleep by a parent singing into a microphone.

The first half of the concert was far better for the purists in the hall. It began with a solid performance of Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni. Ferrandis used his fluid arm gestures to propel the orchestra forward, coaxing particularly good ensemble work from the strings. Sadly, the overture was over way too soon. Minus the subsequent opera, it’s really quite short.

The opera, more or less, arrived in the form of the ballet suite from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. This similarly tragic romantic tale is suffused with familiar melodies, which the Symphony played to the hilt. Absent a corps de ballet, Ferrandis became the premier danseur, twirling about the podium like a virtual Nureyev.

The eight-part suite began with a haunting oboe solo from principal Barbara Midney in the first part, followed by a memorable waltz in the second. The person next to me began swaying in her seat during the waltz, perhaps responding to the urgency and elegance of the performance. A well-played cornet solo from principal trumpet Doug Morton led to the waltz’s rousing conclusion, which was followed by sustained applause.

The subsequent parts of the suite never did quite rise to the energy level of the waltz, but that’s the nature of Tchaikovsky’s score, not a criticism of the performance. The Symphony played wonderfully all the way to the end. Of particular note were the harp (Randall Pratt), violin (Joe Edelberg), and cello (Wanda Warkentin) solos in the fourth part, and another Morton cornet solo in the seventh.

At the end of Swan Lake, the audience gave Ferrandis and company a well-deserved standing ovation, a gesture they repeated at the concert’s conclusion. Both gestures marked a fitting end to another great season from this talented regional orchestra. The repertoire and soloists may have had their highs and lows, but the orchestra’s performance was first-rate all season long.

Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.