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Chamber
UBER VIOLISTS AT MUSIC IN THE VINEYARDS
by Steve Osborn
Friday, August 08, 2014
Full disclosure. I'm an amateur--very amateur--violist, so Friday's Music in the Vineyards concert in Napa Valley was of particular interest to me. The program featured two sextets with prominent viola parts; a trio for viola, flute and piano; and the pièce de résistance: a quartet for four violas. ...
Chamber
PIANO SONOMA JAMS IN FINAL WEILL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, August 03, 2014
PianoSonoma concluded its artist-in-residence performances August 3 in a sparkling Weill Hall concert where mostly new music overshadowed conventional fare. Mendelssohn’s popular D Minor Trio began the program in a workmanlike performance that never quite caught fire. Tempos throughout were judici...
Symphony
A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, August 02, 2014
The audience filing into Saturday's National Youth Orchestra concert at Weill Hall in Rohnert Park was greeted by the sight and sound of 120 teenaged musicians furiously warming up and clad in a patriotic outfit of red pants and sneakers, white shirts and … black blazers, ties and scarves? So much f...
Opera
A PROVOCATIVE DON GIOVANNI AT MENDOCINO FESTIVAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, July 18, 2014
At each Mendocino Music Festival a key evening is given over to a staged opera in the big tent, and last year Rossini’s frothy “Il Signor Bruschino” was an audience hit but hardly comprehensive operatic fare. Times change. Mozart’s weighty opera Don Giovanni was given a propulsive but often confus...
Recital
UNHURRIED COMMAND IN MENDO FESTIVAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 17, 2014
Pianist Robert Schwartz opened Mendocino Music Festival’s piano series July 17 with a set of works in a recital made for keyboard connoisseurs. His success was doubly gratifying for the artist as he had played on the same stage at last year’s Festival, but had to cancel most of the recital due to il...
Symphony
A MUSIC OFFERING IN A SONIC MIXTURE
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Bach’s iconic D Minor Clavier Concerto was the centerpiece in the fourth day of Mendocino Music Festival events July 16 in the big tent concert hall, with San Francisco-based Stephen Prutsman the featured artist. Conducting a chamber orchestra of ten from a lidless piano, Mr. Prutsman took fast te...
Choral and Vocal
A CAPAPELLA FEVER AHH
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Choral singing, especially unaccompanied by piano or orchestra, seldom gets exposure at a summer music festival. So it was a surprise July 16 to find the Mendocino Music Festival featuring a full program of a capella singing in downtown Mendocino’s Preston Hall. Perhaps due to the local performers...
Symphony
DRAMATIC SUMMER MUSICAL FARE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Monday, July 14, 2014
Napa’s Festival Del Sole’s summer resident orchestra, Sphinx, made a dramatic Weill Hall appearance July 15 with three star performers and a curious mix of pungent repertoire. Violinist Pinchas Zuckerman received the biggest adulation from the audience, closing the first half playing Bruch’s G Mino...
Chamber
SUMMER SCHUBERT SUNSHINE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 27, 2014
Though not as well known as the formidable Trio Navarro, the Amaryllis Trio has had an increasing chamber music presence since 2012 with manifold Sonoma and Marin County concerts. Sebastopol’s St. Stephen's Church and the Numina Center for the Arts hosted them June 27 in a sparkling concert of four ...
Chamber
A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME BRASS CONCERT
by Philip Beard
Thursday, June 12, 2014
"I think I just died and went to heaven" is a stock phrase for times of unusual bliss. On June 12 at SSU's Green Music Center, I didn't in fact die, but the 2½ hours spent listening to the National Brass Ensemble came as close to a brass player's heaven as I can imagine. The hall was all but sold o...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Marin Symphony / Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Alasdair Neale, conductor; Nathan Chan, cello

Cellist Nathan Chan

YOUTHFUL MUSIC AND VIRTUOSITY WELL SERVED IN MARIN SYMPHONY CONCERT

by John Metz
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Marin Symphony’s first concert of 2012 was on many levels a union of old and new. The symphony, as a musical genre, dates back to the 18th century, with the most notable examples being those of Mozart and Haydn. In the 19th Century its legacy was carried on by master symphonists Beethoven and Schubert, and later by Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak. But what about today? Is the symphony still alive today? And if so, which composers are champions of the 21st Century symphony?

