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Recital
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
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.