"My name is David, and I'm going to be your conductor for this evening." With that corny but amusing opening line, guest conductor David Robertson introduced himself and the San Francisco Symphony to a less than full house at the Green Music Center on May 23. It was hard to understand why the place wasn't packed. The soloist, Marc-Andre Hamelin, is one of the top pianists in the world, and the program featured Gershwin's ever-popular "Rhapsody in Blue," along with two crowd-pleasers from Ravel: ... more
The Santa Rosa Symphony capped off its first year in the resplendent Green Music Center with an impassioned performance of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, widely regarded as his masterpiece in the genre. Every section of the orchestra, from the lowest bass to the most stratospheric piccolo, played to the max, producing a lush, dense sound that filled the GMC's nearly full Weill Hall almost to bursting point.
The Shostakovich was a highlight of the season, matching or exceeding memorable ... more
Since the conclusion of his decade-long tenure with the Santa Rosa Symphony in 2006, conductor laureate Jeffrey Kahane has traveled widely, but he has often circled back to Sonoma County as a piano soloist. On Saturday evening, April 27, he upped the ante by not only bringing his prodigious keyboard talents back to the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, but also his own ensemble, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
A chamber orchestra in name only, LACO generates a powerful sound, which... more
Born in Siberia in 1971, violinist Vadim Repin is as Russian as they come, but he played nary a note of Russian music in his April 7 recital at the Green Music Center's Weill Hall. The closest he got was the last movement of the Janacek violin sonata, which celebrates the triumphal entry of Russian troops into Moravia during World War I. The other sonatas on his wide-ranging program--by Brahms, Grieg and Ravel--were far removed from any Russian influence.
The title of the Santa Rosa Symphony's March 16 concert was "Sweeping Emotions," but no brooms were in evidence, nor did the Symphony play "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," the canonic broom piece, thanks to Disney’s iconic film "Fantasia." Instead of brooms, they offered cellist Zuill Bailey, whose mop of thick black hair might have qualified as a broom, although the rest of his frame would never be mistaken for a ramrod-straight broomstick. Indeed, there was nothing rigid whatsoever about his appro... more
The Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 is famous for beginning with a piano solo rather than the usual orchestral introduction. To use a literary term, it begins "in media res"--in the middle of things.
My experience of the San Francisco Symphony concert at the Green Music Center on March 7 likewise began "in media res," thanks to its poorly designed parking lot and the long line of people waiting to get in. The upshot was that I missed about half the opening work: "Drift and Providence," b... more
Santa Rosa has been blessed with three superlative chamber music concerts during the past month, beginning with the Calder String Quartet in late January, followed by the Alexander String Quartet with violist Toby Appel in early February, and culminating with the Parker String Quartet one day after Valentine's Day. Choosing among the three ensembles is a difficult task, but I think the gold would ultimately go to the Parker, which proved itself capable of playing even the most difficult music wi... more
At symphony concerts, soloists need to be both sonically and visually distinctive. For the latter requirement, what better way to sail above a sea of black-jacketed players than to don a jaunty white blazer with black lapels and a black bowtie? That was the approach soloist Roy Zajac took in a memorable Feb. 9 performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony.
By wearing his trademark "Za-jacket,"ť Zajac established his distinction before even playing a note. When... more
Under a full moon on Saturday, Jan. 26, before playing what he confidently predicted would be the first encore of the evening, cellist Yo Yo Ma paused to tell the overflow crowd at Weill Hall that they had “an unbelievable music room.” His choice of words is apt, because the magnificent space at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park has both the grandeur of a symphony hall and the intimacy of a living room, at least from a sonic perspective. From the back of the hall, every note that Ma played ... more
For its Dec. 3 “Titans of Opera” concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, the Santa Rosa Symphony assembled a titanic cast of players, including a full orchestra, an additional contingent of brass, woodwind and student players, an 80-voice chorus, and two soloists. The concert was long and the pieces many, but in the end, a solitary musician stole the show: the rising American soprano Christina Major.
