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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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 7, 2016
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Gabriela Martinez, piano

Pianist Gabriela Martinez

A SOUND TO BEHOLD

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 7, 2016

Concert titles are rarely specific, but the one for the Santa Rosa Symphony’s May 7 concert, “Jazzy Impressions,” is as literal as they get. The first half consisted of two American pieces influenced by jazz, and the second of two French works in the impressionist style.

Pairing two similar pieces in a concert is risky, because one inevitably suffers in comparison with the other. In this case, Gershwin’s piano concerto easily trumped Bernstein’s dance music from “On the Town,” and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” edged out Debussy’s “Ibéria.”

The main reason for Gershwin’s success is the piano part, which was brilliantly played by the Venezuelan Gabriela Martinez. Eschewing flash and glitz, she sat upright at the piano, playing with confidence and poise rather than excessive drama. Her arms were as elegant as a ballerina’s, and she consistently raised one or both in the air at the end of phrases and difficult passages, sometimes even bringing them behind her back.

Martinez’s articulations were precise, with nary a missed note, and her projection was admirable. No amount of projection, however, could overcome the orchestra, which often played too loudly, particularly in the first movement. Something is not right when the pianist is playing all out but can’t be heard above her accompaniment.

Gershwin’s music in the concerto is at times inspired, but it often drifts aimlessly, as in the second movement, where the many orchestral solos leave the pianist sitting mute for dozens of measures at a time. The high point, for both Gershwin and the players, comes in the third movement, with its fiery beginning and meaty lines. Martinez finally had something to sink her teeth into, and she performed flawlessly. Her accented syncopations were superb, and she gave the movement a dramatic arch that was sustained until the last measure.

The opening Bernstein dances were well played, with standout solos by Doug Morton (trumpet), Roy Zajac (clarinet) and Mark Wardlaw (alto sax). Originally intended for a Broadway pit orchestra, the music suffers from the transition to a concert hall. It’s incongruous to see a tuxedoed percussionist playing off a score while seated at a jazz/rock drum set in the middle of the orchestra. Just because it sounds good on Broadway doesn’t mean it’s ready for Carnegie Hall.

The Debussy and Ravel pieces in the second half were not only cast from the same impressionist mold, they also tackled the same subject: Spain. The pairing led to a certain amount of department of redundancy department experience, with a faintly academic tinge. Nonetheless, there was enough difference to sustain interest.

Debussy’s “Iberia” might be more properly titled “Debusseria,” for all the resemblance it bears to Spain. Debussy spent only one afternoon of his life in Spain--and that at a bullfight--so the piece is more his imagination of what Spain sounds like than the actually reality of Spain.

Regardless of the music’s program, the result is pure Debussy, with a constant subsurface tension that spills over at dramatic moments. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis used liquescent gestures to coax forth the dreamy sound, creating an atmosphere of mystery. Most haunting were the bells in the “Spanish night” movement. The tension kept building through the next, “Spanish festival,” until a triumphant arrival in the final bars. The playing was impeccable.

Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” was truer to Spain and more daring in its structures. The descending four-note half-scales at the beginning of the opening movement (Prelude to the night) set the stage for extended flights of musical fancy. As in Debussy, the atmosphere is always expectant, always about to explode. Ferrandis heightened this tension with carefully controlled dynamics, by turns hushing the orchestra and letting it loose.

The dances of the middle movements (Malagueña and Habanera) were played with a strong feeling for the syncopations and the rhythmic sway. The fireworks came in the last movement, thanks to Ravel’s magnificent orchestration and fine playing from every corner of the orchestra. Each layer of notes was audible in Weill Hall’s wonderful acoustics, and the tremendous crescendo at the end was a sound to behold.