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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 Gil Shaham

A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, August 2, 2014

The audience filing into Saturday's National Youth Orchestra concert at Weill Hall in Rohnert Park was greeted by the sight and sound of 120 teenaged musicians furiously warming up and clad in a patriotic outfit of red pants and sneakers, white shirts and … black blazers, ties and scarves? So much for the red, white and blue, but the costumes were beguiling nonetheless.

Equally beguiling were the inhabitants of those costumes: fresh-faced young people aged 16 to 19, brimming with confidence and excitement. For many of them, one suspects, this concert and the others on their current tour are the event of a lifetime. Some may continue as professional musicians, but most are likely to veer into better-paying careers. For now, however, they're all playing together, unbesmirched by adult concerns.

They continued warming up, creating an ever more deafening noise until the lights went down and conductor David Robertson bounded out, his step lightened by the same Converse sneakers that the teenagers wore. Seconds later, the massive ensemble--which included 36 violins--slammed into Leonard Bernstein's symphonic dances from "West Side Story."

The sound was impressive, to say the least. Everyone played with youthful energy, adhering closely to Robertson's motions. He sharply accented the beats in the opening prologue and then turned the orchestra on a dime for the memorable "Somewhere." A serene beginning with gorgeous string solos ended with a huge swell from the rest of the orchestra, which exhibited precise dynamic control.

Guided by Robertson's relaxed and apparently effortless conducting, the orchestra played the remaining six dances with equal parts fervor and command. The "mambo" shout in that dance rang throughout the hall, confirming that everyone was having a great time. On occasion, Robertson really danced on the podium, gathering his forces for a sudden crescendo or dramatic off-beat. All the solos were great, particularly the flute at the end.

While introducing the next piece, 16-year-old French hornist Andrew Angelos observed that the Bernstein "sounds better when played by a youth orchestra--we tend to have more energy."

Soloist Gil Shaham proved equally energetic in the Britten violin concerto, one of five concertos from the 1930s featured on his recent two-CD set. On that recording, he's accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but the National Youth Orchestra sounded just as good, if not better.

Shaham is an engaging performer. He invariably smiles after difficult passages and frequently turns around to encourage his fellow musicians. His bow control is superb and his intonation spot-on, even in the highest registers. His performance of the notoriously difficult Britten concerto was faultless and impassioned, which is more than one can say of the piece itself.

While the concerto is full of memorable snippets and breathtaking solos, it lacks a coherent narrative. At times it sounds like a partita for solo violin superimposed on a threnody for orchestra. It hasn't aged nearly as well as the Barber and Berg concertos written around the same time, nor is it performed as often. Still, it's a dazzling workout for the soloist, and Shaham was resplendent.

The second half began with a major reshuffling. The string sections, for instance, were completely reversed. The first two chairs were now in the back row, and the back row was now in the front. The intent seemed to spring from a desire to give everyone equal playing opportunities, helping them move beyond the "I'm not playing second fiddle" mentality.

Once the orchestra settled in, they eased into "Radial Play," by the 20-something composer Samuel Adams. True to its title, "Radial Play" consists of short sections that radiate out from a central pitch. In the first section, for example, the harp plucks out a central pitch and then the other instruments join in with brief, accented entries that accumulate into a dense but refreshingly bright sound marked by unusual percussion and strong syncopations.

"Radial Play" is full of promise but is over almost as soon as it begins. Perhaps Adams can use a similar structure for a longer, more fully developed future composition.

Rounding out the show was a spine-tingling performance of Mussorgsky/Ravel's "Pictures at an Exhibition." This oft-performed masterpiece is a rite of passage for young musicians, with each generation bringing its own insight and style. The style here was vivid, with hints of transcendence. The apprentices breathed new life into the familiar melodies, playing with conviction and impressive speed, especially in "The Market at Limoges."

The transcendent moments came in the concluding "Great Gate at Kiev," where the teenagers played full out, with no holds barred. It was a triumph of youth. At the end, everyone was smiling, except for one violinist, who seemed overcome with emotion after such a splendid performance.

Two encores followed: the suite from Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" and an arrangement of "America the Beautiful." The former was marvelous, but the latter seemed more a product of patriotic fervor than musical inspiration.

No matter. All told, the National Youth Orchestra is a force to be reckoned with.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.