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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....
RECITAL REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Thursday, July 14, 2016
Robert Henry, piano

Pianist Robert Henry

OF ANGELS, DEMONS AND ENCORES

by Kayleen Asbo
Thursday, July 14, 2016

Each successive event at this summer’s Mendocino Music Festival has brought an unfolding cornucopia of delights. Elements of the exceptional three previous classical programs coalesced July 14 into a magnificent and singular tour de force when pianist Robert Henry traversed the entire topography of the keyboard while offering humor, personal warmth, intimacy and musical perfection. It was an afternoon that braved every extremity of dynamics, technical demands and emotional landscapes. Evoking angels and demons at the keyboard, Mr. Henry also garnered the most rapturous response of the festival thus far: four standing ovations.

Speaking in a light Georgian drawl, the charming pianist introduced each set of pieces, at times demonstrating elements of what was to come from the instrument, and offering insights into both the composers and the music.

The afternoon opened with the understated performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 38 in F minor. Here Mr. Henry was a paragon of Apollonian perfection, offering a balance of melody and accompaniment, crystalline runs and gracious trills that tapered beautifully at the ends of phrases in anticipation of the deceptive cadences. In his introduction, the artist referenced the importance of silence in creating Haydn’s witty style. Unlike Beethoven, whose sense of humor can be caustic, rude and bombastic at times, Haydn is always a gentleman, with musical jokes that are refined rather than course. This sonata is a wonderful example of the gracious playfulness that is Haydn’s signature, a trait Mr. Henry captured with delicacy and grace.

The tragic elegance of the Adagio showed a masterful control of balance and nuance as the music modulated back and forth through minor and major keys, conveying a quality of smiling through tears. It seemed as if Mr. Henry was challenging himself to play with even more expression and tenderness in the repeats, reaching inward to pull each masterfully crafted note from the depths.

The concluding Presto was all wit and whimsy, as Mr. Henry tossed off the rapid-fire passagework with an enchanting lightness of touch and deftness of articulation. There was not a note out of place, with plenty of dynamic contrast to enjoy throughout.

Overshadowed in our time by her older sister Nadia Boulanger (perhaps the most formidable composition teacher in the 20th century) Lili Boulanger was the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome award for composition. Tragically dying at 24, most of her surviving works are written for chorus. Mr. Henry offered the three surviving solo piano works that showed affinities with the music of the Impressionists, particularly her teacher Gabriel Faure. Each piece captured a “whiff of emotion”. The opening D’un vieux jardin (The Old Garden) unfolded in a hazy halo of languid tones, where the parallel open chords conjured memories of Debussy’s La Cathedrale Engloutie. The concluding Cortege brought a sense of bright, bubbling and syncopated rhythm and a vaguely Iberian sound. The set was beautifully rendered with sensitivity and fidelity to the score.

The first half came to a climactic conclusion with Carl Vine’s monumental Sonata No. 1, from 1990. Described by the pianist as a “Kitchen Sink” piece that uses all 88 keys, all three pedals and every piano technique I’ve ever encountered. It is a fiendishly difficult work of ferocious contrasts, alternating sections of brooding mystery and hypnotic slowness with percussive ostinato sections and clangorous quartal harmonies. The piece accelerates in a sense of growing apocalyptic terror, with repeated glissandi amid a perpetual mobile driving pattern buried in the lowest register of the bass.

It is a piece that rivals some of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes or Hungarian Rhapsodies for sheer bravura passagework and physical demands. And yet, in the middle of such almost demonic intensity, Mr. Henry sat in calm repose. While his fingers flashed with a blinding speed and precision, his body remained relaxed and at ease, his face a mirror of implacable serenity. I was reminded of the story of the Buddha on the night of his Enlightenment, sitting in meditation as the demons whirled about. Because of his almost superhuman performance of this work and because of the excellent and engaging preface, the audience was able to hear this challenging work with rapt attention and admiration, standing enthusiastically (though seemingly stunned) at its conclusion.

The second half of the program offered a deeply personal and meditative interpretation of Robert Helps’ Portrait, composed in 1960. Once again demonstrating his versatility, Mr. Henry brought a transparent, ethereal quality to the chorale sections while building an explosive power in the dramatic crescendos.

The final piece on the program was Brahms’ epic Handel Variations, Op. 24. The 25 variations followed by a fugue were spun out with clarity and tonal beauty. It was all here: some variations conveyed a rhapsodic elegance, spinning a web of aching darkness. Others evoked a Hungarian circus with the snapping syncopations. Sounds of ethereal angels and lumbering elephants alternated, and throughout a sense of line and purpose we palpable.

The ecstatic audience, marveling at the poise, command and consummate musicianship of the artist, rose at the end of the fugue to cheer. Four ovations with three Chopin encores followed, performed with that rare combination of elegance, understated emotion and consummate technical prowess.

The ever-generous Mr. Henry personally shook hands with each audience member as they reluctantly left Preston Hall and a memorable afternoon.