If your name is your destiny, this powerful singer will have a major career.... more
For the long-suffering patrons of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the acoustics at the new Green Music Center have come as a true revelation. To be fair, the Symphony’s former venue — the Wells Fargo Center — was never intended as a concert hall. It began life as a New Age church, complete with low ceilings, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a sound system designed for uplifting sermons and Christian rock. To hear the Symphony play there was like observing it at the bottom of an elevator shaft and contenting... more
With a name like the Modigliani Quartet, you might expect the players to be long-necked Parisians, fitting subjects for portraits by that early 20th-century master — and you wouldn’t be far wrong. The players are indeed Parisian, but the long necks belong to their instruments, which might as well be bodily appendages. Rarely do you see chamber musicians so closely wedded to the tools of their trade.
One reason they hold their fiddles so tight might have to do with their provenance. They... more
For the Santa Rosa Symphony’s first-ever subscription concert in the Green Music Center Oct. 6, Bruno Ferrandis chose three works with the potential to show off the center’s vaunted acoustics. All three--Mozart’s overture to “The Magic Flute,” Mahler’s first symphony, and a world premiere by composer-in-residence Edmund Campion--feature brass and percussion, along with a dynamic range that starts below pianissimo and builds to triple forte.
By and large, the acoustics matched the promis... more
Before the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural concert in the new Green Music Center on Sept. 30, the audience was warned that there would be lots of opportunities for applause, but that didn’t stop them from delivering repeated ovations throughout the blazing Indian Summer afternoon. The first came before a note had been played, when Don Green was introduced. Without him there would be no Green Music Center, and the full house rose applauding to acknowledge his presence at the back of the hall.
The Santa Rosa Symphony bid adieu to the much-maligned Wells Fargo Center on May 14 with a mostly French program that showcased the talents of its French conductor, Bruno Ferrandis, and his equally French younger brother, the flute soloist Jean Ferrandis. This Castor and Pollux of the musical firmament shone brightly on the full house, which rewarded their luminescence with repeated standing ovations.
The evening began with some obligatory thank yous from executive director Alan Silow t... more
Movies have subtitles and operas have supertitles, but the Borromeo String Quartet has metatitles--titles so substantial that they replicate the entire performance, just within sight of the actual performers. Instead of words, the “metatitles” (i.e., the musical score projected on a screen) contain the actual notes the musicians are playing, allowing music readers to “follow along in the score” as the performance unfolds.
Following along in the score is something that music aficionados ... more
After a lifetime of concert going, I have to confess that I’ve never witnessed a French horn concerto in the flesh, although I’ve heard plenty of recordings by Barry Tuckwell and other French horn virtuosi. My normal experience of French horns is to observe them sitting in the back of the orchestra, occasionally tooting away. It was thus something of a revelation to see French hornist Darby Hinshaw, an erstwhile member of the Santa Rosa Symphony, stride before that ensemble last Saturday night a... more
On a day when several uncontrollable elements--lousy weather, football playoffs, hospital construction--conspired against them, guest conductor/pianist Jeffrey Kahane and the Santa Rosa Symphony packed the Wells Fargo Center by excelling at the one element firmly under their control: great music making. Kahane in particular had a fantastic day, returning in triumph to the orchestra he led for a decade, playing his heart out for a Mozart concerto, and reconnecting with musicians who clearly enjoy... more
Near the end of its Dec. 12 performance of the Brahms Requiem, a soprano in the Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir collapsed at the back of the stage, perhaps from excessive heat or lack of air. The incident wasn't surprising, since more than 100 singers were crammed shoulder to shoulder in the limited space. What was surprising was that the singers were able to project a unified sound, given that the assembled multitude was actually composed of four choirs, ranging from the Santa Rosa High School ... more
Where were you at 22? Just graduating from college and trying to find a job? Contemplating a trip around the world to discover yourself? Writing musical masterpieces that would endure for more than 300 years and counting?
If you’re Johann Sebastian Bach or Georg Friedrich Händel, the answers are no, no and yes. Born in the same year (1685) just 125 miles apart, their musical skills were such that both had obtained secure posts by the age of 22 and were already composing enduring works t... more
“Is this my time to be alive and free?” That was the first intelligible question posed by soprano Marie Plette in her impassioned but often incomprehensible rendition of "The Promise of Time," a new song cycle by contemporary composer David Carlson. The work, part of the Magnum Opus project for new music, was performed Saturday by the Santa Rosa Symphony in a concert that also featured standard repertoire by Jean Sibelius: the Violin Concerto (with soloist Tedi Papavrami) and the Symphony No. 5.... more
At 31, Alondra de la Parra is a conductor of immense promise, destined to lead a major orchestra — but first she has to work her way up through the minor leagues. Fortunately for Napa County, she made a brief stop Sunday with the Napa Valley Symphony, and the results were gratifying.
