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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
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, January 24, 2021
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor

Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong

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 rendering of Bach’s “Ricercare a 6” from The Musical Offering. At that time, the dominant Bach transcriber was Leopold Stokowski, whose lush and heavily orchestrated transcriptions transformed Bach from a cerebral Baroque composer into an unabashed Romanticist. Webern’s approach is almost the complete opposite. His orchestration is spare, and his method is reverent. The net result in both cases, however, is the same: you’re definitely not listening to Bach.

Webern’s main transcribing device is to divide Bach’s fluid lines among several instruments. A melody that starts in the flutes, for example, migrates to the oboes and thence to the strings, each one playing only a few notes. While the Symphony’s playing was uniformly excellent, one wished for a smaller ensemble a 6 where each player could have a full say.

Zwilich’s Concerto Grosso for Chamber Orchestra (1985) continued the transcription motif, albeit in a more indirect way. The five-movement piece is based on the opening theme from a Handel violin sonata, complete with harpsichord. Both the first and last movements quote the Handel theme directly, interpolating it with sections written by Zwilich. The inner three movements are pure Zwilich, although Handel lurks in the background.

Zwilich’s interpolations in the outer movements consist primarily of ascending Coplandesque arpeggios that stand in stark contrast to Handel’s flowing lines. It’s hard at first to discern a connection between the two, but Zwilich sticks with the alternating pattern until the harmonic, rhythmic and harmonic connections become evident.

The inner movements -- a Largo surrounded by two Prestos -- have the same clearly delineated structure as the outer ones, with continuing use of ascending arpeggios. The dramatic melody of the Largo was particularly well played, with the musicians really leaning into the tragic lines. The only complaint one could make is that the harpsichord was difficult to hear.

Next up was a rarely played Sinfonia by Marianna Martines, a contemporary of Mozart’s in Vienna. According to the program notes, the Sinfonia is the only known symphony of the Classical period (1750-1820) composed by a woman. While that distinction accords the Sinfonia a certain level of interest, the work can also stand on its own merits. The orchestration is inventive, and the spritely ascending arpeggios imbue it with joyfulness. The lilting final movement is a standout. Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong heightened its effect by giving strong downbeats and eliciting firm dynamic contrasts. The echo effects were excellent, as was the hard-charging tempo.

Mozart’s 39th symphony is played so often by so many orchestras that it’s hard to hear anew; but the virtual concert format, coupled with Mr. Lecce-Chong’s sensitivity and expertise, did offer a new way of listening to this masterpiece. To begin with, the reduced forces onstage helped bring out the individual lines, and the sound achieved a limpid quality usually found in string quartets.

Beyond that, Mr. Lecce-Chong’s conducting was magnificent. Using spare motions, he coaxed Mozart’s serene Allegro melody out of the opening Adagio. The first violins sounded like opera singers as they floated above the orchestral underlay throughout the first movement. In the Andante second movement, the inescapable ascending arpeggios set up a fervent response to Mozart’s elegant theme. Mr. Lecce-Chong gave strong beats, but it was his motions between beats that allowed the musicians to bend the notes and flex the rhythm.

The third movement was greeted with a cough from the stage, an apt reminder of the live concert experience. Here the strings put their bowing techniques on display, alternating between a light spiccato and an expressive legato. The clarinet duet by Roy Zajac and Mark Wardlaw was likewise superb.

The finale was stirring. The violins led off with a pitch-perfect blur of notes, with each run clearly articulated. The conductor bent his knees in time with the music, moving everyone hastily along, even as the top lines played melodies of exquisite delicacy. It was hard to imagine so much serenity atop a hurtling object, but everyone landed safely on the resounding final chords.