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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

Conductor/Pianist Jeffrey Kahane

KAHANE’S TRIUMPHAL RETURN TO SANTA ROSA

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 22, 2012

On a day when several uncontrollable elements--lousy weather, football playoffs, hospital construction--conspired against them, guest conductor/pianist Jeffrey Kahane and the Santa Rosa Symphony packed the Wells Fargo Center by excelling at the one element firmly under their control: great music making. Kahane in particular had a fantastic day, returning in triumph to the orchestra he led for a decade, playing his heart out for a Mozart concerto, and reconnecting with musicians who clearly enjoy working with him.

The concert began with the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 25, with Kahane conducting from the keyboard. The piano, sans lid, was centered between the violins and the lower strings, with the keyboard parallel to the front of the stage. From his position at the ivories, Kahane could make eye contact with every member of the reduced orchestra, which featured a small complement of strings, one flute, one timpanist, and pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets.

Kahane stood to conduct the opening of the first movement without benefit of baton or score. He used both arms energetically and coaxed a crisp and flawless sound from the attentive players. Sitting at the piano when his turn came to play, he continued to conduct with his head and sometimes with whatever hand happened to be free. Even as he navigated the trickiest passages, he gazed steadily at the orchestra, communicating via arched eyebrows, stern visages and occasional smiles.

Kahane is a wonderfully expressive pianist who articulates each phrase with the utmost precision. His hands are a marvel to watch, seeming to be utterly relaxed while sprinting up and down the keys with nary a missed step. His playing during the cadenza, which he wrote himself, was particularly enchanting. Here he embellished upon the theme, mixing elaborate ornaments with some unexpected dissonances, ultimately sounding a bit like Beethoven as he drove to the conclusion.

Where the first movement was dazzling, the second was all expression, one of those ineffable Mozart Andantes that seems to float on a cloud. The melodic line here is paramount, and both orchestra and pianist played it to the hilt, each note fully sustained and leading into the next.

The last movement, an infectious Rondo, began at a brisk pace and never let up. Kahane traded solos with the flute and principal cellist and then led the orchestra in an extended romp to the finish line. The ovation was immediate, with many loud cheers mixed in.

During his tenure with the Santa Rosa Symphony, Kahane made a point of championing certain 20th-century composers, such as Leonard Bernstein and Michael Tippett, whose place in the classical repertoire is open to debate. Despite his frequently performed piano concertos, Sergei Rachmaninoff is still a member of that club, so the appearance of his third symphony after intermission was something of a rarity. When musicians refer to “Rach 3,” they mean the piano concerto, not the symphony.

There’s little danger that the symphonic “Rach 3” will displace the pianistic one, but the symphony does have its merits, albeit few. The first movement begins promisingly with a Russian-sounding theme from the clarinets, but it shortly morphs into a lushly orchestrated haze, with one melodic idea drifting into another, like a luxury liner lost in the fog. Any development or compelling narrative is hard to discern.

The second movement begins in much the same way, but the structure here is more clearly defined, especially when the opening Adagio is displaced by a spirited Allegro vivace. Kahane kept the orchestra moving along during this section, eliciting great playing from the strings and a remarkable solo from the English horn.

After a festive beginning, the third movement settles into a fugue that displays Rachmaninoff’s gifts for orchestration. Seemingly everyone gets involved in the increasingly manic action, which is regularly interrupted by languid interludes. The playing was excellent throughout, and the frenetic ending verged on the spine-tingling.

The audience applauded vigorously, so much so that Kahane launched the players into a rare orchestral encore, in this case Johann Strauss’s “Fledermaus” overture. The haze of the Rachmaninoff was quickly displaced by the crystalline clarity of the Waltz King’s exquisite melodies and toe-tapping rhythms. Both Kahane and the musicians outdid themselves with a finely honed rendition that included several perfectly executed ritards and accelerandos, along with some dazzling solos, notably the lightning quick piccolo figure at the end.

Santa Rosa was very lucky to have a conductor of Kahane’s stature in the not-so-distant past, and it can only be hoped that he’ll be able to guest conduct on a regular basis in future seasons. He still resides in Santa Rosa, and his fans are many.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]