Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, November 15, 2020
Adelle-Akiko Meyers, cello soloist
Jay Zhong and Michelle Maruyama, violin soloists

Conductor Franceso Lecce-Chong

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 behind the performance would have been that orchestral musicians make music with their hands, not their mouths. In 2020, the reality is that it’s still possible to play music if you keep your distance.

The concert, originally recorded at the Green Music Center on Nov. 7, featured two dances by contemporary American composers, rags by Scott Joplin, a Canzone for cello and orchestra by Max Bruch, and Beethoven’s masterful second symphony. Each piece was introduced by a member of the orchestra, a format that helped put the players in the spotlight, rather than the conductor, Francesco Lecce-Chong.

The Symphony played everything well, but the standout performance was by Principal Cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns in the Bruch Canzone (a song resembling a madrigal). Kearns, who introduced the piece, produced a beautiful tone in her cello’s upper registers, and she played Bruch’s magisterial themes with authority and grace. Never rushed, her line flowed almost continually throughout the piece, helped by seamless changes in bow direction, spot-on intonation and a wonderful vibrato that helped each note stand out.

The effect was serene. The orchestral accompaniment barely rose above a murmur, letting the cello’s rich sounds expand throughout the hall. At the end, Kearns’ fellow players burst into applause.

Symphony soloists were also on display in contemporary Chinese-American composer Chen Yi’s “Romance and Dance for Two Violins and String Orchestra.” The two violins were played by Associate Concertmaster Jay Zhong and Michelle Maruyama, the assistant principal second violinist. Zhong introduced the piece, noting how well it integrates Chinese and Western musical traditions.

The full title of the opening movement is “The Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in,” two traditional Chinese instruments. According to Chen Yi’s program notes, the orchestra plays the part of the ch’in, a seven-string zither. One infers that the violin soloists play the part of the hsiao, a vertical bamboo flute that carries melodies. And what melodies they were! From the opening note, Zhong and Maruyama launched into a heartfelt duet marked by expressive glissandos, wide vibratos and occasional unison playing at the octave. The orchestra plucked along, creating a soothing backdrop for the violins’ romance.

The dance in the second movement opened with a traditional-sounding Chinese melody but quickly evolved into rapid phrases from the soloists, with a percussive orchestral accompaniment. Both soloists played splendidly, taking turns spinning out their riffs over the constantly moving background. Their tremolos near the end were particularly effective.

The concert opened with a string orchestra version of the “Coquetos” movement from “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout,” by Berkeley native Gabriela Lena Frank, whose ancestry is Peruvian, Chinese and Lithuanian. As implied by the title, Frank is also a musical anthropologist, and she drew her inspiration for the piece from visits to South America.

True to its roots, “Coquetos” features strongly syncopated themes with a forceful rhythmic drive. The themes moved around the various sections of the string orchestra, all of which played with vibrancy and flair. The bass section was often propulsive, highlighting the powerful melodies that soared above them. Sadly, the piece came to an abrupt end only three minutes after it began.

Two other American compositions rounded out the first half: Scott Joplin’s piano rags “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag,” as arranged for orchestra by Gunther Schuller. The switch from piano to orchestra proved revelatory. The strings often served as the piano’s left hand, whereas the winds and brass played the “ragged,” syncopated melodies of the right. The trumpet solo in the “Maple Leaf Rag” was pure delight.

The second half of the concert was given over to Beethoven’s second symphony, which lurks in the shadows of the first and third. Fortunately, no shadows were evident in a performance that bristled with tenacity and energy. The brooding opening movement, with its multiple sforzandos, ratcheted up the tension until the cellos burst forth with the main theme. Each section of the orchestra could be distinctly heard, aided and abetted by Lecce-Chong’s rhythmic clarity. Beethoven’s strong narrative impulse was evident throughout.

The orchestra played the remaining movements with the same brilliance as the first. Lecce-Chong, who conducted without a score, was unrelenting in his brisk pacing and precise gestures. The second movement was idyllic and the third continually surprising. In the fourth, Lecce-Chong increased the tempo, but the orchestra kept pace, with the strings dashing off impeccable runs. The orchestra was building up to a blistering climax when they reached one of Beethoven’s dramatic pauses and collectively caught their breath. And then they were off again, right up to the final chord.

Comments are welcome; send an email to Steve Osborn.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]