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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, December 4, 2010
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir
Cyndia Sieden, soprano
Marcus DeLoach, baritone

Soprano Cyndia Siedan

HOLIDAY MUSIC WITH A TWIST

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, December 4, 2010

Playing a requiem is a strange way to celebrate the holidays. At a time when people are looking for a bit of cheer, the Santa Rosa Symphony took the opposite approach for its Dec. 4 concert, offering not only the Fauré Requiem, but also the world premiere of Aubert Lemeland’s “Battle Pieces,” inspired by soldiers’ poems about death. Sandwiched between these two was the somewhat more festive Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

Regardless of the season, the Fauré Requiem was the highlight of the show. Using the full force of the Symphony’s 140-voice Honor Choir to telling effect, Music Director Bruno Ferrandis delivered a memorable performance. He achieved particularly good balance between the singers and the orchestra, and he was in full command of dynamics. The pianissimo passages were really, really quiet, and the fortissimos were correspondingly loud.

Mr. Ferrandis dedicated the performance of the Requiem to the composer Lemeland, who died just a few weeks ago. Perhaps that connection sparked the performance, which began with a dark and brooding entry from the choir. Mr. Ferrandis mouthed the words as they sang “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” (Grant them eternal rest, O Lord). He continued in this fashion throughout the piece, which he has carefully memorized and certainly mastered. The score calls for a solo soprano and baritone, along with an organ. Lacking a real pipe organ, Mr. Ferrandis made do with an electronic one, its speakers stacked incongruously behind the violins. The sound was a bit plinky on the high notes, but it was mostly adequate.

The soloists were adequate as well. Soprano Cyndia Sieden sang a beautiful “Pie Jesu,” but her voice was a bit angular and could have used some smoothing around the edges. Last-minute baritone substitute Hugh Davies had a more rounded tone and was effective in the lower part of his range. The upper part, however, was somewhat nasal and congested. The scheduled soloist, Marcus DeLoach, was sick and couldn’t perform.

Technical problems aside, the Faure solos were well sung and delicately balanced with the orchestra. The real vocal star, however, was the chorus. From their hushed entry in the “Introitus” to their angelic departure in the “In Paradisum,” they captured the spirit of the Requiem, one of the loveliest pieces in the repertoire.

In contrast, the Lemeland “Battle Pieces” that opened the show will probably never ascend into the repertoire. Lemeland was a prolific French composer, but he is hardly known in the United States, despite his obvious interest in America. “Battle Pieces” is based on five poems written by American soldiers during World War Two. Instead of being set to music, the poems are read one by one, each reading followed by a musical interpretation.

Compositions that use spoken rather than sung texts form a small subgenre in music, including such famous examples as Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Stravinsky’s “l’Histoire du Soldat.” The inherent danger is that the text will overwhelm the music, or vice versa. In this case, the text won by a landslide. The poems, read with conviction by former airman and actor Bernard Sugarman, were uniformly excellent, each one expressing the anguish and chagrin of soldiers headed into battle. The music, however, was undistinguished.

Lemeland scored the music for string orchestra and piano, with much emphasis on the cellos. Their lower reaches are often equated with grief, and Lemeland uses that trope repeatedly. Another standard device Lemeland employs is the quoting of hymns and folk tunes, in this case “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which makes an appearance in the opening section. The problem is that the music never rises above these devices. We already know from the poems that the music is supposed to be sad. It just never becomes anything else.

For some reason, several wind players were seated on stage during the “Battle Pieces,” even though they never played a note. They finally got their chance in the Poulenc Gloria, which features the composer’s usual sprightly writing for winds. The performance was a blessed relief from the dirge-like “Battle Pieces.” Once again, the choir shone, particularly in the “Laudamus Te” section and their a cappella entrance to “Qui Sedes.”

The Gloria is filled with unusual interpretations of a benumbingly standard text. Where legions of composers go one way in interpreting the words, Poulenc goes the other. The results are often memorable, nowhere more so than in the “Qui Sedes,” where the lush and exotic scoring gives the impression that the composer has found God while living it up on a tropical island.

If the performance of the Poulenc had a fault, it was with the lack of coherence. Poulenc introduces many musical ideas, and Mr. Ferrandis and company sometimes had trouble tying them all together. That particular ribbon and bow didn’t arrive until the Fauré.

In sum, the concert may not have been the most festive occasion, but it was mostly worth celebrating.