Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
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

Pianist Jon Nakamatsu

SMALL HANDS, BIG HEART

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 7, 2011

Jon Nakamatsu has small hands but a big heart. That anatomic mismatch was abundantly evident during his appearance with the Santa Rosa Symphony on May 7, which featured a swoon-inducing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s canonic first piano concerto. From the familiar opening to the thrilling conclusion, the petite Nakamatsu held the audience in thrall, as much by his prodigious technique as his elegant phrasing.

He began lightly, playing the opening chords with little sustain and zero bombast. His persistent use of staccato drew attention to the notes rather than the pedal and signaled that his performance would focus more on delicacy than excess. His posture reflected this approach. He sat ramrod straight, without undue swaying, and his hands were always at the keyboard, only rising in the air occasionally to punctuate the ends of phrases.

As the movement progressed, Nakamatsu began to lighten up. His use of the pedal increased, and his many runs up and down the keys swelled in velocity and expressivity. By the cadenza, he had reached full stride. Here his impeccable technique shone through, with every note sounding and every phrase etched to perfection. What was most impressive, however, were his judicious pauses between lines. Even the rests were melodic.

In the background, conductor Bruno Ferrandis and the Symphony players kept pace with Nakamatsu’s brisk tempi and added many flourishes of their own. Romantic piano concertos have often been characterized as piano vs. orchestra, but such was not the case here. The players faded and came to the fore as needed, often seeming to inspire Nakamatsu to more expressive heights.

The opening movement ended with hearty applause, a neglected tradition that appears to be reviving. Opening movements of concertos are really works unto themselves, usually with virtuosic cadenzas, and there’s no reason not to applaud them. Virtually everyone in the nearly full Wells Fargo Center seemed to agree.

After the audience settled down, Nakamatsu embarked on the tender Andantino simplice of the second movement, again displaying his exquisite phrasing and musical empathy. Just when the atmosphere was at its most languorous, he launched into an amazingly fast Prestissimo, showcasing his well-oiled fingers and their astonishing ability to sustain a trill of any length with the utmost precision.

The last movement of the Tchaikovsky showcases the soloist and orchestra in turn, with many alternating passages. On each re-entry, Nakamatsu turned his engagement up a notch, at one point pausing to mop his otherwise unperturbed brow. The standing ovation at the end was immediate and unanimous. It’s hard to remember a better soloist playing with the Symphony in recent years. No one comes to this reviewer’s mind.

The Symphony itself was also in top form. The ever-changing personnel in the string sections played remarkably well, and the more familiar woodwind, brass and percussion players were uniformly excellent.

The concert began with a last-minute addition: the “Nimrod” variation from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, played to commemorate the recent deaths of two prominent local businessmen, Evert Person and Jess Jackson. This was followed in short order by Sofia Gubaidulina’s Fairytale Poem, a brief work from 1971 that displays her firm command of orchestration, but without the intense expressivity of her later works.

Gubaidiluna composed many film scores during the Soviet period, and Fairytale Poem could easily accompany a movie, although it would likely be more of a film noir than a fairytale. The emphasis is on eerie, isolated sounds, with many brief solos giving way to a jazzy section in 6/8. The texture is delicate, often sounding like chamber music, and the major emphasis is on atmosphere rather than narrative.

Like many concert-opening contemporary works, Fairytale Poem was over way too soon. Perhaps Ferrandis will see fit to program a longer work by Gubaidiluna in the future. She is an important composer, and her many compositions deserve a wider audience.

The all-Russian main program concluded in the second half with a stirring performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Actually, calling Pictures Russian is somewhat misleading, since it owes as much to Ravel’s decidedly French orchestration as to Mussorgsky’s original piano score. The entire piece, in fact, is a tangle of original and copy. Are we hearing Mussorgsky, Ravel or Victor Hartman, whose paintings originally inspired the work?

The answer may be all three, along with the musicians and conductor who perform, in this case bringing the pictures to life. Beginning with a strong entry from the brass section, the Symphony displayed its many talents, including some memorable tuba playing, a haunting saxophone solo, and consistently energetic percussion. Ferrandis was in full control, executing sharp cutoffs and setting brisk tempi.

Everything worked. By the final picture, “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the Symphony was in full tilt, with the cymbals crashing and everyone else playing to the max. It was a rousing finale for the Symphony’s penultimate season in the Wells Fargo Center. Thanks to a recent infusion of much-needed cash, they move to the resplendent Green Music Center in 2012.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]