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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....
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.]