If you attended the Jan. 31 concert at the Marin Center you know that Lowell Liebermann is one such composer. Conductor Alasdair Neale and his orchestra gave the West Coast premiere of Liebermann’s Symphony No. 3, op. 113, a single-movement work of about 20 minutes duration. Typically, symphonies are multi-movement works, and although Liebermann’s departs from this norm, the work’s form is clearly divided into three distinct sections.

The Symphony’s opening presents, in succession, three principle motives (a compositional technique Liszt first used in his genre-defying single-movement Piano Sonata). These three motives – a rising melody accompanied by descending whole tones, a disjointed chromatic melody, and a modal three-part chorale – comprise the basic thematic material of the symphony. They are developed in myriad ways, for example, as a waltz, and in the middle section as a blues melody and an octatonic jazz stride, and in the final section as a reflective sarabande. As one may infer, this symphony offers a wide range of stylistic variety, yet never loses its sense of organic unity.

The jazzy allegro middle section comes as a respite amid a work of turbulence, drama, deep sadness, and lost hope. The Symphony is filled with unresolved climaxes. I lost count of how many times a long, harrowing crescendo reached climax only to bottom out into a lingering silence.

The final section, which further develops the chorale theme, is contemplative and emotionally inward, ending in an unresolved recollection of the allegro, played by the flutes and percussion. Mr. Neale appropriately describes the ending as, “a musical question mark.” Perhaps the lack of resolution in his third symphony means we listeners can expect more Liebermann symphonies in the future. I certainly hope so.

The concert opened with a young Liebermann symphony and closed with an old Dvorak Symphony, the No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95, popularly known as the “From The New World.” Framing the concert in symphonies, new and old, enabled the audience not only to hear an old familiar favorite, but to reflect upon the history and evolution of the form – what has brought us from the Czech composer’s forty-five-minute Romantic masterpiece to Liebermann’s more compact expression of darkness, irony, and lost hope. Yet a similar thread, as Mr. Neale noted, does extend throughout these symphonies. That is, just as Liebermann’s symphony offers stylistic variety ranging from blues to waltz, Dvorak incorporates an eclectic mix of influences into his own musical fabric. These influences include Native American music, African American spirituals, and Czech folk tunes from his homeland.

The conductor and the Marin orchestra gave successful renditions of both symphonies, which were met with enthusiastic applause, especially the “New World”. The horns, led by principal Darby Hinshaw, played particularly well in the first and fourth movements of the Dvorak. I was impressed with the elegant performance of English horn player Laura Reynolds.

The highlight of the evening was a performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, op. 85, by 17-year-old Nathan Chan as the soloist. Mr. Chan is a very extroverted performer, who doesn’t just play the music, but shows it – intentionally or not – through dramatic gestures and facial expressions. Though his technical command of the instrument is good, his inner musicality and expressivity is what makes him a stand out instrumentalist. His performance of the elegiac opening melody was sincere and heartfelt. The Allegro molto may have been restrained in tempo, but the cellist instilled enough jollity and whimsy in his performance to make up for any lack of speed. He made the heartfelt and poignant melodies of the third movement sing. Mr. Chan plays with a rich and vibrant tone, though he often loses that richness in the upper register, which tends to sound frail. The fourth movement is an exciting dance-like tour de force, which revisits themes from the third and first movement.

A young cellist playing an old favorite. A 21st Century symphony and a 19th Century symphony. This concert truly was a union of young and old.