The concert took place at the recently restored, 1950s-era Lincoln Theater in Yountville, home to the French Laundry and other avatars of gastronomic and oenophilic excess. The local industry is much in evi... more
Jon Nakamatsu has small hands but a big heart. That anatomic mismatch was abundantly evident during his appearance with the Santa Rosa Symphony on May 7, which featured a swoon-inducing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s canonic first piano concerto. From the familiar opening to the thrilling conclusion, the petite Nakamatsu held the audience in thrall, as much by his prodigious technique as his elegant phrasing.
He began lightly, playing the opening chords with little sustain and zero bombast.... more
How many performances of the Jupiter Symphony does it take to turn on a light bulb above the head of attentive listeners? In the case of the Santa Rosa Symphony, only one. Despite a few minor flaws, their rendition of this beloved classic on Feb. 12 was incandescent, glowing with the warm light that Mozart sheds over Earth and other planets.
With his precise style and brisk tempos, Bruno Ferrandis is a natural Mozart conductor. Glancing only occasionally at a diminutive pocket score, he... more
Playing a requiem is a strange way to celebrate the holidays. At a time when people are looking for a bit of cheer, the Santa Rosa Symphony took the opposite approach for its Dec. 4 concert, offering not only the Fauré Requiem, but also the world premiere of Aubert Lemeland’s “Battle Pieces,” inspired by soldiers’ poems about death. Sandwiched between these two was the somewhat more festive Gloria by Francis Poulenc.
Regardless of the season, the Fauré Requiem was the highlight of the s... more
The Santa Rosa Symphony consists of about six dozen talented musicians, but during their Nov. 6 performance at the Wells Fargo Center, piano soloist Valentina Lisitsa completely stole the show. This thirty-something, blond-haired, steely-fingered Ukrainian-American is beyond talented. Her technical virtuosity easily matches any pianist of her generation, and her musicality is out of this world.
The Symphony, under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, set the stage for Lisitsa with a spirited... more
Chamber music ensembles come and go, sometimes in their entirety, sometimes player by player. When a first violinist leaves a string quartet, for example, the group either dissolves or scrambles to find a replacement. Rarely, however, do two players leave at once, but such is the case with the Czech Republic’s two-decade-old Skampa String Quartet, which appeared for its concert in Occidental on Oct. 23 boasting not one but two new violinists since its last appearance in Sonoma County two years a... more
For the opening set of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 2010-11 season, Music Director Bruno Ferrandis chose four Italian works, perhaps in acknowledgement of that culture’s immense influence on musical history.
The concert began promisingly with a fine rendition of Verdi’s overture to the opera “La Forza del Destino.” The Symphony, augmented by about a dozen players from the Youth Orchestra, played with conviction and solidity. Ferrandis sustained the rhythmic drive throughout, and the brass ... more
Patrons returning for the second half of Monday night’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert witnessed the unusual sight of five microphones: one to the left of the conductor’s podium, next to a black stool, and four to the right, with accompanying chairs. The stool and chairs were soon occupied, respectively, by vocal soloist Ute Lemper and the male vocal ensemble Hudson Shad.
These peculiar forces and accoutrements had been assembled by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis for Kurt Weill’s Seven ... more
For its program at Santa Rosa’s Newman Auditorium on April 16, the Amelia Trio opted for three unknown piano trios by known composers: Debussy, Bernstein and Chopin. All three trios are the works of teenagers, composed around the ages of 18 (Debussy), 19 (Bernstein) and 18 (Chopin). Although they all qualify as juvenilia, each trio already contains many elements of the composer’s characteristic style.
Those characteristics were evident during the opening bars of the Debussy, which were ... more
In the old days, barbers were also surgeons, as adept with a scalpel as a razor, their red-and-white barber pole an emblem of both surgery (red) and hair-cutting (white). At its Jan. 23 concert, the well-coiffed Santa Rosa Symphony enacted this dual role, offering both some serious blood (from a real Barber) and an bit of hair-trimming (from Carter, Corigliano and Copland).
