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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

Pianist Spencer Myer

ROMANTIC DREAMS AT THE MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL

by Kayleen Asbo
Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Romanticism, contrary to many popular perceptions, wasn’t simply about diving into the habitat of the heart. Romanticism began as a literary movement that elevated the power of nature as a transcendent force and sought with keen nostalgia to rediscover the wisdom of the past. The Romantics in both literature and music embraced the emotional extremities of Dionysian drama, both tragedy and comedy, as a source of revelation.

Mendocino Music Festival’s July 24th concert in the large tent featured the Festival Orchestra and demonstrated elements of these aesthetic values in a beautifully interwoven program of three of the giants of the Romantic music movement: Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. These three geniuses were intimately connected with one another in life, and all three were shaped and molded by their deep studies of Bach and Beethoven.

Mendelssohn was just 20 years old, fresh from his triumph of resurrecting Bach’s St. Matthew’ s Passion, when he went off on a Grand European Tour, beginning in the British Isles. The sites and sounds he encountered planted seeds of inspiration for many of his greatest works in the years to come and the emerald waters and luminous vistas Mendelssohn saw in Scotland while crossing to Fingal’s Cave, and gave birth to his overture/orchestral tone poem “The Hebrides,” Op. 26. Conductor Alan Pollack opened the work masterfully with a halo of string sound, evoking a gossamer violin veil typical of  Mendelssohn’s early works which was then promptly answered by the cellos with lush sonorities. The orchestra deftly conveyed the essence of the Scottish landscape with surging waves, jaunty snatches of sea chanteys and shimmering shafts of sunlight merging in between bouts of tempestuous winds in a tempo that was spacious and lilting.

It was under Mendelssohn’s baton that the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra first played Schumann’s A Minor Piano Concerto as it appeared in its first form as a one movement work in 1841. This Piano Phantasie was only considered a partial success and could not find a publisher until it underwent expansion and revision with the addition of two additional movements. The final result, the Op. 54 Concerto, has become a staple of the concert hall and it eventually spawned a host of imitators, notably the concertos of Grieg and Rachmaninoff.  Unusual for its time, Schumann’s work inseparably interweaves the piano and orchestra together. While the work holds plenty of technical challenges, it’s not a showcase of virtuosity, but more an amalgam of chamber music, symphony and concerto. Like Schumann’s own personality, the writing is mercurial: bold, fiery and impassioned at one point (the side of his personality Schumann dubbed “Florestan”, after Beethoven’s operatic hero)  and tender and reflective the next  (the side Schumann labeled “Eusebius” ) with sudden interruptions  and abrupt  transitions between the two.

The first movement, allegro affetuouso,  begins dramatically with an orchestral thunderclap, and the solo piano boldly blasts down the keyboard with a series of cascading chord progressions before yielding to a melody heartsick with longing first played by the oboe. If soloist Spencer Meyer lacked precision, dramatic drive and raw muscular power as the “Florestan” personality, he  delighted in the poetic “Eusebius”  passages, offering a true spirit of collaboration with his rapt attention to the woodwind section as together they wove a duet of  intimate yearning in the major key second theme.  The delicate, playful second movement (intermezzo) conveyed well the marking of andantino grazioso and flowed without mishap into a triumphant, exultant  allegro vivace. While the opening pages of the third movement are some of the most energetic, joyful passages in all of concerto literature, the coordination between orchestra and soloist is notoriously fraught with peril and has created many a concert hall disaster across the years.

Congratulations were in order to all the musicians for holding the finale together through the hair-raising sections of rhythmic dismemberment and for achieving a tonal balance that allowed for the melodic passages to emerge with warmth and clarity. Schumann was the most Dionysian of all composers, in both life and in musical personality.  The performance perhaps too perfectly mirrored the weather outside: sunshine and gentle mildness, without a hint of the unbridled passion, mad intoxication or intense delirium that is a necessary component of Schumann’s style. Still, the audience wasted no time leaping to their feet with appreciation of the amiable collaboration between artists.

Mr. Meyer’s encore, the Brahms Intermezzo (Op. 117, No. 1) was  a beautiful match for the pianist’s poetic temperament. This inward and thoughtful lullaby was rendered with mature grace, offering an exquisite kaleidoscope of autumnal shades conveying resignation, peace and a tinge of nostalgia.

Mendelssohn’s was the work of an adventurous youth, and the Schumann Concerto a product of a man in his prime. Brahms’s E Minor Fourth Symphony, Op. 98, was written at a juncture of almost existential despair for the composer after a series of deaths and disappointments and with a cloud of foreboding as he surveyed the world events around him.  Big, majestic and tragic in its scope, it is not a work that a summer festival orchestra comprised of a mixture of disparate professional and community members easily tackles for a single performance.  If at times their reach exceeded their grasp, it was still a laudable reading with many moments to savor. The agitated opening, though marked allegro non troppo is restless and filled with short pauses. Redolent with the same sweeping gestures that characterized the Mendelssohn, the violin and cello sections once again impressed with their lush tone color. The serenity and pathos of the andante moderato was bizarrely interrupted by the cacophony of nearby aerial fireworks. The conductor wisely chose to stop, wait out the ruckus, and then begin again with the gorgeous second theme, this time played even more beautifully by the orchestra.

The allegro giocoso third movement has been described as a “savage scherzo,” filled with “brutal and sarcastic humor”. Mr. Pollock leapt into its visceral rhythm with aplomb, showing the most verve and energy of the evening as he unleashed the tympanist Tyler Mack to ring out sound with force and joy.

The finale allegro energico e passionato is a monumental Passacaglia that pays homage to the past. An eight bar phrase, drawn from Bach’s Cantata No 150 (Bach dir, Herr, Verlanget much), is intoned in stark chords and then develops seamlessly into a succession of 32 increasingly agitated variations built on this same harmonic progression. Unusual for a final movement of a symphony, Brahms does not transform the e minor tonality into a blaze of triumph by modulating into the parallel minor (as Beethoven did in the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies), but rather uses the tight, compressed structure to evoke a sense of inescapable fate.

Brahms epic last Symphony requires an orchestra that possesses instrumental virtuosity, conductoral control, cohesion and soul-stirring passion, and a complex and heroic quest beyond the reach of this performance. That there were moments of depth and beauty (such as the triumphant unison entrance trombone in the rousing fourth-movement coda) was no small victory. The audience was effusive applause in standing applause.