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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 Francesco Lecce-Chong

LECCE-CHONG PROVES HIS METTLE WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 7, 2018

Francesco Lecce-Chong was handed two warhorses for his debut as conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony, and he rode them both to thrilling victory. For the first win, Brahms’ violin concerto, he owed much to soloist Arnaud Sussman, but for the other triumph, Beethoven’s fifth symphony, he and his musicians deserve full honors.

Beethoven’s Fifth is the primary source of the modern symphony, the achievement against which all others are measured. Not a note is wasted within its tightly reasoned structure, and all of them need to fall into place at exactly the right time. Aside from one negligible false entry, the Santa Rosa players fulfilled that duty to perfection, culminating in several spine-tingling passages that rose far above the notes on the page.

Mr. Lecce-Chong, whose final audition concert with the Santa Rosa Symphony was cancelled by last year’s firestorms, introduced Beethoven’s masterwork by observing that “Beethoven’s Fifth is about us” because it celebrates the human spirit and our triumph over adversity. In that context, the performance became even more meaningful, offering not only closure for a local tragedy, but also buoyant optimism for the future.

A large part of that optimism was due to Mr. Lecce-Chong’s presence at the podium throughout the concert. He conducted flawlessly in the first part of the program, but he really shone in the Beethoven. His crisp and precise beat was easy to follow, and his technique was exemplary. He highlighted stark contrasts between the legato and staccato passages, he let the syncopations ring out, and his dynamics were clearly evident. Moreover, he achieved all of this with minimal movement. He leaned forward and crouched down as necessary, but he was never showy. In the third and fourth movements, he was electric.

So too was soloist in the other warhorse, Brahms’ violin concerto. Mr. Sussman is an imposing soloist who stands straight, right next to the podium, with both orchestra and conductor well within his peripheral vision. His tone is gorgeous, and he projects well, soaring high above the orchestra with ease. His many other virtues are self-evident: perfect intonation, ramrod-straight bowing, tremendous dynamic range and blistering speed.

The violinist's phrasing, however, easily trumps all his other virtues. He carries phrases all the way through, heedless of bar lines or other restrictions that impede the flow of melody. He played whole sections of the concerto in one continuous line that sang from start to finish. His bow seemed glued to his strings as he leaned into melodies, completely dominating the stage.

Mr. Sussman’s performance was dazzling, but it could have been even more so if he had ventured closer to the front of the stage, particularly in the first movement’s lengthy cadenza. That was his golden opportunity to emerge from the orchestra’s shadow and fully engage with the audience, but he took only a few tentative steps into the vacant space.

Even warhorses start out as foals and yearlings, as evidenced by the inclusion of both a brand-new work on the program, along with another of less recent vintage.

The foal was “Sonoma Strong,” a remembrance of last year’s fires by Santa Rosa native Paul Dooley, who teaches at the University of Michigan. Mr. Lecce-Chong waited for dead silence before starting the piece, which begins with whirling instruments called sounding tubes that evoke the wind. Over this ominous noise, a solo trumpet enters, followed by a harp, a trumpet duet, a trumpet trio and then a full-blown trumpet solo over strings. Despite the increasing numbers of players, no conflagration is evident. Instead, the melodies are soothing and restful. The pace picks up when a conga drum enters, but the mood veers toward the triumphant rather than the incendiary. In and of itself, “Sonoma Strong” is laudable, but the connection to the firestorm is hard to fathom.

Ellen Zwilich’s 1984 “Celebration for Orchestra,” the yearling that opened the program, was more successful in its stated purpose. Celebrate the orchestra does, also beginning with the trumpets, who repeatedly play a simple two-note phrase before fading out. That phrase becomes the unifying element that allows the orchestra to celebrate its sonic diversity. The two-note sequence moved through the various sections, building up anticipation as the volume increases. A sudden pianissimo followed by the ringing of bells brings the celebration to a close.

Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.