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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

Pianist Natasha Paremski

BROWNE, PAREMSKI HEAD STELLAR CAST AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONCERT

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Feb. 9 performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st century music firmly bound to the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire”—based on a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the 1820s—employs a diverse collection of 19th century melodic snippets to recount the familiar narrative of an empire’s rise and fall.

Mr. Browne’s method is uncannily similar to that of Ives, who interspersed his symphonies with direct quotations from folk songs, popular melodies and military marches. But, as in the case of Ives, there is much more to Browne’s patchwork quilt than musical quotations.

Mr. Browne’s own contributions to “The Course of Empire” include his compelling musical narrative, his dazzling orchestration and his incessant invention. The narrative begins in the first painting/movement, titled “The Savage State” by Cole but “Ascension” by the composer. The story, which centers on a deer hunt by ancient ancestors, begins at sunrise with the pianissimo caressing of a bass drum, soon joined by equally quiet strings in the upper registers. A horn uses four widely spaced intervals to evoke a distant crag, leading into an increasingly dense texture that congeals into a strong motive from the lower strings. The chase is on as the motive gives way to a propulsive beat. A brass fanfare marks the successful end of the hunt, punctuated by another widely spaced interval from the horns.

This kind of narrative pervades the next four movements, with Cole’s title in quotes and Mr. Browne’s in parentheses: “The Pastoral or Arcadian State” (Pastoral), “The Consummation of Empire” (Apotheosis), “Destruction” (Hubris) and “Desolation” (Ephemera). The musical content hews so closely to the original paintings that it’s hard to understand why the composer chose new titles.

Titular quibbles aside, the music is consistently rewarding, and the Symphony’s performance thereof was superb. The lilting peasant dance in the “Pastoral” movement serves as a foil for increasingly dense and skillful orchestration that intertwines several musical ideas. The dramatic contrasts of “Apotheosis” artfully depict the many forces at work in a consummated empire. Here the Ivesian influence is most evident, with a snippet from a fife-and-drum corps, for example, leading to an impassioned Welsh hymn. Ominous sounds of brewing war dominate the ending, with the snare drum suggesting machine guns and the low brass a surging army.

The ensuing “Hubris” (Destruction) movement begins with a tremendous crash, followed by rapid figuration in the strings. The forward motion is palpable, accented by occasional glissandi and increasingly desperate tempi. The sound moves through the orchestra like fire. Only in the final “Ephemera” (Desolation) movement does the pace let up, replaced by a glittering sheen of sound. A lonely air from the violas sets the desolate mood, which slowly transforms into a hint of optimism, buoyed by folk songs and an apparent rebirth of nature that one surmises will lead to the savage state of the opening movement. It’s quite a journey.

Not content with one masterwork, conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong opened the program with a sparkling rendition of Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3. The tension of the first few bars, with their sustained notes and descending lines, resolved seamlessly into the main theme. The tempo was brisk, and the dynamics carefully controlled. Mr. Lecce-Chong’s insistence on precise articulation allowed Beethoven’s compelling structure to shine through. None of that, however, prepared one for the distant trumpet solo from behind the balcony, a truly operatic gesture.

More operatic gestures unfolded in the second half of the program, devoted entirely to Rachmaninoff’s D Minor (third) piano concerto under the agile fingers of Natasha Paremski. Much ink and celluloid has been shed over the Romantic glories of this titanic clash between piano and orchestra, but it never ceases to amaze. Ms. Paremski, clad in an Oscar-worthy dress, high heels and abdominal-length blond hair, upped the glitz and glamour simply by walking onstage.

Once seated, the pianist peered straight ahead, obscured her face in hair, and plugged her fingers directly into the Fazioli piano’s high voltage. She projected well, swayed elegantly and really connected the notes: her phrasing was seamless. Even more striking was the amount of power she exerted on the lower notes, which resounded throughout the hall. She was in total control.

As Rachmaninoff intended, the high point of the first movement arrived with the lengthy cadenza, which turned into an astounding display of prestidigitation. Just when you think Ms. Paremski’s fingers can’t move any faster, she turns up the voltage. A soothing oboe solo atop lush strings heralded the second movement’s languid Adagio. Ms. Paremski proved equally soothing here, cultivating a graceful and undulant sound. More dynamic contrast would have helped her cause, but the effect was nonetheless transcendent.

The sudden transition to the “alla breve” (cut time) finale set Ms. Paremski into a flurry of waving hair and swaying motion. She was by turns a pixie weaving dainty filigrees of notes in the upper keyboard, to a blazing meteor headed straight from the outer reaches to an earth-shattering crash on the lowest keys of the piano. For that Newtonian action, the reaction was equal and immediate: the audience leaped to its feet with a roar.