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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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, December 8, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir. Jenni Samuleson, soprano: Christine Brandes, mezzo-soprano; Brian Thorsett,tenor;
Philip Skinner, bass-baritone

Soprano Christine Brandes

OLD TESTAMENT AND NEW

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 8, 2013

Way back in 1995, when Jeffrey Kahane was just beginning to conduct the Santa Rosa Symphony, the local music critic incurred Kahane's wrath by writing an unfavorable review of a concert that included music by Leonard Bernstein. In essence, the critic opined that Bernstein was merely a show-biz composer, undeserving of serious recognition. Kahane retaliated by preceding subsequent concerts with a stern lecture to the audience extolling Bernstein's virtues and explaining why he should be taken seriously.

Be all that as it may, the Symphony--now conducted by Bruno Ferrandis--has programmed precious little Bernstein since then, so the inclusion of the composer's "Jeremiah" Symphony for its Dec. 8 concert at Weill Hall came as something of a surprise. This unfamiliar work, first performed in 1944, is one of Bernstein's earliest, but it contains many characteristic elements, instantly recognizable to anyone who's heard "West Side Story" or "On the Waterfront." Indeed, the first two movements of the symphony could easily serve as a film score--this time to a biblical epic.

All the Hollywood tropes are there: the brass fanfare, the emphatic drumbeat, the surging strings. In the first movement, you can almost see the prophet Jeremiah staggering across a back-lot desert. In the second, he stumbles into a profane dance party where bodies twirl to an insistent jagged rhythm and an oft-repeated six-note phrase. It's all well orchestrated, but the music has little import--until a mezzo-soprano walks onstage and opens the third movement with a heartfelt lament.

The singer in this case was Bay Area favorite Christine Brandes, who instantly injected some gravitas into the proceedings, courtesy of Bernstein's score. The third and final movement of the symphony was originally conceived as a stand-alone piece for soprano and orchestra, and it could easily resume that state. The difference between the first two movements and the third is night and day: Hollywood soundtrack vs. serious music.

Brandes was nothing if not serious. Wearing a black shawl and an elegant black-and-gold gown, she sang each note to its full value, with well-controlled vibrato. She was particularly riveting in her lower range, filling the hall with opulent sound. Her dramatics were also convincing, save for the few times she glanced at her score; she would have been better served by memorizing it. That quibble aside, it was a memorable performance, much appreciated by the nearly full house.

Less appreciated was the opening work, Leopold Mozart's frivolous "Toy Symphony," featuring five local non-musical celebrity soloists aided by Symphony trumpeter Doug Morton and soprano Dianna Richardson, a member of the Symphony's honor choir. The celebrities played toy instruments--including a bird whistle, a noisemaker and a wind machine--over a thin bed of sound from a much-reduced orchestra. While it was tolerably amusing to see the mayor of Santa Rosa wearing a Santa Claus hat and pounding on a toy drum, the comic effect wore off quickly. The highlight, such as it was, came from Richardson, who sang well.

Good singing was abundant in the second half, devoted to Haydn's "Mass in Time of War." Here Brandes was joined by soprano Jennie Samuelson, tenor Brian Thorsett, bass Philip Skinner, and the hundred or so voices of the Symphony's Honor Choir, directed by Robert Worth. The choir dominated the mass, both musically and spatially, looming above the orchestra in the Hall's distinctive Choral Circle. That position above the main stage allows the choir much better projection than when they're relegated to risers behind the orchestra.

The choir asserted its dominance in the opening Kyrie, clearly articulating the words and ringing out above the orchestra. Samuelson's opening solo was a bit fuzzy around the edges, but Brandes was crystal clear. The Kyrie is unusually sprightly, leading into a lilting Gloria. Here the choir kept pace with Ferrandis's brisk tempo, which didn't slow until the bass solo at "Filius Patris, qui tollis peccata mundi" (son of the Father, who takest away the sins of the world). Ably accompanied by cellist Robin Bonnell, Skinner unleashed a window-rattling sound, fully embodying the plaintive text.

The subsequent Credo continued, and even elevated, the energy of the Gloria. Ferrandis was a model of exactitude as he cued each choral entry in the opening fugue and exhorted the under-represented tenors to sing louder. The low organ note after "et sepultus est" (and was buried) was wonderfully dramatic, leading into a superb "Et resurrexit tertia die" (and the third day he rose again) from the chorus.

The tenor gets only a brief solo in the Sanctus, but Thorsett made the most of it, displaying a pure tone and remarkable power. He joined with the other soloists for the high point of Haydn's mass--the remarkable Benedictus quartet. Here the word "benedictus" is carried from one soloist to the next, who interact like members of a string quartet. All the voices were good, but Thorsett really stood out.

The concluding Agnus Dei, with its famous drum roll, was almost a match for the Benedictus. The chorus sang beautifully, and the final "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace) was uplifting, a wonderful ending to an inspired performance.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.