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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....
CHAMBER REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Saturday, January 17, 2009
Afiara String Quartet

The Afiara String Quartet

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, January 17, 2009

Every string quartet has to start somewhere. For the Afiara String Quartet, that somewhere includes the Occidental Community Church, where they performed on Jan. 17.

The Afiara is quite young and relatively new, having formed at the San Francisco Conservatory in 2006. Blessed with impeccable academic credentials, they are currently teaching assistants to the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco State University.

Whether the Afiara’s credentials translate into solid music-making is an open question, and remained so after their Occidental performance. While they showed flashes of brilliance in Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, their musical light flickered somewhat in Mozart’s K. 428, and dimmed considerably in Beethoven’s Op. 130.

Let’s start at the beginning. Warmly welcomed by another full house crammed into the church’s knee-capping pews, the Afiara got right down to business with an engaging reading of Mozart’s K. 428, the third of the six string quartets he dedicated to Joseph Haydn. They displayed an excellent blend in the Allegro first movement, with well-connected notes and a wide dynamic range. The pleasing blend continued into the luxurious Andante of the second movement, enhanced by matching vibratos and a lush sound.

The third movement, alas, began with a timid attack, weakened all the more by a dragging tempo. What should have been a Minuet became more of a foot stomp, and the previously distinctive texture turned to mush. Fortunately, the players rallied in the last movement, investing Mozart’s operatic writing with some genuine emotion.

Next up was Bartok No. 3. Oddly, the violist gave a somewhat condescending introduction to the piece, along the lines of, “It’s filled with unusual sounds, but it’s only 15 minutes long, so please bear with us.” Surely by now, more than 80 years after the quartet’s premiere, audiences can enjoy this masterpiece without a preparatory lecture.

The performance, in any event, was absolutely riveting. From the opening glissandos to the ringing unisons, the Afiara produced a beautiful sound that powerfully evoked Bartok’s native landscape. One could almost see the Hungarian plains, with their constantly buzzing insects and foreboding skies. At one point, the quartet produced an all-encompassing vault of sound, with the cellist serving as foundation, the middle instruments as sides, and the first violin soaring above. The range of effects, from resonant pizzicatos to spine-tingling ponticellos, increased the density and variety of the sonic mass, which more than filled the little church.

It seemed like a hard performance to top, and it was. After an overly long intermission with yet another introduction, the Afiara launched into the original version of Beethoven’s Op. 130, which concludes with the mighty Grosse Fuge. Right from the start, the texture was muddy, and the first violinist’s intonation went south. The quartet played the notes, but they didn’t seem to have figured out an interpretation. The phrasing was indistinct, the shape elusive.

The connections between the six movements of Op. 130 were further diminished by the quartet’s constant tuning and retuning. Instead of the coherent masterpiece it is, the piece ended up sounding like a dance suite. Although the dances were occasionally sprightly, they were most often ponderous and slow. The playing perked up in the Grosse Fuge, particularly in the initial entries, where each instrument forged a distinctive voice. But after a while the ensemble faltered, and the four musicians wandered apart, searching for their musical glue.

At the end, one wished the Afiara hadn’t taken on such an ambitious program. There are plenty of compositions that might be better suited to their talents and insight. Late Beethoven is a tough place to start.