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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

Simone Porter

SIMONE PORTER ASPIRES TO STARDOM WITH SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Sibelius violin concerto is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close but didn’t quite summit.

Ms. Porter wore a red jumpsuit that complemented her athleticism and musicality. She was often in motion, whether bending at the knees to gather strength or bolting upright to reach the highest notes on her instrument. Her movements often paralleled her phrasing, with forward surges or backward steps marking phrase beginnings and endings.

The main story, however, was Ms. Porter’s gorgeous sound, particularly on the lower strings. Her low notes at the beginning of the concerto’s first movement were simply stupendous. She could have stayed down there for the entire concerto, so awesome was the sound.

Nonetheless, Ms. Porter moved on to the upper strings, complementing her basso profundo with exquisite phrasing somewhere north of high C. It was a visceral performance aided and abetted by flawless bowing and vibrato. Her bow arm was a marvel of fluidity. The highlight of the first movement was a “sul G” passage near the end that the violinist played entirely on the G string while effortlessly shifting up and down the fingerboard. The closing presto was nearly as riveting, and the audience, including me, burst into indecorous applause at the end.

Sadly, the slow second movement didn’t live up to the sprightly first. The horn entries were sometimes ragged, and the orchestra was often too loud, covering Horner to a certain degree. Worse still, the tempo began to plod in the middle, but both Horner and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong made a full recovery in time for the emotional ending.

The third movement was a mixed bag. Ms. Porter played the main theme beautifully, really digging in to the repeated downbows that punctuate the movement. But her many upper-register runs were sometimes rough, with dubious intonation on the highest notes and a lack of clarity in the fastest passages. The beauty and urgency of her playing, however, brought her close to the top. Stardom is a definite possibility after some fine tuning.

Sticking with the tried and true, Mr. Lecce-Chong conducted Brahms’ second symphony after intermission. Instead of a red-clad soloist, attention shifted to the orchestra itself, where full participation is needed to unveil Brahms’ intricate and monumental construction. The strings began with assurance, producing a lush but crisp sound in the opening bars. The conductor's gestures on the podium were compact and exact, displaying a lapidary polish and precision. One could close one’s eyes and imagine a bucolic alpine meadow, surrounded by imposing mountains.

The cellos opened the second movement with an expansive line that warmly embraced a limpid solo by horn principal Meredith Brown. Suddenly, everything was moving at once, with each line distinct and easily heard. Mr. Lecce-Chong achieved clarity amid Brahms’ density, allowing each section its moment in the sun. A wonderful pause near the end actually increased the dramatic intensity.

The exactitude and precision continued in the remaining movements. In the third, the dynamics were superb, the melodies playful and lilting. In contrast, the fourth was rollicking and tumultuous, with a staggering level of artistic invention on display. Mr. Lecce-Chong captured just the right spirit by eschewing overly dramatic gestures and keeping to the task at hand. It’s hard to imagine a better performance.

Embarrassingly, I was a few minutes late to the concert because of a forgotten ticket, so I had to watch the opening piece—Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia—on a closed-circuit TV in the lobby. It sounded interesting, but that’s as far as I can go.

Reprinted with permission from San Francisco Classical Voice