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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
Green Music Center / Saturday, January 26, 2013
Yo Yo Ma

Weill Hall

FULL MOON, FULL HOUSE

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 26, 2013

Under a full moon on Saturday, Jan. 26, before playing what he confidently predicted would be the first encore of the evening, cellist Yo Yo Ma paused to tell the overflow crowd at Weill Hall that they had “an unbelievable music room.” His choice of words is apt, because the magnificent space at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park has both the grandeur of a symphony hall and the intimacy of a living room, at least from a sonic perspective. From the back of the hall, every note that Ma played throughout his two-hour recital was crystal clear, from the softest pianissimo to the mightiest triple fortes. You could close your eyes and believe he was only a few feet away, despite several dozen intervening rows of seats.

Ma and his able accompanist Kathryn Stott capitalized on this intimacy by shaping each note and phrase for maximum effect. The master cellist never seemed to play the same note twice, approaching each one as a unique entity, worthy of its own attention. This approach was nowhere more evident than in his mesmerizing rendition of Olivier Messiaen’s “Praise to the Eternity of Jesus,” in which his sustained and assured vibrato coaxed each long note into being and then let it fade away. A hush fell over the audience, which had just returned from intermission, as Ma proceeded through Messiaen’s serene but driven masterpiece.

Like many other selections in the recital, “Praise” was taken somewhat out of context so it would fit into Ma’s creative programming. The piece is actually the fifth movement of Messiaen’s eight-movement “Quartet for the End of Time.” Likewise, Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Spanish Folksongs,” which closed the first half of the show, were originally written for soprano, and the majestic Brahms sonata that concluded the evening was originally written for violin. No matter. Ma took them all and made them sound like each composer had really intended them for the cello.

As Ma hinted at the end of the show, one reason for all the transcriptions was to give the audience a whirlwind tour of the geography of classical music, beginning with the Russian Igor Stravinsky’s “Italian Suite,” followed by three pieces from South America, the seven Spanish songs, the French “Praise,” and the Austro-German sonata. For good measure, the encores were English (Elgar) and American (Gershwin).

The “Italian Suite”--which is yet another transcription, this time by the composer--got things rolling in a hurry. This collection of lively Baroque-inspired tunes is a virtuosic challenge for cellists, and even Ma had some intonation problems in some of the faster runs at the upper end of the fingerboard. These blemishes were trivial, however, compared to the immense musicality that Ma brought to the suite. The opening phrase was distinctly shaped, with a pregnant pause near the middle. Highlighting Stravinsky’s jagged rhythms, Ma moved his instrument around freely, with an almost casual grasp. The cello’s neck was often far to his left, and the body of the instrument well outside the normal range.

Pianist Stott was likewise far from her instrument. She played with outstretched arms and sat low on the bench. The positions of both players seemed to give them greater freedom, and their performance was a marvel of sudden stops and turns. The thrilling speed and intricacy of the next-to-last movement, a tarantella, was so compelling that the audience burst into indecorous applause.

After the manic energy of the opening suite, Ma calmed the atmosphere with the three pieces from South America, by Villa-Lobos (“Alma Brasileira”), Piazzolla (“Oblivion”) and Guarnieri (“Dansa Negra”). Of these the Piazzolla was the standout, allowing Ma to generate room-filling sound from his lower strings. His cello really began to sing during the piece, which culminates with an unforgettable downward glissando.

Several of the de Falla songs were instantly recognizable Spanish folk tunes, with characteristic Flamenco rhythms and passionate melodies. Each shone in its own way, but the final one, “Polo,” offered a particularly wonderful opportunity for Ma to display his relentless drive. His energy seemed barely contained, almost on the verge of explosion, yet he somehow managed to channel all of it into his fingers and hands.

Intermission brought a chance to stroll into the courtyard and bask under the full moon, which sat above the concert hall as if granting benediction. The sight was a perfect appetizer for the heavenly Messiaen that began the second half. Following that transcendent performance was not easy, but Ma slid into the subsequent Brahms sonata as if into a pair of well-worn slippers. Despite the transcription from violin to cello, everything fit perfectly. The assurance was complete, the story compelling, the sound gorgeous. Toward the end of the last movement, Ma stood up briefly, as if to gather strength for the final plunge and the encores to follow.