First to the Barber blood, which was last on the program but well worth the wait. For many classical listeners, Sa... more
In a 1778 letter to his father, Mozart observed, “It is far easier to play a thing quickly than slowly.” The truth of Mozart’s observation has been borne out repeatedly in the intervening centuries, as virtuosos of all stripes have sought to dazzle their audiences with high-speed prestidigitation, often at the expense of musical beauty.
Not so with cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Kirill Gerstein, who bewitched a capacity crowd at Santa Rosa’s Newman Auditorium Jan. 8 with a re... more
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been played repeatedly in Sonoma County during the past decade, beginning with a memorable performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony under Jeffrey Kahane in the aftermath of 9/11. That event was so successful that several other renditions followed, including one in the Sonoma State University gym. The culmination, however, arrived at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, with a spine-tingling presentation by the Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.
On reading the score of Antonín Dvořák’s magnificent Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104, Dvořák's mentor Brahms is reputed to have said, “Why on earth didn’t I know that one could write a cello concerto like this? If I had only known, I would have written one long ago!”
What Dvořák knew was that the cello could be a soaring solo instrument, on a par with the violin, if placed in the proper orchestral context. With its low register, a solo cello is often in danger of being... more
Rach 3 scored a 10/10 at the Santa Rosa Symphony season opener on 10/10, and will presumably do the same on 10/11 and 10/12. The first 10 (for style) goes to Jeffrey Kahane, who infused Rachmaninoff’s late-Romantic masterpiece with thoroughly modern passion and drive. The second 10 (for technical difficulty) goes to Bruno Ferrandis and his attentive musicians, who provided the perfect foil for Kahane’s pyrotechnics.
The highly anticipated performance of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concer... more
The Numina concert in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation Aug. 23 was billed as “An Artful Afternoon,” and it was certainly full of art. Canvases by the venerable Boris Ilyn filled the north wall of Farlander Hall, and musical art of many eras—Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern—emanated from a performance space along the windowed east, with its view of the church’s cloister. The only distraction was the relentless hum of a refrigerator from the kitchen, tempered somewhat by the post-concer... more
Olivier Messiaen’s 10-movement Turangalîla-Symphonie is rarely performed because of its length (about an hour and a quarter) and its unusual instrumentation (the score calls for ondes martenot, vibraphone, and glockenspiel, among many other instruments). The double whammy makes performances of this 20th-century masterpiece hard to find — and fund.
For the second half of its May 16 concert, the Santa Rosa Symphony tried to solve the Turangalîla problem by performing only t... more
A ballet suite is not a symphony, but don’t tell that to Bruno Ferrandis. Throwing caution to the winds, Maestro Ferrandis programmed not one but two ballet suites for the April 19 concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony, opening with selections from Aram Khachaturian’s Gayane and devoting the entire second half to a suite of suites from Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella. Only an obscure, two-movement cello concerto by Nikolai Miaskovsky broke the long string of dance numbers.
Franz Joseph Haydn was not quite as prolific with masses as with symphonies, but he did he write 14 of the former nonetheless. For their annual Good Friday concert on April 10, the St. Cecilia Choir joined forces with Cantiamo, the Incarnation Orchestra, four soloists and conductor J. Karla Lemon to perform No. 12, the Theresienmesse, in the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa.
The crowded conditions around the altar were more than reflected in the church itself, where ushers... more
In his March 19 recital at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley, pianist Murray Perahia played the three Bs — Bach, Beethoven and Brahms — with a Schubert encore at the end supplying the plural S. His program ranged from the high Baroque (Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor) to the late Classical (Beethoven’s “Pastorale” Sonata, Op. 28) to the full-blown Romantic (Brahms’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel,” a work that embodies the radical transformation of musical style from the 18th to 19th ... more
Symphony programs often resemble three-ring circuses, organized in time rather than space. In the first ring, the symphony offers an overture or similar fare to whet your aural appetite. Then, in the center ring, comes the main attraction, usually a soloist displaying his chops in a concerto or other showpiece. The final ring is reserved for a symphony or other lengthy work that exhibits the orchestra in its full glory.
