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Opera
SPARKLING CIMAROSA OPERA HIGHLIGHTS MENDOCINO MUSIC FESTIVAL
by Kathryn Stewart
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Classical music era was a time of extraordinary innovation. Dominated by composers from the German-speaking countries, the period witnessed the handiwork of masterpieces by two classical giants, Haydn and Mozart. Both composers put forth a tremendous catalog of masterful works and perhaps to our...
Symphony
!PURA VIDA! A SONIC TRIUMPH FOR SO CO PHIL IN THRILLING COSTA RICA TOUR CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Long anticipated events, such as a great sporting game, gourmet feast, holiday trip or a concert, occasionally fall way short of expectations. The results don’t measure to expectations. With the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s Costa Rica concert June 19, the performance exceeded any heated or tenuou...
Symphony
SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND
by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018
In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns. Conductor Norman Gamboa pr...
Chamber
COMMANDING CHOPIN AND DEBUSSY IN SLV RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Wednesday, June 06, 2018
Concerts at the classy Spring Lake Village Retirement Home in Santa Rosa have admission limited to residents and a few guests, but the chance to hear a first cabin North Bay pianist June 6 brought a Classical Sonoma reviewer into the audience of 100. The crowd numbers were unusually low due to a ba...
Recital
MUSICAL ALCHEMY INSIDE A HIDDEN GEM
by Kayleen Asbo
Friday, May 25, 2018
The Petaluma Historical Library and Museum is a hidden gem of Sonoma County, a gracious building that is one of Sonoma County’s loveliest venues for chamber music concerts, with a fine period piano particularly suited to Romantic music.  Of the surprisingly large array of festivities there, one of t...
Chamber
FINAL VOM MUSICIANS CONCERT IN SCHROEDER A SCHUBERT DELIGHT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, May 12, 2018
It's rare to have the opportunity to compare in a short period two performances of the same major Schubert work, in this case the great B Flat Piano Trio, D. 898. The chance came May 12 when the Valley of the Moon Festival musicians played it in Schroeder, just over a month since the Hall’s residen...
Symphony
FERRANDIS BIDS ADIEU WITH MAHLER’S FINAL SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 06, 2018
Sonoma State students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the university’s stone gates on Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center, where Bruno Ferrandis bid adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the ...
Symphony
SONIC SPLENDOR AT MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
The Marin Symphony Orchestra ended the current season with a flourish, interpreting big and small works by Richard Strauss and Stravinsky. Strauss and Stravinsky were contemporaries for 40 years, but inhabited different worlds. Both composers were affected by cataclysmic changes and war, and musical...
Symphony
ORGAN SYMPHONY IN SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 29, 2018
Though Classical Sonoma seldom reviews student concerts, as ample North Coast concerts keep the staff of 11 reviewers busy. But the chance to hear the Sonoma State University Orchestra tackle St. Saëns’ majestic Organ Symphony April 29 was a rare opportunity and not easily to be missed. Avec l’...
Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now they seem to be on almost ever...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, September 30, 2017
Norman Gamboa, conductor

Conductor Norman Gamboa

DVORAK AND TCHAIKOVSKY ORCHESTRAL COLOR AT SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 30, 2017

A concert with curious repertoire and splashy orchestral color launched the 19th season of the Sonoma County Philharmonic Sept. 30 in Santa Rosa High School’s Auditorium.

Why curious? Conductor Norman Gamboa paired the ever-popular Dvorak and his rarely heard 1891 trilogy In Nature’s Realm, with the uncommonly heard first Symphony of Tchaikovsky. The G Minor Major Symphony doesn’t have quite the emotional impact and tight construction of the iconic Fourth, Fifth and Sixth symphonies, but the seeds of the composer’s greatness are everywhere to be heard in the early work from 1866 and revised in 1874 – stirring themes, virtuoso demands throughout each section, and at time volcanic climaxes. It’s long at 48 minutes but this performance was worth every second.

Mr. Gamboa made a number of decisions that served this florid music well. His tempos never were rushed, and he allowed soloists in several sections to continually shine. The Orchestra’s winds have been at the heart of memorable performances for years, and here oboists Kris Krive, clarinetist Nick Xenelis, flutists Debra Scheuerman and Martha Krones, and bassoonist Miranda Kincaid were sterling all evening. In this Symphony the composer used winds for much of the thematic statements, supported by the violins, and the themes from the principal wind players were achingly extravagant.

At the big climaxes that characterize Tchaikovsky (as with Sibelius and Shostakovich) Mr. Gamboa had his hands full keeping the instrumental choirs, especially the high strings, clear and distinct from low strings. He was largely successful, especially in the adagio cantabile second movement, where the flute and oboe duets were captivating.

In the scherzo the playing was brisk and colorful, with the composer’s mastery of pizzicato (brilliantly exploited later in his Fourth Symphony) piquant. A surprise came in the long introduction to the finale where the conductor drew extended phrases and deft rhythmic control from the Orchestra, making the transition to the magisterial allegro all the more striking and convincing. Here there were jolting echoes of Sibelius’ FInlandia (composed 34 years later!). The fugue textures were clear, again the product of virtuoso wind play and Mr. Gamboa’s attention to cutoffs, the many modulations and section balance.

A raucous ovation from the audience of 250 brought the conductor back for one curtain call, but oddly no individual player recognition was chosen.

The concert began with the three Dvorak overtures – In Nature’s Realm, Othello, and Carnaval. Only the last is frequently performed, and a chance to hear Othello was an unexpected treat. It was the most Wagnerian of the three with descending phrases and mysterious harmonies that Dvorak must have absorbed at Bayreuth. The Philharmonic’s playing caught the somber and nostalgic mood of the work, although fast descending runs in the violins were often blurred. An occasional nod to Bruckner’s music is in the Othello Overture.

In the first and third overtures contrast could not be starker. The bucolic Nature’s Realm was played as an awakening of ravishing outdoor sound, lovely and never so persistent to mar a joyous mood. Though often overly loud with ragged entrances, the music had a quaint ballet character that was irresistible, and Mr. Gamboa gave lots of rhythmic leeway to achieve his conception of Dvorak’s music stemming from Czech country tunes and dances. Clarinet and oboe playing was exemplary.

In the most “Dvorak” of the overtures the familiar Carnaval was appropriately blaring and rollicking. A third flute part was added to the mix, and flourishes from the augmented percussionists (cymbals, tambourine, triangle) gave spice to the rich sound. It’s a foot-tapping piece that exploits the brass and horns, and the Philharmonic seemed to enjoy playing the racy and heated music as much the audience did hearing it.

Verbal presentations before and during the concert underscored the Philharmonic’s community volunteer and connections, and augur well for the new season that will feature demanding Lutoslawski, Nielsen and Hindemith compositions. Clearly Mr. Gamboa is setting a high bar.