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Chamber
NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom. The Aiken home vis...
Symphony
A HEALTHY MIX OF TRANSCRIPTIONS AND ORIGINALS FROM THE SR SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Transcriptions and ascending arpeggios were the order of the day on Jan. 24, as the Santa Rosa Symphony performed uplifting works by Bach/Webern, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Marianna Martínes and Mozart. The concert video was made in Weill Hall on Jan. 9. The first transcription was Webern’s 1935 renderi...
Symphony
HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020
December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the fea...
Symphony
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...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, December 13, 2020
Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor. Meredith Brown and Alex Camphouse, horn; Laura Reynolds and Jesse Barrett, oboe; Karen Shinozaki, violin

Conductor Franceso Lecce-Chong

HEROIC EFFORT FROM THE SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 13, 2020

December 13 was a rainy day, perfect for huddling indoors and watching a prerecorded “live” performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The program was expansive, with music from the 18th through 21st centuries, and the mood was festive, in keeping with the holiday season. There was something in the feast for everyone.

Fans of contemporary music got their share in the opening appetizer: “Source Code,” a piece for string orchestra (originally string quartet) by the contemporary Black composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery. The title refers to gospel music, which Montgomery’s program notes call “a significant part of the DNA of black folk music, and subsequently most American pop music forms that have developed to the present day.”

One strand of that DNA was evident from the opening blue notes that emerged from a single sustained tone. At first, the blue notes sounded vaguely Chinese, and a subsequent violin solo sounded almost like French impressionism; but the connection with spirituals was unmistakable once the orchestra got going. Different sections took turns playing the haunting melodies as the piece slowly grew in intensity, culminating in a long note at the end. It was a riveting performance.

Lighter fare ensued, in the form of a Vivaldi concerto for violin, two oboes and two horns, one of five that Vivaldi wrote for the same instrumentation. The wind soloists stood behind plexiglass at the back of the stage while Principal Second Violinist Karen Shinozaki Sor stood near her usual position in front of conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. The concerto was mostly standard Vivaldi, but there were a few surprises. The violin-oboe duet in the middle movement was outstanding, and the cello solo in the final movement was completely unexpected.

Sor and her colleagues – Laura Reynolds and Jesse Barrett on oboes; Meredith Brown and Alex Camphouse on horns — played exceptionally well, but most of the focus was on Ms. Sor, who articulated Vivaldi’s rapid-fire solos with near-perfect intonation and a ramrod-straight bow. She seemed quite relaxed, and the results were buoyant.

The feast continued with Ralph Vaughan Williams’“Fantasia on Greensleeves,” a holiday staple nearing its century mark. An amusing video featuring a howling dog and two of the Symphony’s violinists preceded the performance. The connection with Greensleeves was unclear, but there was no howling to be heard during the old English song’s tranquil four minutes.

The main course arrived in the second half with an impassioned rendition of Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony, his third. Mr. Lecce-Chong, conducting without a score, set a brisk tempo at the outset of the Allegro con brio opening movement and maintained it throughout. The playing was exemplary, with sparkling sforzandos, precise articulations and a propulsive rhythm. Everyone was in sync, and the orchestra’s sonic ascent near the end of the first movement was nothing short of thrilling.

The Marche funebre of the second movement unfurled in stark contrast to the Allegro of the first. The slow and deliberate pace conjured a sense of tragedy, heightened by the many plangent oboe solos from Ms. Reynolds. The strings accompanying her sounded almost as one, with near-perfect unison. The middle section offered a brief ray of sunshine before plunging back into the funereal depths.

After the burial, the orchestra launched into the third movement’s brilliant Scherzo. They played with urgency and insistence while keeping their dynamics fully under control. It was share and share alike as the motifs hopped from section to section, with a long and hushed expectancy leading to a strong ending.

The conductor opened the final Allegro molto movement at an even more blistering pace, with the brass shining forth. Much of the music in the movement derives from the four-note opening motif, which starts at the tonic, goes up a fifth to the dominant, down an octave to the lower dominant and back up to the tonic. Beethoven makes the motif hard to forget, continually returning to variations thereof and then to a magnificent fugue where the theme hopscotches around the orchestra. Mr. Lecce-Chong’s interpretation foregrounded the structure, with every note separated and clearly defined. The climax arrived when the entire first-violin section stood up to deliver a strident solo. It was an epic performance, with real drama and great musicality, capped off by a quicksilver sprint to the finish.

This was the Symphony’s third video concert, and the camerawork has steadily improved. The lighting was better than before, and the camera angles and movements more imaginative. Zooms were used to good effect, and occasional pans across the stage brought the orchestra together. The only glitch was that the cameras sometimes focused on musicians who weren’t playing and often missed important entries. That is sure to improve as the Symphony gets more used to its temporarily virtual existence.