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Symphony
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 9, 2022
The Jan. 9 Santa Rosa Symphony concert was supposed to feature the world premiere of Gabriella Smith’s first symphony, but it ended up featuring another type of premiere: a concert that was conceived, rehearsed and performed in less than eight hours. Symphony staff learned on Sunday morning that so
Choral and Vocal
AN OLD FRIEND RETURNS TO WEILL IN STERLING ABS MESSIAH PERFORMANCE
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Sunday, December 19, 2021
A tremendous accomplishment by the American Bach Soloists Dec. 19 was near perfect performance of Handel's Messiah in Weill Hall. Long an annual tradition at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, the ABS took to the road and delivered a Christmas gift of epic proportions to an obviously thrilled and enth
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH FIFTH THUNDERS AT WEILL HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 5, 2021
In a new season marketed as “Classical Reunion,” the Santa Rosa Symphony made a palpable connection with its audience at the early December set of three standing ovation concerts in Weill Hall. The December 5 concert, with 1,000 attending, is reviewed here. Vaughan Williams’ popular Fantasia on a T
Chamber
THE LINCOLN RETURNS WITH CLARKE'S PUNGENT TRIO
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2021
There were many familiar faces Nov. 18 during Music at Oakmont’s initial concert of the season, but perhaps the most necessary were the three musicians of the Lincoln Piano Trio, the Chicago-based group that has performed often in Oakmont since 2006. A smaller than unusual audience in Berger Audito
Symphony
NOSTALGIC BARBER KNOXVILLE AT SO CO PHIL JACKSON THEATER CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
In their first Jackson Theater appearance of the new season the Sonoma County Philharmonic presented Nov. 14 a program devoid of novelty, but showcasing the “People’s Orchestra” in splendid performance condition after a long COVID-related layoff. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a committed and boister
Chamber
THRILLING PIANO QUINTETS IN MILL VALLEY CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 14, 2021
The Mill Valley Chamber Music Society sprang back to life on November 14 when a stellar ensemble from the Manhattan Chamber Players, a New York-based collective, arrived to perform two piano quintets: Vaughn-Williams’ in C Minor (1903), little known and rarely performed; and Schubert’s in A Major D.
Chamber
MUSCULAR BRAHMS FROM IVES COLLECTIVE IN GLASER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Leaving SRJC’s Newman Auditorium for the first time in decades, the College’s Chamber Concert Series presented a season-opening concert Nov. 14 in Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center with the four-musician Bay-Area based Ives Collective. The season, the first given since 2020, is dedicated to Series Founder
Symphony
MONUMENTAL BRAHMS SYMPHONY HIGHLIGHTS MARIN SYMPHONY RETURN
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 7, 2021
In the waning COVID pandemic the Marin Symphony is one of the last Bay Area orchestras to return to the stage, and they did with considerable fanfare Nov. 7 before 1,200 in Civic Center Auditorium, with resident conductor Alasdair Neale leading a demanding concert of Brahms, Schumann and New York-ba
Symphony
APOLLO'S FIRE LIGHTS UP VIVALDI'S FOUR SEASONS IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Long ago the Canadian violin virtuoso Gil Shaham played a program in Weill Hall of solo Bach, with a visual backdrop of slowly developing visuals, such as a pokey flower opening over four minutes. The Bach was sensational, and some in the audience liked the photos but many found them disconcerting,
Chamber
SPARKLING WIND, STRING, HARP MUSIC AT DEVON HOUSE GARDEN CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, October 9, 2021
Take a mild autumn evening, a garden gazebo with patterned rugs and lit with soft bulbs, shake in a fine chamber ensemble, add a rising new moon, and you have a recipe for the musical delight that violist Elizabeth Prior presented Oct. 9 in her Devon House Garden Concert series. The Marin Terra Li
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.