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GAULIST FLAVOR IN FINAL SF PIANO FESTIVAL CONCERT AT OLD FIRST
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Final summer music festival programs are often a mix of what has come before, with the theme and even a featured composer taking a last stage appearance, with a dramatic wrap up composition. San Francisco’s International Piano Festival defied the norm August 29 with an eclectic French-flavored prog
SPARE DUO PRECEDES MYSTEROUS DUO AT DEN BOER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, August 27, 2021
In a departure from usual summer festival fare Julia Den Boer played an August 27 virtual recital in the San Francisco Piano Festival’s 4.5 season with four works, all mostly quiet but all in separate ways insistently demanding of artist and listener. Throughout the 40 minutes there was nary a powe
HARMONIC COMPLEXITY IN PHILLIPS' ALL-GRIFFES RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, August 20, 2021
Charles Griffes’ piano music is similar to that of Busoni, Reger and even Poulenc, in that there is a sporadic flourish of interest with concerts and scholarly work, then a quick fade into another long period of obscurity. So, it was a delight to have an all-Griffes recital August 20 on the San F
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ONE PIANO, TWO PIANO, THREE PIANO, FORE
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Schroeder Hall was nearly full July 29 for the final pianoSonoma concert of their season, and presumably the draw and highlight for many of the 150 attending was Bach’s Concerto for Four Pianos. And that performance was probably going to be a North Bay premiere. However, it wasn’t the highl
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PENULTIMATE VOM FESTIVAL CONCERT FEATURES GORGEOUS VOCALISM
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Thursday, July 29, 2021
The 2021 Valley of the Moon Music Festival continued on July 29 with a sumptuous online offering of French songs, concluding with the second piano quartet by Fauré, Op. 45. Such a beautiful bouquet of video performances wonderfully filmed and recorded softened the disappointment of not being able to
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SIX GUITARISTS IN UNIQUE NAPA RECITAL
by Gary Digman
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The first Napa Valley Guitar Festival was held at Napa’s First Presbyterian Church July 25, and featured performances from six classical guitarists. The Church is an iconic structure in downtown Napa, its huge white presence dominating the scene, and the white theme continues inside punctuated by be
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BOGAS' TENURE ENDS IN OUTDOOR GUALALA CHAMBER CONCERT
by Iris Lorenzfife
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The preconcert call that music lovers should gather at Gualala Arts July 25 to attend the final Roy Bogas and Friends Concert was not quite as dire as it sounded. It seems that a year of Covid 19 and an 88th birthday had combined to convince Mr. Bogas that he was working too hard. But with cellist P
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CLARA SCHUMANN TRIO COMMANDS VOM CHAMBER MUSIC CONCERT AT HANNA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, July 24, 2021
The Valley of the Moon Chamber Music Series has begun several virtual and a few live concerts in its new seventh season, some broadcast from Sonoma’s Hanna Center Hall and some in posh local venues. July 24’s video had a small live audience and a well-produced video program of three works. Titled “
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RARE LANG SONGS SPARKLE AT VOM FESTIVAL VIDEO RECITAL
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Unexpected pleasures are often the best. Valley of the Moon Chamber Festival presented a such a pleasure last week-a July 21 recorded performance by tenor Kyle Stegall and pianist Eric Zivian in another mini-recital (very mini-just 15 minutes!) of six songs by the nineteenth century German composer
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EXEMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MENDO FESTIVAL FT. BRAGG CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Faced with the impossibility of presenting concerts in the iconic large white tent on the bluff, the Mendocino Music Festival opted to use Ft. Bragg’s Cotton Auditorium for ten events in the abbreviated 35th season. San Francisco’s Alexander String Quartet played July 21 to a fully masked audience
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