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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 Bruno Ferrandis

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 8, 2018

In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the human voice, both in person and impersonated.

The in-person voices appeared in Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky” cantata; the impersonated ones in the “Prelude and Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” The utterly non-vocal electric violin took center stage in John Adams’ “The Dharma at Big Sur.”

Let us begin at the end, a thrilling, blood-quickening and triumphant rendition of the 13th-century Russian prince Alexander Nevsky entering into Pskov after defeating a thundering horde of German knights on a frozen lake. The massive Sonoma State Chorus, supplemented by other local choirs, sang (in Russian), “Russia marched out to mighty battle, Russia overcame the enemy. … Whoever invades, will be killed.” Their diction was precise, their words fully intelligible, their delivery superb. They soared above the mighty orchestral forces assembled below and stole the show.

And what a show it was. “Alexander Nevsky,” composed in 1938, is one of the great film scores, and its narrative drive is fully evident even without its visual counterpart. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis, returning after the lengthy search for his replacement (Francesco Lecce-Chong), turned up the momentum and moved the score briskly forward. The opening section, “Russia beneath the yoke of the Moguls,” was suitably eerie and oppressive, with a four-octave, two-note chord setting the mood.

The choir’s entry in the subsequent “Song of Alexander Nevsky” was strong and precise. The basses rang out, and the sound filled the hall. The song’s final refrain--“Whoever invades Russia, shall be killed”--drove home the cantata and film’s obvious purpose of rousing the Russian citizenry against the Nazis. As the story moved forward, the chorus kept returning to that invocation, singing “Arise, people of Russia!” “Let the enemy perish” and other phrases of that ilk, always with power and conviction.

Meanwhile, the orchestra kept up a furious pace, with standout performances by the brass and memorable sounds from the strings. The famous “Battle on the Ice” was played at a fever pitch, with the string, brass, winds and percussion sections trading phrases with machine-gun rapidity. Ferrandis was as invigorating as ever, jumping around on the podium and swooping his arms like a raptor in flight.

The only disappointment was the solo by mezzo-soprano Jacalyn Kreitzer, who buried herself in the orchestra instead of striding forward on the stage. Admittedly, the solo has a very low range, but it didn’t ring out, although her tone was often lovely.

The musician who did ring out, with the help of plentiful amplification, was the electric-violin soloist, Tracy Silverman, who appeared earlier in “The Dharma at Big Sur.” His instrument sported two additional strings below the low G (lower C and lowest F), a bevy of pickups near the tail, and no acoustic properties. All the sound came out of two speakers on the ground behind him. Amplified instruments conquered pop music long ago, but in the acoustic context of the concert hall, it’s hard to understand their appeal. The sound is unrelentingly harsh and devoid of subtlety, and the upper registers grate on the ears. Thankfully, Silverman did not play his violin at top volume, but he had the potential to drown everybody out.

In contrast to the overbearing violin sound, John Adams’ music was delightful, with shimmering orchestral textures and complex syncopations that sustained interest. For all the intricacy of the orchestral line, however, it mainly functioned as a drone for Silverman’s peregrinations. He displayed excellent technique and strong bowing, but he was often out of tune in the upper reaches of his instrument.

Silverman, who wowed the audience, was more convincing in his encore, a piece by rock legend Carlos Santana. Here Silverman displayed more flexibility and rhythmic intensity, but he diminished the performance by recording what he was playing and then using the recording as background for further improvisations. It was technically impressive, but it felt like a parlor trick.

The concert opener, on the other hand, was a convincing display of lush acoustics supplemented only by the instruments’ own resonant overtones. “Tristan and Isolde” is about as romantic and tragic as music gets, and Ferrandis evoked both qualities to the hilt. The beginning in the low strings was wonderfully hushed, and the echoing winds were a perfect rejoinder. What was most impressive, however, was the ever-so-gradual crescendo from the haunting opening to the first climactic moment, followed by a long decrescendo and another rise and fall as Tristan dies in Isolde’s arms. You could almost hear them singing.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.