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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
Recital
AUTHORITATIVE BEETHOVEN SONATA IN KLEIN'S OCCIDENTAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, October 8, 2021
People attending the first Redwood Arts Council Occidental concert in 20 months found a surprise – a luxurious new lobby attached to the Performing Arts Center. It was a welcome bonus to a recital given by pianist Andreas Klein where the music seemed almost as familiar as was the long shuttered hal
Symphony
MOVIE MUSIC ON THE WINDSOR GREEN IN SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 3, 2021
People approaching the Windsor Green bandstand Oct. 3 for the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s season opening concert had some cause for concern. After 18 months of silence would the all-volunteer orchestra have enough musicians for a big movie music program? After all, performers can move, retire, or
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY RETURNS IN TRIUMPH
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 3, 2021
It is often the case that a single piece or performer steals the show at a symphony concert, but at the Oct. 3 performance of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the show itself stole the show. The concert opened with a serene 1982 tone poem by Libby Larsen, followed by a masterful performance by soloist Julia
Symphony
TWO WIND SOLOISTS CHARM AT SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 26, 2021
The house of music has many rooms. That dusty adage was never truer than when Weill Hall Sept. 25 hosted a roaring New Orleans-style musical party, and less than a day later a mostly sedate Sonoma State University student orchestra performance. Before a crowd of 200 conductor Alexander Kahn led a
Other
CLEARY'S NEW ORLEANS BAND IGNITES PARTY FOR THE GREEN AT SSU
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 25, 2021
A dramatic and unique start to the new Green Music’s Center’ 2021-2022 season exploded in a “Party for the Green” Sept. 25, a New Orleans (NO) style commotion featuring Jon Cleary and his Absolute Monster Gentlemen band, inside and outside of Weill Hall. Beginning with a private gourmet dinner in t
GAULIST FLAVOR IN FINAL SF PIANO FESTIVAL CONCERT AT OLD FIRST
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Final summer music festival programs are often a mix of what has come before, with the theme and even a featured composer taking a last stage appearance, with a dramatic wrap up composition. San Francisco’s International Piano Festival defied the norm August 29 with an eclectic French-flavored prog
SPARE DUO PRECEDES MYSTEROUS DUO AT DEN BOER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, August 27, 2021
In a departure from usual summer festival fare Julia Den Boer played an August 27 virtual recital in the San Francisco Piano Festival’s 4.5 season with four works, all mostly quiet but all in separate ways insistently demanding of artist and listener. Throughout the 40 minutes there was nary a powe
HARMONIC COMPLEXITY IN PHILLIPS' ALL-GRIFFES RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, August 20, 2021
Charles Griffes’ piano music is similar to that of Busoni, Reger and even Poulenc, in that there is a sporadic flourish of interest with concerts and scholarly work, then a quick fade into another long period of obscurity. So, it was a delight to have an all-Griffes recital August 20 on the San F
Chamber
ONE PIANO, TWO PIANO, THREE PIANO, FORE
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Schroeder Hall was nearly full July 29 for the final pianoSonoma concert of their season, and presumably the draw and highlight for many of the 150 attending was Bach’s Concerto for Four Pianos. And that performance was probably going to be a North Bay premiere. However, it wasn’t the highl
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Béla Fleck and Francesco Lecce-Chong Nov. 4 in Weill Hall (J. McNeill photo)

MUSICAL EXTRAVAGANCE IN UNIQUE SRS CONCERT IN WEILL HALL

by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 4, 2019

It was a concert full of surprises Nov. 4 as the Santa Rosa Symphony responded to the area’s wild fires and evacuations with challenging, songful and somewhat unique music in Weill Hall. The last of a three-concert series titled "Master of the Modern Banjo" is reviewed here.

The evening began with two spiritual announcements from the stage, starting with Symphony President Alan Silow pointing to the powerful message great music gives to the North Bay undergoing physical affliction, and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong describing the support from community and colleagues that overcame dislocations to produce luminous music in the second set of seven triple concerts in the 92nd season. The conductor added that with Weill closed at least one rehearsal was held in the nearby Graton Casino, and that Copland’s opening Four Dance Episodes from the 1942 Ballet “Rodeo” would be shortened to just the final episode, due to inadequate rehearsal time.

But as a surprise, Mr. Lecce-Chong conducted a seven-minute pastiche arrangement by Carmen Dragon of the 1910 iconic “America The Beautiful”. When the conductor turned to face the audience of 1,100 they responded with muted and happy singing. The applause was loud.

Quickly changing the mood was the special excitement that Copeland wove into music of his 1930-1945 period, excitement that was borne on the virtuosity of the brass (Bruce Chrisp’s trombone solo), percussion effects, wood block and even a bit of piano sound that usually is inaudible in orchestral works. It was a lively and persuasive performance, and seemingly prepared the audience for the rare chance to experience banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck playing a concerto that he composed. The Juno Concerto from 2016 is in three movements and has frequent references to Copland’s themes but only faint shadows of the familiar Copland orchestration.

Over 29 minutes the work’s mood varies from minimalism to dramatic instrumental outbursts in a conservative harmonic idiom. Fine playing in the first movement was heard from Stacy Pelinka (piccolo), horn duos with clarinetist Roy Zajac, and timpanist Andrew Lewis, giving a movement-ending single note an individual character.

The middle movement involved banjo phrasing that had the air of questioning, with the Orchestra answering, and had references to such compositional opposites as Gerald Finzi, Glass and Reich. The Cadenza in the middle combined the banjo part with Laura Reynolds' solo oboe. Lovely flute playing was heard in a march-like section of big sonorities, but the ending was lightweight with the banjo line ending at the top of the fingerboard with three mysterious pianissimo notes. Beautiful.

In the finale Mr. Fleck’s music contrasted his wonderful finger picking with the woodwinds, but also evolved with scant relationship of the solo banjo and the orchestral texture. In this movement there were faint sounds of country banjo phrases. Using amplification, Mr. Fleck gave new weight throughout to banjo virtuosity. Strangely enough, at least from a balcony seat, the banjo sounded unlike the familiar banjo of pop and country music, and perhaps the electronic rendering contributed to lessening the “edge” of the banjo’s twang and dry harmonic flavor.

Returning to the stage with huge applause, the soloist launched into what surely was the longest encore in the Hall’s history, an eight-minute improvisation that was captivating and richly satisfying. The waiting Orchestra members appeared to love the exhibitionism and false cadences in the encore, the best encore in my memory since Lang Lang’s deliciously tasteless “Minute Waltz” in Weill’s inaugural 2013 concert.

Following intermission what could fit with the musical memory of the unique Juno Concerto and its formidable composer-performer? An extravagant orchestral showpiece was in order, and Mr. Lecce-Chong (not using a score) delivered a stunning Mussorgsky Pictures at and Exhibition in the Ravel arrangement. Scott Macomber’s opening trumpet solo was exact, with clarion playing in the 15 short sections from hornist Meredith Brown, bass clarinetist Mark Shannon, the bassoons and the three-musician percussion section. First violin clarity in fast ascending passages was exemplary, and the second violin and contrabass (seated stage left) sound was unusually transparent and fulsome.

This Mussorgsky performance found Mr. Lecce-Chong in a particularly animated posture, with gymnastic body movements and cues, but also producing with his marvelous Orchestra over 35 minutes a champagne orgy of sound and potent musical histrionics. At the thunderous conclusion of the Great Gate of Kiev section the audience rose almost as one in an extended tsunami of applause and appreciative yells.