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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....
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, March 28, 2021
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor. Zuill Baliey, cello

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.