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Recital
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Symphony
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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, September 24, 2016
Norman Gamboa, conductor

Conductor Norman Gamboa

PRANKS AND HEROES IN SEASON OPENING SOCOPHIL CONCERT

by Alan Bloom
Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra prides itself on its informality. There is no dress code for concerts, as you could easily see at their Sept. 24 "Pranksters and Heroes" concert. They don't have an elegant, imposing concert hall, and while their venue at the Santa Rosa High School has excellent acoustics, itís not cozy and is the kind of place that anyone can visit without feeling out of place. That is all by design. They want everyone, not just seasoned concertgoers, to feel welcome and come and enjoy classical music.

The informality does not extend to the quality of the playing. The volunteer professional musicians clearly love what they are doing and play to a high standard. That was evident in the eveningís first work, Straussí "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks". The various soloists seemed to be having fun with their musical interpretations of the protagonist's mischievous escapades. I heard audience members chuckling at one of concertmaster Pam Otsuka's solos that sounded like Till laughing after one of his pranks.

All three works on the program stretched the So Co Philís virtuosity, both on a technical level and in the interpretations from conductor Norman Gamboa. Stravinskyís Pulcinella Suite from the 1920 Commedia DellíArte ballet is from the composer's short neo-classical period and uses unique harmonies and rhythms. While not as symphonically complicated as the composerís iconic "Rite of Spring," it is nevertheless a contrapuntal challenge. The orchestraís performance rose to the occasion. Oboist Chris Krive played beautifully the theme that introduced in the second movement.

The final work transitioned from the "Pranksters" to the "Heroes" section of the concert with Beethoven's E-Flat Major Symphony, Op. 55, known as he Heroic. The Philharmonic doesnít have the polish of a Vienna Philharmonic, but there is something about the magic in a live concert that you don't get from a recording. The tempos in the first Allegro con Brio were brisk and from the famous first two notes to the rousing finale I was taken with Mr. Gamboa's provocative reading. The audience seemed to agree, judging by their standing ovation.

The only disappointment in the afternoon's concert was that the hall appeared to be only half full, and perhaps that had something to do with it being the first concert of the season and competing events in the area. The Orchestraís ticket prices are reasonable, itís subscription audience loyal and each season they are adventurous in programming.