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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...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
CHAMBER REVIEW
Devon House Garden Concerts / Sunday, November 1, 2020
Santa Rosa Symphony Musicians: Jay Zhong, Joseph Edelberg,
Michelle Maruyama and Karen Shinozaki, violin; Elizabeth Prior, viola; Kelley Maulbetsch, cello

SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN

by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020

A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music.

The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween. Ghosts, pumpkins and clutches of bright fall leaves adorned SRS Principal Violist Elizabeth Prior’s San Rafael back yard. Since summer, she has hosted small open-air concerts, a rarity these months, and this was the last of the series and the circumstances were perfect. The blue sky was brushed lightly with trailing clouds and there was the slightest chill in the air. The audience, masked and socially distanced, faced a canopy that served as a stage for a luscious offering of duos, hence the playful title for the concert, “Double Trouble.”

The musicians in the sextet were SRS Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg; Associate Concertmaster Jay Zhong; Second Violin Principal Karen Shinozaki-Sor and Assistant Principal Michelle Maruyama; Ms. Prior; and cellist Kelley Maulbetsch. Trading off solo turns, the ensemble, happily equal in excellence, needed no conductor. They were perfectly in sync.

Ms. Prior and Ms. Maulbetsch launched the program with the first movement of Beethoven’s “Eyeglasses” duo, composed in 1796-97 but not published until 1912 (which may account for the fact that it is little known). From the first notes it was enthralling. Beethoven, who played viola, is thought to have written it for his friend Nicholas Zmeskall, an amateur cellist and composer. Indeed, its equal interchanges and lovely singing harmonies express an affectionate, playful friendship. The movement seemed complete in itself (a second movement exists, but the third movement was never completed). The viola and cello’s mellow voices blended and diverged and met again. One led, the other followed; they changed roles, then returned to close harmonies. The title “Eyeglasses” is believed to be Beethoven’s teasing allusion to the fact that his friend was shortsighted.

Ms. Shinozaki-Sor and Ms. Maruyama then gave a magnetic reading of five of Béla Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins, composed in 1931. These intriguing, short pieces (none more than a minute long) are based on the Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Transylvanian folk melodies Bartók collected as a ethnomusicologist in the early 1900s, often with his friend and fellow student Zoltán Kodály. The exotic lines and emphatic rhythms in these gems were played with respect for their harmonic dissonance and were endlessly compelling.

The six musicians next unwound a foot-stomping arrangement of a hoedown by musical polyglot Mark O’Connor, who is equally at home with bluegrass, country, jazz and classical music. The rousing dance tune, usually played on fiddle, guitar and banjo, was given a breakneck performance, threatening to spin out of control but here always in check.

The first movement of Mozart’s G Major Duo (K. 423) was next for Ms. Maruyama and Ms. Prior, who performed the glittering Allegro from his String Duo No. 1 in G major for violin and viola. At times introspective, the movement was played with exalted follow-the-leader passages and was a true celebration of equal voices. An intriguing factoid is that Mozart submitted the duo under Michael Haydn's name as the sixth of Haydn’s set of duos for the Prince Archbishop Colloredo, and apparently the Archbishop couldn’t discern the music from Mozart’s hand.

The next treat in the generous program was the first movement from Chen Yi’s Double Violin Concerto, performed by Mr. Zhong and Ms. Maruyama. The composition was premiered in 1996 in honor of Yehudi Menuhin. Mr. Zhong remarked that he has a special connection with the composer through her brother, who was the concertmaster of the Beijing Symphony when Mr. Zhong played with them. Ms. Chen, a prolific composer who teaches at the University of Missouri’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, was born in China in 1953, and raised on Western classical music. Her music synthesizes Western and Chinese music, incorporating village and city sounds, folk song and folk opera. This selection, a fine weave of all the instruments, was played with a piquant blend of sonorities that were captivating and novel.

For their final two performances, the ensemble entered a heavenly realm with two great Baroque concertos for two violins: Vivaldi’s A minor, RV522, Op. 3, No. 8 (l’estro armonico) and Bach’s D minor (BWV 1043). Mr. Edelberg and Ms. Shinozaki-Sor were the soloists for the Vivaldi and Mr. Zhong and Ms. Maruyama soloed in the Bach. The concertos are beloved and familiar, yet individually they are so complex and so skillfully woven that they are always a fresh revelation. The Vivaldi’s third movement’s luscious harmonies were like a meadow of bird song. The exquisite Bach, his only concerto for two violins, braided a stream of bright colors, and the Andante movement performance was simply glorious. Throughout the performances the six musicians maintained the illusion of a small orchestra, and only during the final movement of the Bach did one yearn for a double bass to add depth to Ms. Maulbetsch’s expressive cello continuo.

As the last notes of the sublime Bach lingered on the air, the audience clapped in appreciation, then rose to mingle with the musicians, enjoying gratis refreshments in the waning afternoon light.