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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

Soprano Marie Plette

ALIVE AND FREE, BUT HARD TO UNDERSTAND

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, November 12, 2011

“Is this my time to be alive and free?” That was the first intelligible question posed by soprano Marie Plette in her impassioned but often incomprehensible rendition of "The Promise of Time," a new song cycle by contemporary composer David Carlson. The work, part of the Magnum Opus project for new music, was performed Saturday by the Santa Rosa Symphony in a concert that also featured standard repertoire by Jean Sibelius: the Violin Concerto (with soloist Tedi Papavrami) and the Symphony No. 5.

The Carlson cycle, which consists of three songs with lyrics by poet Susan Kinsolving, offered an energetic beginning to the concert, with bright triplets and quintuplets propelling the orchestra forward. Plette entered forcefully, her powerful voice projecting well through the auditorium’s murky acoustics. She is clearly an operatic singer, with a pronounced vibrato and enough lung power to scare off the most nefarious villain. Unfortunately, the words she sang were often hard to discern.

Who to blame for the lack of intelligibility — the singer, the conductor, the orchestra, the composer, the librettist? All contributed, in one way or another. Plette was most intelligible on short, self-contained phrases, particularly when Music Director Bruno Ferrandis signaled the orchestra to back off. When she neared the top of her range, however, the words became less distinct.

Perhaps the solution would be to install a supertitle screen, or at least to leave the auditorium lights on so the audience can follow the text supplied with their programs. With those features in place, the performance might have been more rewarding. Carlson’s music, while firmly traditional, is often compelling, particularly in the “Velocity” song in the middle of the cycle. Here there was no doubt about the oft-repeated main word — velocity — and its musical equivalent.

Another type of intelligibility problem marred the performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Albanian soloist Tedi Papavrami is a violinist of dazzling technical proficiency, able to nail the most treacherous double-stops, high notes, and fingerboard-spanning runs. He also has a luscious tone, particularly on the G string, where he returned again and again to bathe the auditorium in honeyed sound.

Where Papavrami fell short, however, was in his connection with orchestra and conductor. He stood ramrod straight at the front of the stage, with Ferrandis barely in his peripheral vision, and never once turned to face the orchestra. His sound projected well, but it never gelled with that of his fellow musicians. What emerged was more of an extended solo than a fully realized concerto.

The performance was riveting at times, particularly at the beginning of the second movement, when Papavrami played the entire opening passage on the G string, shifting seamlessly from top to bottom. The outer movements were sluggish in comparison. Ferrandis’ tempos were often too slow, and the result frequently lacked the necessary swing.

Despite these problems, the audience greeted Papavrami with a boisterous ovation, and after two curtain calls he launched into the Ballade by 19th-century violin virtuoso Eugene Ysa˙e. The Sibelius may be difficult to play, but the Ysa˙e is practically impossible, with an unending volley of harmonics, hemidemisemiquavers, and acrobatic bowing. Papavrami tossed all this off with ease, utterly confident in his technical ability.

Sibelius returned in the second half, in the form of his Symphony No. 5. Here at last the orchestra could come to the foreground, with nimble playing from its many sections. Their distinct sonic qualities are a key feature of Sibelius’ austere score, which often foregrounds individual woodwinds and brass against relatively simple accompaniment.

After an unsteady opening from the French horns, the first movement solidified with the entry of the strings, who produced a clean sound with distinct lines. Their long buildup climaxed in a stringendo passage with a wonderful bassoon solo. As more players joined the mix, a convincing narrative emerged. Ferrandis sprang to life, becoming more and more agitated as the orchestra hurtled toward a rollicking ending.

The French horns also began the slow second movement, this time with more confidence. Restraint was the order of the day, with each voice again distinct, particularly the flutes, who leaned into the score’s frequent dissonances before sweetly resolving them. The austerity of the instrumentation led to a fine dramatic tension, well-sustained until the final interchange between strings and woodwinds.

Unlike most symphonies, the Sibelius No. 5 has only three movements, another sign of its innovations. As usual, however, the last movement is Allegro, here with a "molto" appended to speed things up. Much of the speed falls on the strings, who in this case displayed excellent unison while playing long stretches of 16th notes. The movement seemed to drift in the middle, but a long crescendo featuring the various brass sections brought the work to a satisfying close. To answer the question posed by Plette at the beginning of the concert, it was a great time to be alive and free.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice]