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Chamber
RARELY-PLAYED SCHUMANN HIGHLIGHTS HEALDSBURG RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 10, 2021
Brave New Music sporadically produces concerts in and around Healdsburg, and July 10’s violin recital in downtown St. Paul’s Church must have been one of the first post-lockdown, post-be-extra-careful classical music concerts in Sonoma County's summer season. New Music Founder Gary McLaughlin with
Chamber
ECHOS ON A WARM SUMMER NIGHT
by Abby Wasserman
Saturday, July 10, 2021
ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s first concert in a year and a half, “A Musical Promenade,” was a promenade indeed. When patrons arrived at San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for the 6:00 performance July 10, they were funneled through the garden to the Duncan Hall patio, where folding chairs were set
Chamber
LONG DISTANCE LOVE BEGINS VOM SUMMER FESTIVAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Thursday, June 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival offered a 7th season preview June 24 with a stunning online concert, aptly named Long Distance Love, featuring inspired performances of Beethoven's short song cycle An die ferne Geliebte,, and selections from Brahms’ beloved Liebeslieder Wal
Recital
ROMERO'S ARTISTRY IN SLV RECITAL PROGRAMMING AND PERFORMANCE
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Gustavo Romero has been an admired visitor to North Bay stages, playing over a decade recitals at Dominican University, the Music at Oakmont concerts and at the Spring Lake Village Concert Series. He returned June 2 to SLV in a virtual recital, videoed from his home concert hall the University of N
RUBICON'S VIRTUAL CONCERT A MALANGE OF CONTRASTS
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 16, 2021
The inaugural concert of a new Mendocino County chamber group is a reason for celebration, and the Rubicon Trio made the most of a mixed musical menu during a May16 virtual concert. Presented by the Ukiah Symphony Orchestra as the last in their “Salons with the Symphony” Series, the Rubicon began w
Recital
PIANO VIRTUOSITY IN YAKUSHEV'S REDWOOD ARTS RECITAL
by Nicki Bell
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev’s recital for the Redwood Arts Council was perhaps the local season’s virtual music at the greatest distance, as the filming May 16 came from a church in St. Petersburg. And good filming it was, with multiple camera viewpoints of the church, full and split screens and
Chamber
STYLISH HAYDN QUARTETS CLOSE GREEN ROOM SERIES
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, May 9, 2021
Completing the Green Music Center’s spring series series of “Green Room” virtual concerts, the St. Lawrence String Quartet played May 9 a lightweight program of two Haydn works. Lightweight perhaps, but in every way satisfying. The G Major Quartet (Op. 76, No.1) began the music that was supplement
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
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
SYMPHONY REVIEW

Cellist Zuill Bailey

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, but no barriers separated them musically or emotionally.

Bailey was there to give the West Coast premiere of a cello concerto published last year by the Symphony’s artistic partner, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, whose diverse works grace all five of the Symphony’s concerts this winter and spring.

In a pre-concert interview with conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, Zwilich observed that the cello covers almost the entire range of the human voice and can be considered as a kind of opera singer. Her concerto exploits that range repeatedly, with the cello often beginning a phrase on the low C string and racing up three or more octaves to a contrasting blue note on the high A.

Blue notes are at the heart of the concerto, which evokes a Jazz Age sound throughout, reminding one more of Gershwin than of postwar bebop and beyond. Mr. Bailey dominated from the outset, cradling the cello in his large frame and using his powerful fingers to land pitch-perfect notes in all registers. Playing to an imaginary audience in front of the stage, he often resembled a tenor saxophone soloist trading riffs with a backup band.

The concerto consists of three movements (labeled I, II and III, with no tempo markings) that blend into each other seamlessly and share a range of tempos and melodic material. The one constant is a persistent call-and-response structure, with the orchestra on one side and Mr. Bailey on the other. Sometimes a soloist, such as a clarinet or a trumpet, stands in for the orchestra, but the cellist was mostly by himself. Watching him nail his runs, particularly in the upper registers, was a constant pleasure.

As a piece, the concerto could have used more forward motion and more integration of soloist and orchestra. At times the music seemed to stall, with neither side able to move beyond its riffs and combine into a more diverse whole. Nonetheless, the playing and conducting were superb throughout.

Forward motion may have been lacking in the Zwilich concerto, but it was abundant in the concert opener, Jessie Montgomery’s “Starburst” for string orchestra, composed in 2012. This aptly named three-minute romp begins strong and ends explosively. A powerful bass line is soon joined by short bursts from the violins, replete with syncopations and energetic rhythms. Fluid melodies from the rest of the orchestra join in, with many repeated triplets and vibrant chords. Tension builds as all the parts work together to produce unexpected rhythms, satisfying repetitions, swirling melodies and lively accents. It all ends with a bang, making for a superb curtain raiser.

An abrupt change of mood followed with Samuel Barber’s often-played “Adagio for Strings” (1938). Arturo Toscanini, who championed the piece, called it “simple and beautiful,” and it is certainly that, befitting almost any solemn occasion. The occasion that immediately sprang to mind for this concert was a remembrance for all who have died from Covid 19 over the past year.

Mr. Lecce-Chong set a stately tempo and drew fully sustained notes from the strings, along with gradual crescendos in the ascending lines. Conducting equally with both hands, he often resembled a swimmer moving toward the surface after a deep dive. The pause in the middle of the piece was literally breathtaking. The camerawork was also better than usual, with many closeups of fully engaged players.

One of the reasons Barber’s “Adagio” works so well is that the rise-and-fall structure is so apparent. The same holds true for the second-half opener, Charles Ives’ haunting “The Unanswered Question.” Over an ethereal, slow-moving string background from the stage, a trumpet poses a five-note question from the back balcony. Several woodwinds, standing in the choir loft behind the stage, offer a tentative answer. This pattern repeats six times, with the woodwinds giving increasingly frantic answers. On the seventh time, the question goes unanswered, leaving nothing but the strings.

The structure is ingenious in itself, but the sound is what made the piece memorable in this performance. The long string chord, played with minimal vibrato, evolved into a virtual cloud; the winds became so desperate that they seemed to be gasping for breath; and the trumpet’s piercing question kept ringing in the ears long after the last note.

The concert concluded with Brahms’ second orchestral Serenade, which was a joy from beginning to end. The highlights were many, from the euphonious blending of the winds in the opening Allegro, to the sprightly duets in the subsequent Scherzo, to the symphonic expressive longing of the central Adagio. A lively duple time animated the penultimate Minuet, and the final Rondo was positively thrilling, with its brisk tempo and Stacey Pelinka’s cheerful piccolo playing.