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Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement...
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Norman Gamboa and Jassen Todorov Sept. 28

ELEGANT BEETHOVEN CONCERTO IN SO CO PHILHARMONIC'S SEASON OPENER

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 28, 2019

After last season’s schedule with one big repertoire work per concert, the Sonoma County Philharmonic opened its 21st season Sept. 28 with two, and both received committed if disparate performances under resident conductor Norman Gamboa.

The first half in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater opened not with the expected overture and a concerto, but with Brahms’ Third Symphony, Op. 90. In a pre-concert talk the conductor mentioned that the unobtrusive ending of the F Major Symphony was better suited to the first half than a normal concert’s conclusion with the customary dramatic finish.

Judicious tempos were the order of the day in the Brahms with a lightweight high string sound, due to just five first and five second violins, with violas and low strings seated stage left. The opening sounded both fiery and then a little ambiguous, and then Mr. Gamboa fashioned a performance that with the selected tempos was mostly restrained and controlled. In the andante there was wistful trio playing from clarinetist Nick Xenelis, bassoonist Miranda Kincaid and Eric Anderson (horn), with a shimmering and drawn-out final chord.

The ensemble playing in the poco allegretto was at times unsteady, but also had splendid combined work from flute (Debra Scheüerman), oboist Christ Krive and Mr. Anderson’s fetching horn sound in the main theme.

The finale was played with off beat accents, some odd instrumental delays and short bursts of sound. Steven Peterson’s contrabassoon sound was a rich addition to the mix, and Mr. Gamboa never had his head in the score, sculpting the ending phrase with lovely serenity in the long fermata.

Musical pace quickened with Beethoven’s D Major Violin Concerto, occupying the concert’s second half, with San Francisco State University faculty violinist and virtuoso Jassen Todorov as soloist. This reviewer has heard the violinist numerous times in recital settings with the elegant pianist William Corbett-Jones, but in the Beethoven Concerto only once in a long ago video, with poor sound, and it seemed an off night for him. But not this night.

With a reduced size orchestra from the Brahms (no trombones, one flute, 2 horns) Messrs. Todorov and Gamboa combined to give a reading that spotlighted dynamic control and carefully graded tempos. In this music from 1806 much of the writing is in the upper reaches of the solo instrument, and here Mr. Todorov was at his best. Playing from score but only occasionally noticing it, he was everywhere secure as the long, glorious allegro ma non troppo unfolded.

The cadenza (by Fritz Kreisler) had a wonderful interweaving of line and control, and when the pyro techniques ended Mr. Todorov played the simple returning theme with reduced vibrato and melting tone over pizzicato strings and murmuring horns. It was the concert’s highlight, every note a telling one, every note touching your heart.

In the lovely larghetto ensemble attacks lacked precision but Mr. Gamboa also drew fine pianissimo playing and graceful phrasing from his orchestra, leading into the lively finale. Here the frequently repeated theme borders on the banal, but like every genius composer, Beethoven takes the tune and makes it memorable, anything but insipid. His creativity knows no bounds, something Mr. Gamboa adroitly exploited in the numerous repetitions.

Mr. Todorov again was at home in the high register and his trills were always expressive, contrasting with Mr. Peterson’s low contrabassoon sound, up to a sparkling end. Audience applause was loud and long, leading to three curtain calls for both conductor and soloist, and a large presentation bouquet that Mr. Todorov graciously gave to concertmaster Pamela Otsuka.

It was an auspicious season beginning for the Philharmonic, with coming concerts in Jackson Nov. 16 and 17 featuring Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1. It looks like a banner year for string music and this splendid orchestra.
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