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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, April 12, 2008
Bruno Ferrandis, conducting
Christopher O'Riley, piano

Christopher O'Riley

SONIC TATTOOS

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, April 12, 2008

In newspaper ads touting his appearances with the Santa Rosa Symphony, Christopher O'Riley wore a black T-shirt, the better to show off a massive henna tattoo running the length of his arm, right down to the ends of his fingers. In his April 12 concert, the tattoo was no longer in evidence, but he did manage to tattoo the symphony's resident Steinway with some of the richest sounds to emerge from that instrument in a long time.

Clad in a knee-length black coat, O'Riley got right to work on Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3, a piece the Santa Rosa Symphony had never performed in its 80-year history. In a preconcert conversation with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, O'Riley opined that the concerto ' Bart'k's last completed work ' evokes the sonic landscape of New York City in the 1940s, in distinct contrast to the rural folk inspirations of his other concertos.

O'Riley's playing was consistent with this interpretation. He began with emphatically disconnected notes, a collision of sounds without any apparent unity that sounded like the jarring street noises of Manhattan. Within a few measures, however, he smoothed out the edges and began playing with a seemingly effortless legato. He maintained this level of contrast throughout the concerto, altering his tone and attack in keeping with the music and the orchestra's exertions.

Cooperative Soloist

It is rare to see a soloist pay such careful attention to the conductor. O'Riley kept his eyes glued on Ferrandis and his expressive left arm during the constant rhythmic challenges of the first movement, meshing in perfect tempo and volume with the orchestra. Instead of 'piano versus orchestra,' the performance was a fused creation, an orchestriano.

The intensity of the first movement was matched by the serenity of the second. The performers not only kept the adagio pace without flagging, but they also fully invested the movement with the feeling of the second part of its tempo marking: 'religioso.' Despite barely moving his upper torso, O'Riley managed to get an enormous amount of sound out of the piano, intoning a series of resonant chords.

The allegro vivace last movement started a bit meekly but then caught fire after a muted section in the strings. O'Riley still didn't move much, but he seemed to be talking to himself, perhaps mouthing the intricate beats emanating from the podium. The run-up to the end was absolutely thrilling, with O'Riley sprinting from one end of the keyboard to the other, and Ferrandis jumping in the air. The standing ovation was immediate and sustained.

Ferrandis warmed up the audience with Jan''ek's overture to his opera From the House of the Dead, also a last work. Like the Bart'k concerto, Jan''ek's overture is suffused with rhythmic complexity. The orchestra followed Ferrandis' steady baton to a person, with nary a player out of step. Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg played the solo passages beautifully, joining his stand partner, Erin Benim, for some equally effective duets.

Acoustic Challenges

The only problem with the Jancek was the deadening acoustic of the Wells Fargo Center. Passages that should have rung out simply died somewhere between the low ceiling and the carpet. Audiences can only hope that the new Green Music Center ' still one or two years away ' will solve this nagging problem.

In the second half of the program, the familiar melodies and driving rhythms of Brahms' Symphony No. 1, Op. 68, put merely acoustic considerations aside. Ferrandis launched into the symphony with vigor, rotating his arms like pistons and fully extending his lengthy fingers. He conducted from a miniature score, which seemed to function strictly as a memory aid; he rarely consulted it, other than to turn pages.

As always, Ferrandis' podium antics were a joy to watch. He was in constant motion, using every square inch of the podium's surface, moving forward and back, side to side, and even leaning dangerously backward against the protective rail. He is a two-fisted conductor, conveying as much with the digits in his left hand as with the baton in his right. He has an angular fluidity that commands respect.

Brahms' first symphony is more than familiar, but I never grow tired of it. Of the many beautiful moments, the oboe, clarinet, and violin solos in the middle movements stood out, as did the pizzicato section at the beginning of the last. The energy in this final movement was particularly well-sustained, beginning with the pizzicato, moving through the brass-and-timpani fanfare, the melodic interplay of the woodwinds, the majestic closing theme, and then the headlong rush to the triumphant final chords. When it was over, Ferrandis had to mop his brow before turning to face the audience, which was once again on its feet.