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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
American Philharmonic, Sonoma County / Sunday, October 12, 2008
Gabriel Sakakeeny

Gabriel Sakakeeny

A DECADE AND COUNTING

by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An old business axiom has it that “ten years means a career,” and with the American Philharmonic Sonoma County making that anniversary, the tenth’s season first concerts October 11 and 12 brought more than the usual anticipation. This orchestra, which began in Cotati, has overcome manifold hurdles to become a formidable musical force in the North Bay.

A season-launching concert should open with something special, and Stephen Main’s “Overture for a New America” had a decidedly populist, perhaps even political tone. One of three world premieres to be played by the American Philharmonic this season, the Overture recalls a bucolic Vaughan-Williams, Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” and film scores such as Howard Shore’s “Lord of the Rings.” In three sections, the lush score portrays heroic aspects of the American national character with splendid writing for the brass and several full-orchestra climaxes. A fugue caps the third section, albeit breaking off too quickly, with the returning martial character winning out. It’s a substantial work with rich tonal colors, and it was elegantly played by the orchestra. The audience, filling perhaps half of the Wells Fargo Center’s 1,500 seats, loved it, and Main was introduced by conductor Gabriel Sakakeeny to additional acclaim.

Grieg’s A Minor Piano Concerto completed the first half, capably played by Rohnert Park resident Lauren Xie in her second appearance with the American Philharmonic. An early Grieg work, from 1868, the dramatic and melodic concerto preceded the other popular piano concertos of the time (Rubinstein D Minor, Tchaikovsky B-Flat, Brahms’s D Minor and B-Flat, Henselt’s F Minor) and has never lost hold of a wide public. Its soaring themes and perfect integration of the solo instrument and orchestra are models of the genre. In the first movement Xie chose to underplay the massive choral parts, playing cleanly and never rushing tempos. Her performance was certainly lyrical but lacked heft and excitement. The big trill entering the coda was bright, and finally she mounted a real forte in the coda.

Her best playing came in the Adagio in D Flat, despite orchestra pitch problems in the introduction. Here Xie’s thoughtful and tender interpretation was winning, her touch deft and shading subtle. Xie tends to ignore some interesting bass lines heard in performances of other pianists, but the nostalgic music, and the lovely accompaniment from the orchestra, made the movement memorable. A highlight of the afternoon.

The finale, beginning in A Minor and ending in A Major, was held in strict control by Sakakeeny’s precise baton, and the playing of the timpanist (unidentified in the program) was excellent. Xie was again best in lyrical parts, where the treble sustain in the piano carried well, and less convincing in fast pedaled runs where her scales lacked clarity. A standing ovation and four sets of flowers for the soloist followed the volcanic ending. Prior to the second half, Sakakeeny presented Xie with the Orchestra’s Young Artist Award, an annual gift and tribute to young musicians in the North Bay area.

A youthful and still amazing First Symphony in F Minor (1925) from Shostakovich closed the concert. In four movements, it must rank with Mahler’s as one of the best “first” symphonies ever written, and it has all the characteristics of the mature composer’s additional 14 works in the genre: brilliant orchestration, acerbic wit, blatant but proper theme-borrowing, and immense emotional impact. It has everywhere the distinctive Shostakovich voice, mixed in with climaxes recalling countrymen Scriabin and Tchaikovsky.

Tom Hyde’s solo trumpet playing throughout was exemplary. The grotesquerie of the Scherzo and the introversion of the slow movement (Lento) were fluently performed, with Steve Bergman (clarinet) Chris Crive (oboe) and Miranda Kincaid (bassoon) as standout soloists. But this is a symphony of solo parts, at times with even a bit of Wagner in the long fourth-movement introduction, and in that pesky Scherzo, which I suspect this orchestra could not have effectively tackled five years ago. Sakakeeny seems to keep setting the bar higher, with more demanding works that require large forces and presumably much rehearsal time, and the preparation was palpable in a masterful interpretation. The prevailing feeling of sadness was finally relieved by the massive ending statement from the horns.

Perhaps this performance indicates that a Shostakovich symphony could be on at least one American Philharmonic program each year? The Fourth may be still be out of reach, but this wonderful orchestra, playing last year the Rite of Spring and the Poem of Ecstasy, could probably do it.