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Recital
DYNAMIC PIANISM IN YAKUSHEV MARIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, January 23, 2022
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev arrived Jan. 23 at his Mill Valley Chamber Music Society recital with the repute of playing loud and fast and delivering charming introductory musical remarks to his audience. He was true to form in Mill Valley’s Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church, preceding Haydn’s sple
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,
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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