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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....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, March 21, 2015
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Olga Kern, piano

SRS Hornist Meredith Brown

A TROIKA TO REMEMBER

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 21, 2015

At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia was home to three extraordinary composers--Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Stravinsky--whose stars continue to shine. Rachmaninoff carried on the Romantic tradition, Stravinsky tried to annihilate it, and Prokofiev landed somewhere in the middle, clinging to traditional forms while injecting radically new content.

Their differences were well illustrated by the Santa Rosa Symphony in their March 22 concert in Weill Hall. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis chose youthful pieces by each one: the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 1, written when he was 18, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 1, penned at 20, and the Stravinsky "Firebird" suite, at an ancient 27. Pianist Olga Kern played both the concertos, and Symphony first chairs supplied pervasive solos in the Stravinsky.

Wearing a gorgeous one-strap purple gown, the svelte, blond-haired Kern exuded confidence from the opening notes of the Rachmaninoff, and she got better as the concert unfolded. She sits straight but not rigid, her head slightly bent over the keys, her concentration intense. Her arms move as gracefully as a ballerina's, and her fingers fly over the keyboard with flawless rapidity.

Kern didn't really stand out until the cadenza of the opening movement, where she hit low notes with pinpoint accuracy while playing intricate fast passages in the upper registers. She then made a beautiful transition to a slower tempo, changing the mood in a split second.

While the first two movements of the Rachmaninoff are fairly bland, the third--which he reworked at a later date--offers some musical challenges. These Kern met to a degree, but her dynamic range seemed limited, and her interpretations too straightforward. The movement calls for drama and expressivity, but Kern was mostly subdued, if technically perfect.

The Prokofiev, which began the second half, ratcheted the drama up by several notches. The memorable opening phrase, with its strong accent at the top of a melodic arch, calls for all-out playing from both orchestra and soloist. Here Kern got more in the mood, playing the many iterations of opening phrase with vigor and the subsequent passages with fierce intensity. While at times hampered by inadequate dynamic contrast, she drove into the final section relentlessly, engaging in an animated call and response with the orchestra. The run-up to the end was truly bravura, and the sustained ovation well deserved.

After the Prokofiev, the orchestra emerged from the shadows to perform the suite from Stravinsky's "Firebird" ballet, a staple of the modern repertoire. Beginning with a six-note figure in the low strings, the suite moves inexorably forward, each section reflecting the action of the ballet. Even without the dancers, one can imagine their motions.

In the "Firebird," with its spiky rhythms and incessant melodic handoffs, all the orchestral parts have to fit exactly for the music to work. The fit in this performance was precise, and hearing the hot-potato phrases skip from woodwinds to brass to strings was a sonic delight. Ferrandis held everyone together with a steady beat that was easy to read.

The "Firebird" unfolds by degrees. Most of the first half is relatively subdued, with frequent solos from first chairs, most memorably the French horn. Horn principal Meredith Brown played each of her solos impeccably, with wonderful tone. The enchanting interplay between soloists and full orchestra came to an abrupt end with a mighty blow to the bass drum. The transition was so effective that several people around me jumped in their seats.

The tempo in the latter part of the suite was often fervid, with Ferrandis leading the charge. The brass,led by principal trumpeter Doug Morton, were especially prominent. The sustained buildup led to a tremendous orchestral chord and an abrupt transition to quietude, marked by a wonderful bassoon solo from principal Carla Wilson. During a subsequent pianissimo tremolo from the strings, the audience sat in pin-drop silence. The final bars, marked by a restatement of the horn solo and principal theme, were nothing short of triumphant, culminating in a thrilling final chord.

The concert was the best of the Symphony's season to date, and their performance of the "Firebird" was exceptional. Another reason for the concert's success was the cogent choice of repertoire. The beginning of the 20th century was a splendid time for music in Russia, and the concert displayed the range and depth of that period. Now if only Ferrandis could assemble a concert with substantial works by three 21st century American composers. Future audiences might find them as innovative and inspiring as their Russian counterparts.

Ed. Note: this review is the first of two for the concert