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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, November 14, 2015
Norman Gamboa, conductor

So Co Philharmonic Conductor Norman Gamboa

LA ROCCA'S "CROSSING" A MINIMALIST DEBUT

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 14, 2015

Conductor Norman Gamboa is known for innovative programming, especially with Latin-theme music, but in the Nov. 14 concert at Santa Rosa High School’s Performing Arts Hall he chose three familiar works by American composers But true to form a new piece from local composer Frank LaRocca was also in the mix.

Barber’s The School for Scandal: Overture, the composer’s first popular work, received slow tempos but had additional clarity of instrumental voices that Mr. Gamboa coaxed from the Orchestra in under 10 minutes. Scruffy string playing was offset by wonderful wind voices from Nick Xenelis (clarinet), Chris Krive’s oboe and flutist Debra Scheuerman. Barber’s 1933 neo Romanticism was well served in the performance.

Four Dance Episodes from Copland’s music for the ballet Rodeo followed, each unique in texture and excitement. In his 115th birthday role Copland’s pre-1950 works now sound more readily Americana than Gershwin or Bernstein, and the bookends “Buckaroo Holiday” and “Hoe-Down” were played with flair and just the right amount of western “swing.” The conductor controlled the fast rhythmic sections with anchored tempos, and in the “Hoe-Down” the prominent piano part (Brien Wilson) alternated with lovely deep phrases in the cellos.

There was fetching harp playing in the bucolic “Corral Nocturne” and beguiling solos from English hornist Anthony Perry.

Following intermission and the always popular wine raffle Mr. La Rocca’s 1994 orchestral suite Crossing the Rubicon was expertly played, and in a surprising blend of minimalist forms. I don’t recall a large minimalist work being played in Sonoma County, save for long ago performances of Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine and possibly Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.

First came from a lonely piccolo theme (Emily Reynolds) over short crescendos, repeated unendingly, and more intricate oboe, harp and piano solos. The long and often lyrical melodic lines and pensive character of Crossing were carefully shaped by Mr. Gamboa, spiced by marimba and robust percussion playing. Mr. LaRocca’s Crossing is an effective composition, tightly crafted but unabashedly poetic. Audience members wanting music of minimalist dissonance needed to look elsewhere.

The composer was in the audience and was recognized by the conductor and a now standing Orchestra.

This reviewer was unable to listen to the evening’s final piece, Gershwin’s Symphonic Suite from the 1937 Opera Porgy and Bess.