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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

Composer Bela Bartok

LATE-INNING HEROICS

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 12, 2014

Much like a home baseball team that scores the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, the Santa Rosa Symphony saved the best for last in its Sunday afternoon concert on Oct. 12. They led off with a tentative but ultimately captivating reading of Richard Strauss's "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks," followed with a solid but subdued performance of Beethoven's "Emperor" piano concerto, hit their stride with Wagner's "Tannhaüser" overture, and finally scored with Bartok's magnificent "Miraculous Mandarin."

That final work, written for a scandalous ballet, was easily the most riveting of the afternoon. Beginning with a propulsive opening in the second violins, the score is one long, tense buildup to a bloody and anguished climax. In the ballet, three criminals force a prostitute to lure customers in order to rob them. Their plans are thwarted by a mysterious mandarin who falls in love with the prostitute and repels their attacks.

Musically, this lurid plot induces restless energy and seething tension. The most prominent musical device is a sharply syncopated melodic line over a perpetually shifting drone. The violas played the first such line with powerful unison and great expression. They were followed by the cellos and then a series of bewitching solos from the clarinets and trombones.

The texture was wonderfully dense, with each section of the orchestra playing in a range of timbres. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis urged everyone forward at a feverish pitch, leading to a shattering ending and sustained applause. The only regret was that no dancers were on hand to enact Bartok's remarkable score.

The Bartok was a welcome and unexpected end to an afternoon of crowd favorites, beginning with Strauss's oft-performed tone poem. The playing here was precise but too deliberate to bring out the humor of the story, which revolves around Till's various pranks and his ultimate trip to the gallows. Ferrandis seemed a bit stiff in his gestures, a little too measured. A more relaxed approach might have induced more flexible playing and stronger dramatic contrasts.

By the march to the gallows, however, both Ferrandis and the orchestra had warmed up, and the playing was resplendent. The coda was magical.

Swift on the heels of Strauss came Beethoven's Emperor Piano Concerto (No. 5) with the Russian soloist Yevgeny Sudbin. He is a technically dazzling pianist in his thirties who is all business. His basic posture is to bend his head forward and hunch into the piano so that it occupies his entire field of vision. You would never know what he's playing based on his body language--he barely moves, except for his hands, which hang suspended in mid-air.

Sudbin uses lots of pedal but has an exceedingly delicate touch. His trills are rock-solid and expressive, a talent he used repeatedly throughout the concerto. Trills are so prominent in the Emperor that they become a method of sustaining notes, almost like bowing across a string or breathing into a horn.

The playing was faultless but ultimately somewhat timid. Sudbin didn't project as much as he could have, and his climactic moments were perfunctory, particularly at the end of the concerto where his final triumphant run up the keyboard seemed to peter out. Nonetheless, it was an accomplished performance, and it earned a standing ovation.

Ovations were also in order for the student musicians from the Symphony's top-tier youth orchestra who joined their elder colleagues after intermission to play Wagner's familiar overture to the opera “Tannhaüser.” The opening was magisterial and the mood triumphant, with Ferrandis conducting in sweeping gestures. This being Wagner, the horns were a central feature, but the strings also had their moments, particularly the violas, whose part was unusually prominent.

"Tannhaüser" is Wagner at his most commanding and assured. The players really leaned into their lines, and the resonant themes stood out in sharp relief. It was great theater, and it bodes well for the future that so many young musicians were able to join in.