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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

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.