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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

Conductor Michael Christie

A FIFTH CONTENDER ENTERS THE RING FOR THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 10, 2018

In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all American” program that Christie--the fifth and final conducting candidate for the Santa Rosa Symphony--led on Saturday night at the Green Music Center.

The opening work, Leonard Bernstein’s suite from “On the Waterfront,” is truly American, and the closing, Dvorak’s “New World” symphony, is arguably so. But the centerpiece, Prokofiev’s third piano concerto, stakes its claim to Americana by having been first performed in Chicago, even though it was composed in France. That seems a little thin until you realize that the final movement is infused with a yearning melody that sounds for all the world like an American parlor song.

Christie, himself an all-American from Buffalo, is an elegant conductor with balletic arm movements and a firm grasp of rhythm. He is at once restrained and expressive, an expert at using his undulating arms to lead the orchestra in thunderous crescendos and whispering diminuendos. His tempi are unflagging, and he always seems relaxed, even serene. His style was uniformly consistent, from the plangent opening of “On the Waterfront” to the glittering finale of the New World symphony.

“On the Waterfront” opened with a heartfelt French horn solo from Alex Camphouse, followed by a saxophone riff and then the full sound of the orchestra urged on by Christie. He altered moods and dynamics with ease, his supple arms changing course in midstream as if unaware of the laws of thermodynamics. At times his motions were so languid that he seemed to be moving through viscous air.

The orchestra played quite well, and their solos were superb, especially the off-stage reprise of the opening passage for French horn. In the movie, Marlon Brando famously claimed that he could have been a contender; but with Christie there was never any doubt.

After vigorous applause, the attention shifted to piano soloist Anna Fedorova, who glided onstage in a gossamer turquoise gown with a glittering multi-colored top. Flinging back her lengthy brown hair, she plunged down to the keyboard--and was instantly drowned out by the orchestra. Despite the balance problems, which were finally solved in the third movement, Fedorova displayed impressive command of her instrument, wriggling through Prokofiev’s demanding score with nary a scratch. The memorable opening theme, taken at a sprint, was both fiery and compelling.

Fedora is not a particularly demonstrative performer. She spent most of her time staring intently at the keyboard, her head often obscured by her hair. This introverted style worked well in the tricky passages, but it proved a barrier in the slower parts, particularly the second movement. Notes that should have rung out felt muted, and excessive pedaling muddied the sound. Fortunately, both imbalance and introversion fell away in the Allegro con fuoco final movement. Christie toned down the orchestral volume and Fedorova emerged from her shell. She took it easy on the pedal and became much more expressive, with spellbinding trills and varied attacks. Changing abruptly to play the melancholic parlor tune at the heart of the movement, Fedorova kept driving forward to the furious ending, prompting a standing ovation.

Christie offered an alternative to the usual intermission by interviewing Fedorova onstage after the performance. They engaged in the usual musical pleasantries, but a question from the audience prompted the revelation that they had met for the first time on Thursday and had only practiced the concerto for a few hours, sandwiched around a recital by Fedorova on Friday night. Perhaps they could have fixed the balance problems if they had more time.

The New World symphony is performed so often that previous performances are still ringing in your ears each time you hear it anew. This remembrance can be a danger for conductors seeking to put their own stamp on Dvorak’s venerable masterpiece, but Christie seemed undaunted by the risk.

Christie’s fluidity on the podium dominated the performance. His motions were precise and elegant, and the sound he elicited was solid and unified, most notably among the strings. Their bows moved uniformly as they ranged from silken tones to crisp arpeggios.

The unanimity of sound was nowhere more evident than in the unhurried second movement, which opened with a gorgeous English horn solo from Jesse Barrett. The subsequent playing was hushed and ethereal as the glorious melody flowed throughout the orchestra. The pace from Christie was slow, but the ensemble held steady all the way through a tremendous swell near the end.

Oddly, the English horn sat silent for the rest of the symphony, the only static element in a bursting onrush of sound. The third movement was sprightly, and the rapid fourth was driven by strong and heraldic brass. Christie was fun to watch as he summoned crescendo after crescendo in a whirlwind of orchestral interplay. The ovation at the end was heartfelt and sustained.

Christie is definitely a contender for the Santa Rosa podium, but then so are the four other candidates. The Symphony will announce its decision in March.

[Reprinted with permision from San Francisco Classical Voice]