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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....
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Composer Leonard Bernstein

PEACE AND LOVE FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 4, 2018

Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 4 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” Symphony CEO Alan Silow took a moment to acknowledge the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue attack and to observe that music offers a more peaceful and loving view of the world.

Mr. Silow’s comments were timely, and the Symphony proved them to be true with an energetic and memorable performance of Bernstein’s dances, along with an eclectic program that ranged from Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz No. 1,” Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” and Villa Lobos’ guitar concerto, with soloist Sharon Isbin.

For sheer audacity and panache, the Symphony’s show-closing performance of “West Side Story” easily eclipsed the other offerings. The musicians played at full tilt and with masterful precision, aided greatly by Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong’s lucid direction and forward momentum. The black-clad, mostly middle-aged orchestra showed that it can really swing, especially when backed by a torrid percussion section.

From the opening finger snaps, Bernstein’s dances were all rhythm, almost all the time. The “Mambo” dance really cooked, with the intricate orchestration producing a joyous and irresistible noise. Equally joyous was the “Cool Fugue,” with its crisp lines and outstanding drum-set pyrotechnics. The slower “Somewhere” dance was less successful, a victim of its own schmaltzy melody. In contrast, the slow “Finale” eased up on the schmaltz and offered a somber reflection on the preceding “Rumble,” a searing depiction of a deadly fight. Throughout the performance, the players showed commendable versatility, producing solid sound at tempos that ranged from vivace to presto to hyperdrive. Stray notes were absent from even the fastest passages, and everyone started, stopped, swelled and diminished on cue.

Considerably more languid musical forms inhabited the Villa-Lobos guitar concerto, which concluded the first half of the concert. The concerto drifted from one musical idea to the next without much of an overarching structure. Adding to the murk was Ms. Isbin’s insouciant playing of her amplified instrument. The debate over amplifying classical guitars for concertos continues to rage, but it’s worth noting that Andres Segovia, the Spanish virtuoso for whom Villa-Lobos wrote this particular concerto, was a staunch opponent of amplification.

Setting aside Weill Hall’s superb acoustics, it’s hard to imagine that a sound as harsh and artificial as the one emanating from Ms. Isbin’s amplifier had anything to do with Villa-Lobos’ conception for the concerto. The bass dominated the amplifier, at times drowning out runs on the upper strings. Notes that should have rung out were muted by an electronic haze.

Ms. Isbin could have salvaged the sound by playing more passionately and expressively, but her face remained buried in her score, and she didn’t make much effort to connect with the audience. Nonetheless, she did play an encore, Granados’ famous Spanish dance, a staple of classical radio stations. With no competing orchestra, there was even less need for amplification, but she plugged in once again, with similar results.

The program opened with a lively reading of Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta,” a suite of 18th-century Hungarian gypsy dances that were originally intended to entice recruits into that era’s endless wars. The intent may have been militaristic, but the dances are benign and tuneful, falling gracefully into Kodaly’s inventive orchestration. Soloists abounded, but the standout was principal clarinetist Roy Zajac, who imbued his tunes with an authentic gypsy feel. The work opened a bit slowly, but the inevitable accelerando to a whirling close was well controlled and effective.

The opener for the second half was yet another dance, this time Liszt’s much-played “Mephisto Waltz No. 1.” Mr. Lecce-Chong began the dance with ferocious energy, leading the cellos in an impressive series of down-bows to punch out the eerie melody. The dynamic control was spot-on for the rest of the piece, and the frenzy was palpable.

“West Side Story” followed, and then an unexpected encore where about a dozen members of the symphony’s Youth Orchestra joined their older compatriots in a vivacious performance of Bernstein’s “Candide” overture. One diminutive second violinist barely reached the top of her music stand, but the rest seemed to be high schoolers, and they all played admirably.

Reprinted by permission from San Francisco Classical Voice.