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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

Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong

ORCHESTRAL VIRTUOSITY IN SR SYMPHONY'S 92ND SEASON OPENER

by Terry McNeill
Monday, October 7, 2019

Season-beginning orchestra concerts usually feature a splashy mix of overture/fanfare, a sonorous symphony and a virtuosic concerto. Santa Rosa Symphony’s Oct. 6 opener in Weill Hall had a contrary design with two new works and a Richard Strauss symphonic showpiece tone poem. Sunday’s afternoon’s concert in the set of three is reviewed here.

Somehow a Beethoven Concerto slipped into the mix, with San Francisco based virtuoso pianist Garrick Ohlsson the soloist with resident conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong on the podium. Mr. Ohlsson’s chaste opening phrase in the G Major (Op. 58) Concerto led to an ethereal orchestral start and judicious tempos throughout the allegro moderato. Everything was in balance and themes were limpid and clear to my balcony seat. Several years ago in recital Mr. Olhsson played with the largest piano sonority I have yet heard in Weill, with Liszt’s great “Weinen, Klagen” Variations. Horowitz and Hofmann sonority. But this afternoon he aimed at a refined and balanced interpretation, occasionally surprisingly breaking a chord but eschewing inner voices or harmonic pointing.

In the midst of genteel orchestral support the pianist displayed in the first movement many examples of his stellar art with expressive trills and deft control of pianissimo, but also much that was conventional. Outside of routine, Mr. Ohlsson’s pedal technique missed the opportunity for resonance (full pedal) and taking advantage of the potent orchestral tutti before restating the opening theme fortissimo in the middle of the movement, but he did hold the pedal through the final three chords, a nod perhaps to virtuoso tradition.

Playing in the andante was elegant throughout with deft pauses in the unfolding soft drama, leading inexorably to a lively rondo with Mr. Lecce-Chong in steady control. Again Mr. Ohlsson took a restrained interpretative approach, but it’s that kind of piece with ample subdued drama. He played the Beethoven cadenzas in the first and third movements, the latter with marching left-hand phrases and much half pedal. Though dozens of innovative cadenza alternatives exist, the composer’s own seem alas to be the rule these days.

There was a standing ovation, followed by a lengthy intermission, and the second half began with composer-in-residence Matt Browne’s How The Solar System Was Won. Lasting just eight minutes the work is steeped in contrasts, opening with an eerie shimmering voice in the strings and moving to expertly played instrumental solos from the flute, piccolo, brass brilliance (three each trumpets and trombones), Andrew Lewis’ tympani and distinct wood block and xylophone sound from three percussionists. There is some cacophony in this music, leavened by lyrical playing from the first violin section.

The composer made charming explanatory remarks from the stage prior to the tour de force performance, and appeared at the end to loud applause.

Over 60 musicians were on stage for the concert’s finale, Strauss’ 1896 Also Sprach Zarathustra tone poem. The famous brass and organ opening was suitably powerful, and the conductor perfectly shaped the sound and the eight subsequent parts that are at times meandering but also replete with splendid individual playing. Some of the highlights were John Freeman’s trumpet work, chirpy flute and piccolo playing and rich sound from Andy Butler’s five contrabass musicians.

The performance was packed with imposing juxtapositions – long sections of lugubrious sensuality and then explosive outpourings of sound, even in the short fugue that had accelerated speed. Clarity of texture came with Mr. Lecce-Chong’s attention to section detail, to the point that even the two harp, tuba and organ parts were lucid.

This work demands impeccable playing from the first violins, and it was so in this performance, reminiscent of the Strauss Ein Heldenleben on the Weill stage three years ago from the Mariinsky Orchestra and conductor Valery Gergiev. The concertmaster then played like an angel in the many solos, and his counterpart here, Joseph Edelberg and his exemplary violin colleagues, did likewise, often in fetching lyricism over the flutes and clarinets.

The audience of nearly 1,300 clapped vigorously, and the Mr. Lecce-Chong motioned for many of his musicians to stand to acknowledge the applause.

The concert began with Anna Clyne’s Masquerade, a short piece with obligatory noisy percussion effects and hoary banal melodies, and passed with little notice.








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