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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

Violinist Alexander Barantschick

IN THE PRIME OF YOUTH

by Steve Osborn
Thursday, January 23, 2014

Youth was the order of the day at the San Francisco Symphony's Jan. 23 concert in Weill Hall. Three of the four pieces on the program were written by teenaged composers--Mozart, Mendelssohn, Britten--and the fourth, by Piazzolla, included a youthful tango.

On the other hand, most of the musicians were middle-aged. There were only two dozen or so, a remarkably diminished version of an ensemble that had numbered well over 100 in its last appearance at Weill Hall, to play Richard Strauss's mammoth "Alpine Symphony." This time the orchestra was restricted to 14 violins, three violas, four cellos and two basses. Later they added a bandoneón player, a pianist and a drummer.

It was somewhat incongruous to see the drum set looming behind the orchestra in the opening work, Mozart's Divertimento in F major, K. 138, written when he was 16. Instead of the drums, the rhythm was supplied by the violas and cellos, who subsisted on a steady diet of eighth notes beneath the violins' soaring melodies. The putative conductor was Concertmaster Alexander Barantschik, but he did little more than lift his bow and occasionally nod at the cellos and basses from his first-chair position.

No conductor was needed in any event. The musicians played as one, with a remarkable unanimity of timbre, tempo and dynamics. The result was youth incarnate: Mozart shining forth in all the glory of his genius. Of the three movements, the second was the most memorable. Its beatific melody evoked Alpine clouds floating over Mozart's native Salzburg, their motion assisted by superb dynamics and evocative playing.

The milieu for the next piece shifted to the Mendelssohn family's sumptuous parlor in Berlin, where young Felix regularly trotted out new compositions for the assembled guests. This one was a violin concerto composed when he was 13, definitely not to be confused with his later masterful effort in the genre.

Standing up from his chair, Barantschik faced the audience, with the orchestra at his back. Playing from score, he never once turned around to conduct, relying once again on the musicians' collective unconscious. In comparison to the youthful Mozart, the youthful Mendelssohn is mostly superficial, given to glittering runs and crowd-pleasing cadenzas. The concerto, which had been forgotten for more than a century before being revived by Yehudi Menuhin, is pleasant but insubstantial.

Like the concerto, Barantschik's playing dwelled on the surface, without too much emotional investment. He has an almost flawless technique and uses minimal body motion, much like his fellow Russian predecessor Jascha Heifetz, one of whose violins he plays. The only oddity is that he grips his bow well up the stick, almost in Baroque position, avoiding his frog like the plague.

The lush sound of orchestra and soloist was remarkably consistent throughout the concerto, even during the slow second movement, which was disrupted by a medical emergency at the back of the hall. Undeterred, Barantschik played without pause, plunging into the gypsy-inspired final movement with alacrity. The long cadenza at the end was a perpetuum mobile that elicited loud applause.

Although Benjamin Britten completed his "Simple Symphony" when he was 20, the four movements are all based on pieces he wrote from the ages of 10 to 13. He is much closer to Mozart than Mendelssohn, opting for heartfelt simplicity rather than superficial complexity. The second movement, "Playful Pizzicato," is especially charming, from the resonant bass plucking to the sudden intrusion of folksong-like strumming. Again, the conductorless orchestra played with remarkable coherence, with everyone on the same dynamic and beat.

Youth succumbed to old age in the final piece(s), the "Melodia" and "Libertango" of Astor Piazzolla, adapted for string orchestra, solo violin and bandoneón by Jeremy Cohen, who also wrote a violin cadenza linking the two. Barantschik again took the solo role, joined by bandoneón player Seth Arsanow.

For those unfamiliar with the bandoneón, it resembles an accordion, with a bellows in the middle and keys on either end--but the bandoneón bellows are much longer than an accordion's and are draped across the player's knee like a massive snake. Their undulating movement becomes as much a part of the performance as the sound they produce.

Arsarnow played his instrument superbly, creating heart-breaking sounds that echoed throughout the hall. The opening "Melodia" was pure romance, a welter of emotions in a melancholy frame. After the transitional violin cadenza, Arsarnow started the concluding youthful tango by tapping the bandoneón with his right hand. The drums entered, and soon the entire orchestra was figuratively prancing across the stage to the tango's distinctive rhythm. The crowd loved it, leaping to their feet at the end.