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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

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.