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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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, February 21, 2009
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, guest artist, piano

Garrick Ohlsson, guest soloist, piano

SHIFTING THE CENTER OF ATTENTION

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, February 21, 2009

Symphony programs often resemble three-ring circuses, organized in time rather than space. In the first ring, the symphony offers an overture or similar fare to whet your aural appetite. Then, in the center ring, comes the main attraction, usually a soloist displaying his chops in a concerto or other showpiece. The final ring is reserved for a symphony or other lengthy work that exhibits the orchestra in its full glory.

The Santa Rosa Symphony’s program on Feb. 21 at the Wells Fargo Center hewed to the familiar scheme, except that the soloist, Bay Area pianist Garrick Ohlsson, played on both sides of intermission, first in Carl Maria von Weber’s Konzertstück, then in Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España (Nights in the gardens of Spain). The former displayed Ohlsson’s staggering technical prowess to full effect, the latter offering more opportunities for musicality.

On this program, though, the outer rings eclipsed the ostensible star attraction. This was less a function of the performances than of the music at hand: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured night) at one end of the program, Debussy’s Nocturnes at the other. When all was played and done, Schoenberg and Debussy put Weber and Falla in the shade.

Not that there’s anything much wrong with either of the concertante works, at least in the hands of Garrick Ohlsson. In the Weber he was commanding from the beginning, playing the opening phrase with as much space between the notes as forward momentum would allow. Every note was discrete, every tone fully resonant. Then came the full attack, marked by intense crescendos and accelerandos and devastating trills.

Throughout all his digital fireworks, Ohlsson sat imperturbable on the piano stool, his upper body planted like a tree trunk as his hands raced across the keyboard. He stared straight forward, occasionally looking down at the keys to make sure his fingers were still attached. He played impossibly fast, often interweaving his hands to dramatic effect. When he was done, the audience erupted in sustained applause.

It was thrilling playing, but the Konzertstück itself is little more than a standard-issue showpiece, patching together one motive after another to display the soloist’s prestidigitations. The rarely performed Falla promised a little more musical meat.

The first “night,” “En el Generalife” (In the Generalife), was somewhat skeletal, with lots of French Impressionist tremolos from the strings and many hand crossings from Ohlsson. Flesh began appearing on the bones in the second “night,” “Danza lejana” (Distant dance). The music turned more Spanish, with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis provoking some fiery tempos from the orchestra and Ohlsson matching them stride for stride. Sadly, the third “night,” “En los jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba” (In the gardens of the Sierra de Córdoba) with its hints of flamenco, didn’t seem to gel, either in composition or in performance.

The uncertain air of the Falla stood in contrast to the confident personalities of Schoenberg, whose Verklärte Nacht began the program, and Debussy, whose Nocturnes brought it to a magical close. The two pieces, both completed in 1899, are similar not only in their nocturnal subjects, but also in their emotional intensity and musical innovation.

Verklärte Nacht, originally for string sextet, was performed in the composer’s string-orchestra version, which adds basses, splits the various string sections, and frequently alternates between first-chair solos and full ensemble. The additional players make the work even lusher and more romantic than its erotically charged original, but often at the expense of clarity. Although Ferrandis pushed the rhythms and brought out some of the main themes, the orchestra was occasionally muddy. Nonetheless, the performance was heartfelt and emotional, nowhere more so than in a passage near the end where different players began arpeggiating over open strings. The effect of this clear sound after so much dense and often muted texture was liberating, even joyful.

Those same emotions were also at play in the Debussy Nocturnes. From the haunting opening for English horn, beautifully played by one of the symphony’s many unidentified freelancers, the piece transports its listeners to another world. Ferrandis exerted such control over the dynamics in this opening movement, “Nuages” (Clouds), that the entire auditorium was at times enveloped in silence.

The silence found its counterpart in the second nocturne, “Fêtes” (Festivals), which Ferrandis moved along briskly, with precise motions and fastidious attention to orchestral detail. The third and final Nocturne, “Sirènes” (Sirens), featured female voices from the symphony’s choir, blending seamlessly with the orchestra to evoke Debussy’s vision of temptation and longing.

The program ended as it had begun, on the outer rings. Somehow the center of attention had drifted to the edges.

[This article first appeared in San Francisco Classical Voice (www.sfcv.org), and is used by permission.]