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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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, November 10, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Maya Beiser, cello

RISE AND SHINE

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 10, 2013

In the advertising images promoting her Nov. 9-11 appearances with the Santa Rosa Symphony, cellist Maya Beiser is cast as an enchantress, her long golden-brown hair billowing around her brightly light face, centered on her bewitching blue eyes. She holds the cello neck as if it were a wand, preparing to cast a spell over her mesmerized beholders.

The enchantress image continued as Beiser teetered onto the stage on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 10, atop a pair of stiletto heels, with not only her hair, but also a floor-length golden-brown dress wafting behind her like a cumulonimbus cloud. She then spent several anxious moments clambering up the cello podium, rearranging the many folds of her dress to accommodate the cello, and finally fitting bow to string. "She would have done better in a pantsuit," remarked a fashion critic in the row behind me.

Would that wardrobe were Beiser's only problem. The sound that emerged from her instrument at the beginning of Osvaldo Golijov's "Mariel" was thin and hard to hear, despite an electronic pickup attached to the cello's bridge. The piece, originally for cello and marimba, is an elegy for one of the composer's friends, and the intensity of feeling is immediately apparent in the orchestral opening--an intensity that Beiser failed to match.

Beiser's lack of focus was nowhere more evident than in a brief moment when she appeared to lose her grip on the cello's neck and it began sliding downward off the podium. She caught it in plenty of time, however, and her playing thereafter seemed to perk up a bit. By the end, at least some of the remarkable beauty of Golijov's elegy was on display. The Golijov, the last piece in the first half of the concert, was preceded by George Gershwin's "Cuban Overture" and Alberto Ginastera's "Estancia" ballet suite. Both works showed off the Santa Rosa Symphony's virtuosity, fully harnessed by their energetic conductor, Bruno Ferrandis.

Playing to a full house, the Symphony plunged into the "Cuban Overture" at top speed, led by an augmented percussion section. In addition to the usual snare drum, cymbals and wood blocks, the half-dozen percussionists pounded on bongos, shook maracas and scraped the guiro, a serrated instrument that's played with a stick. The lilting Cuban rhythm was infectious, taken up first by the brass and then the strings, who demonstrated that they could swing as much as the drummers. Strong solos from the clarinets and trumpets carried the work to a thrilling conclusion.

Equally thrilling was Ginastera's "Estancia," originally composed in 1941 for a ballet depicting ranch life in Ginastera's native Argentina. Cattle aren't known for their rhythmic flair, but the ranch hands who tend to them appear to favor a vigorous 6/8. That driving, energetic beat dominates the ballet, which features sections such as "Workers on the Land," "Wheat Dance," and "Cattle Men." The culmination is in the final movement, "Malambo," named for an ancient Spanish dance that arrived in Argentina around 1600 and is still spinning heads.

Still clad in her voluminous raiment, Beiser returned to open the second half with Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei," an Adagio for cello and orchestra based on two powerful Jewish melodies. Eschewing the electronic pickup but making use of an iPad that she controlled with her right foot, Beiser offered a confident statement of the opening melody, bringing far more sound from her cello than previously. As she progressed, however, she slid into almost every high note, indulging in an excess of portamento.

"Kol Nidrei" is quite an affecting piece, and the second theme is particularly gorgeous, leading one neighboring patron to hum along. On balance, Beiser played it well, especially toward the end, when she did finally manage to hold the audience spellbound with an elegiac solo. If only she had gathered those forces earlier in the show.

The show itself ended with a sparkling performance of Gershwin's "Catfish Row," the orchestral suite drawn from his opera "Porgy and Bess." As with the "Cuban Overture," the suite is notable for its orchestration, including a solitary banjo player who sits forlornly between the cellos and the conductor and is granted only one solo: "I got plenty o'nuttin."

The banjo player in this case, who happened to be left-handed, took it all in stride, leading one to wonder how many opportunities exist for orchestral banjo players. Meanwhile all around him, strings of various persuasions leaned heavily into their instruments, playing with all their might to keep up with Ferrandis's brisk pace.

Ferrandis has a real ability to keep the orchestral sections distinctive while never lagging on the beat. The playing throughout was exemplary, from the jarring syncopations of the "Fugue" movement to the lyricism of the famous "Summertime" solo, here ably performed by concertmaster Joe Edelberg. As is often the case, the best was saved for last: "Good mornin', sistuh," with its dazzling orchestration and whirling melodies. The day was almost over at the end, but inside the hall, the sun was just beginning to rise.