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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
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...
RECITAL REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Thursday, July 13, 2017
John Novacek, piano

Pianist John Novacek After Playing Intoxication Rag July 13

NOVACEK'S 2ND HALF TRIFECTA SCORES AT MENDO MUSIC FESTIVAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 13, 2017

Modern classical piano recitals are in two parts, with longer and perhaps more profound music proceeding perhaps shorter and usually stimulating lighter fare. In John Novacek’s July 13 Mendocino Music Festival recital the best playing came unexpectedly in the eight abbreviated works comprising the second half.

After intermission the Los Angeles-based artist began by choosing two of Shostakovich’s great Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues, the inaugural one from the set of 24 (in C Major) and the monumental D-Flat Major. The Prelude had a beautiful shimmer with bell tones, and heavy pedaling lent an aura of mystery to the drawn-out fugue. In the D Flat the pianist underscored the works sarcasm, and played the complicated fugue in just the right tempo. Mr. Novacek is not a colorist but in the demanding fugue nailed the work’s momentum and excitement.

Excitement continued with Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas, an early Op. 2 work that has been popular since its 1937 composition. The Danzas del Viejo boyero was marked by agile playing of thirds, with the right hand only on the white keys, and the left hand on the black. and the haunting Danza de la moza donosa had an attractive “swing.” In the toccata-like finale (Danza del gaucho matero) the rhythmic accents are forceful, but the sound was too loud and clarity was lost in the driving ending.

Regarding the overall Preston Hall sound, this year the house piano was moved 180 degrees to the south wall, and somehow this seemingly unimportant instrument placement sporadically amplified Mr. Novacek’s fortissimo chords and upset contrapuntal balances and thematic clarity. But the Ginastera can take a lot of noisy playing, and the audience of 125 responded to the ending’s double glissando with a roar of approval.

Three of the artist’s own rags closed the program – Schenectady, 4th Street and Intoxication. Easy virtuosity and many false cadences were heard in the first, and the artist mentioned that he liked the rhythmic sound of the title. Fourth Street featured small trills and subtle accents that were languorous and charming with slow offbeat accents and subtle dissonances. This street felt hot and humid. He played it wonderfully.

The final work was intoxicating indeed, a roller coaster ride of pulsating sound and whole sections of ragtime sound played with the damper pedal down for bars at a time. Of course such a barnburner piece brought down the house. Surprisingly the energetic ovation did not produce an encore.

Nothing in the playing of the first half’s two works, Beethoven’s Op. 10, No. 2 Sonata, and Schumann’s masterful Op. 9 Carnaval, was in any way ordinary. But for me the sum of all the parts didn’t quite equal a consummate whole. The opening allegro of the F Major (1796) was played aggressively with a careful control of staccato chords and sharply etched phrases. Mr. Novacek caught the humor in the first and especially the last movement, the latter mirroring several of Haydn’s Sonatas. Articulation was crisp and the presto movement's tempo had firm control.

In speaking to the audience prior to the Schumann the pianist related the 1835 work’s creation, and then said he would verbally describe each of the 21 sections as the piece unfolded. Presumably most of the Preston audience found the process helpful, but some quietly decried the loss of small inter-piece connections and musical flow. I found the decision it a misstep, but a small one. More important was Mr. Novacek’s conception of this many-faceted composition, and his is a contemporary conception that spotlighted section architecture and histrionics rather than tone color, rhythmic flexibility and inner voices.

Some of the afternoon’s best playing came in the Papillon, Reconnaissance (fast repetitions) and Paganini sections. Paganini was played with a seco touch, and at a slower-than-usual tempo, and was persuasive. He omitted the mysterious Sphinx section, in contrast to the iconic Rachmaninoff and Cortot recordings. Aveu was played with a singing touch with time for a one patient big inner left-hand voice and layered pedaling at the pianissimo accelerando.

As the work drew down to the big descending chords preceeding the March Against the Philistines, Mr. Novacek produced the one convincing romantic retard in the performance, a delight, but then followed with fast and blurred playing in the March that became a tsunami of notes. Well, Rachmaninoff did the same thing, and generated the same result that presumably the artist wanted. It was propulsive but in the end did not sew up a lyrical, balanced and convincing Carnaval.