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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 / Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Hans Brightbill, cello

Cellist Hans Brightbill June 19 With the So Co Phil in the Teatro Nationál (Mary GG Photo)

!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 tenuous prospects. They hit the proverbial home run in a convincing gala performance in the capitol San José’s historic Teatro Nacionál on the third day of an epic week-long Orchestra tour.

Led by Costa Rica native Norman Gamboa, the So Co Phil was augmented by nine local musicians (advanced students and several instrumental teachers) that added to the old hall’s warm acoustics and sonic heft. With several layers of ornate box seats and short sight lines, the Teatro embraced a direct orotund sound with reverberation just under one second. Perfect for the works Mr. Gamboa chose and had been perfected in dedicated pre-trip rehearsals and sound checks.

Chief among the four programmed works was Elgar’s E Minor Cello Concerto, Op. 65, with So Co Phil principal Hans Brightbill as the soloist. Mr. Brightbill has played the work three times since January, and has persuasive ideas about it that began with a solemn introduction and laconic lyricism that in subtle ways dominated each of the four movements. E Major sunshine sporadically broke through the sad but never despairing themes, only to return finally to the Minor. The soloist’s low register warmth and steady control of tempo led into a perfectly gauged pizzicato reference to the first theme and the beguiling next allegro molto.

Improvisatory in design, this movement received the cellist’s deft flexibility of phrase, mimicking his interpretation in the June 15 Bon Voyage Santa Rosa concert where poignant control of soft passages could easily be heard over the Orchestra. Mr. Gamboa fashioned nobility in the sound but never allowed the pathos to diminish. The finale’s light and joyous sections were tempered by Mr. Brightbill’s artful echoes of tunes of the preceding movements.

This complex but elegant work from 1919 received a performance that seemed to be a summary of instrumental introspection and chaste virtuosity, and sensuous agreement of conductor and soloist. Mr. Brightbill brought his own special instrument for the tour, the same for some section players but local instruments were supplied for tympani, percussion, harp and double bass.

Following intermission Mr. Gamboa drew from the Orchestra the best playing I have yet heard of Frank La Rocca’s Crossing the Rubicon, a 1994 piece that had an extra measure of sonic “shimmer” than in past performances. I suspect the additional string weight and theater acoustics made a difference, and for the first time Christina Kopriva’s harp part could be clearly heard, along with solos from clarinetist Nick Xenelis and jazz riffs from Tom Hyde’s always sterling trumpet. The conductor crafted distinct references to Copland’s early 1940 ballet pieces, Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and Adams’ The Chairman Dances and Eldorado.

Completing the concert was the 1942 symphonic suite (arr. Robert Russell Bennett) from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The playing was a feast of dramatic orchestral color in 29 minutes, with pungent solo playing all around: Jocelyn McCord (marimba); Ms. Kopriva; Robby Morales (viola); Miranda Kinkaid (bassoon); Chris Krive (oboe); Debra Scheüerman (flute); Emily Reynolds (piccolo); Pam Otsuka (violin); Gary Anderson (cello); Mr. Hyde and Mr. Xenelis. In several dramatic passages Mr. Gamboa drove the forte sound to the point that it generated tremors in the wood flooring of the second tier box where I was sitting. Fidgety feet indeed. The famous “Bess, You Are My Woman Now” aria had a memorable performance, highlighted by Mr. Morales’ rich viola realization. Anthony Perry’s English horn solo, mysterious and luxurious, reminded me of a similar statement in the Prelude to the third act of Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. It was beautifully enigmatic. The Orchestra's three stellar saxophone players (Matthew Bringedahl and Jerome Flag, alto E Flat;Teresa Meikle-Griswold, tenor B Flat) added a unique sound that surprisingly blended well with the piquant Gershwin sonic texture. It was a fetching mix.

With such splashy orchestral playing an encore was demanded, and Mr. Gamboa complied with a strident and boisterous two-minute "Circus Galop" Sousa march. Percussion and cymbal effects slashed through the sprightly music, ending a special concert that saw the United States Ambassador to Costa Rica Sharon Day mount the stage to congratulate Mr. Gamboa and the Orchestra’s President David Poe.

In a musical gift to his native country, Mr. Gamboa programmed Costa Rican composer Julio Fonseca’s Suite Tropical: Fiesta Campestre, to open the concert. Somewhat of a specialty work for the conductor, as he learned the 12-minute Suite in his youth, he clearly relishes pushing the playing from all 12 brass/horn players to piercing levels. It’s that kind of piece, lavish with vivid effects and rhythmic sway, and Mr. Gamboa’s seasoned ensemble triumphed.

Two additional concerts in provincial cities are described in a separate article.