The Santa Rosa Symphony’s program on Feb. 21 at the Wells Fargo Cen... more
Before the Santa Rosa Symphony began its concert Saturday, the public-address announcer said there would be a short presentation on behalf of the Youth Orchestra. A tall, red-headed young woman then rose from the concertmaster’s chair and offered an exquisite reading of a brief, unidentified Romantic violin solo. After the applause, the Youth Orchestra manager strode to the stage, identified the soloist as the orchestra’s concertmistress, and informed the audience that the ensemble was only $10,... more
Every string quartet has to start somewhere. For the Afiara String Quartet, that somewhere includes the Occidental Community Church, where they performed on Jan. 17.
The Afiara is quite young and relatively new, having formed at the San Francisco Conservatory in 2006. Blessed with impeccable academic credentials, they are currently teaching assistants to the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco State University.
Whether the Afiara’s credentials translate into solid music-m... more
In the publicity photo for his solo appearances with the Santa Rosa Symphony, violinist Gilles Apap is shown holding his instrument sideways, with the F-holes facing out and his goateed chin resting on the bottom edge, far from the actual chin rest. One assumes that the photo captures him in a moment of repose or contemplation, since playing the violin in such an awkward position would be virtually impossible. Impossible, it turns out, for anyone but Apap, who really does play his violin sideway... more
Shortly after taking the stage at the Occidental Community Church on Oct. 18, Gertrud Weinmeister, the violist of the Hugo Wolf Quartet, observed that Sonoma County resembles Vienna in its profusion of hillside vineyards. She further noted that all three composers on the Vienna-based ensemble’s program — Haydn, Schubert and Berg — were wine lovers.
Music and wine have a lot in common. Most fundamentally, both transform reality for a finite amount of time: music for as long the song endu... more
An old joke observes that a string quartet consists of a good violinist, a bad violinist, an ex-violinist (the violist) and someone who hates violinists (the cellist). While the last two characterizations may still hold true, it’s getting harder and harder to tell the violins apart. For the second concert in a row at the Russian River Chamber Music series, the violinists switched chairs midway through the performance.
For last month’s concert by the Rossetti String Quartet, the violin ... more
Inspiration is hard to come by. Abundant proof of that truism was in evidence at the Rossetti String Quartet performance in Healdsburg on Sept. 5, as part of the Russian River Chamber Music (RRCM) series. This talented and accomplished foursome—one of hundreds of such groups currently performing—showed occasional flashes of brilliance but mostly settled for the ordinary.
String quartets are flourishing these days. There are more than a dozen professional quartets in California alone, in... more
In newspaper ads touting his appearances with the Santa Rosa Symphony, Christopher O'Riley wore a black T-shirt, the better to show off a massive henna tattoo running the length of his arm, right down to the ends of his fingers. In his April 12 concert, the tattoo was no longer in evidence, but he did manage to tattoo the symphony's resident Steinway with some of the richest sounds to emerge from that instrument in a long time.
Clad in a knee-length black coat, O'Riley got right to work... more
The March 1 concert by the Jupiter String Quartet and clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester at the Occidental Community Church drew a remarkable crowd--not in terms of numbers (the concerts there are often sold out), but rather in terms of age. After squeezing into one of the few remaining pew seats, I looked around and beheld crowds of young faces, perhaps a third of the audience. This was not your usual chamber music crowd; nor is the Jupiter String Quartet your usual chamber music ensemble.
The Borromean Islands consist of three small islands and two islets in Lake Maggiore, near the town of Stresa, in northern Italy. In this beautiful location almost 20 years ago, four young musicians from the Curtis Institute decided to form a string quartet. They settled on the serendipitous name of Borromeo, a reference not only to the islands but also to the illustrious Italian family that has owned most of the outcroppings since the fourteenth century.
The Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Feb. 18 featured gifted local players, an internationally recognized soloist, and a superb conductor; but the real star was the sea, as evoked in a memorable performance of Debussy's "La Mer." The other works on the program (by Dutilleux, Beethoven and Fauré) paled in comparison to this French impressionist masterpiece.
The evening began not with music but with an evident change in the string sections. With the exception of concertmaster Joseph Edelbe... more
In pursuit of the dragon Fafner, the mythical hero Siegfried pauses to hear the forest murmur, tries to imitate a bird, gives up, gets hold of a fiddle instead, plays until the moon rises, then buckles himself to the dragon's tail for a wild ride through the firmament. That, more or less, was the synopsis for the Santa Rosa Symphony's Jan. 28 concert at the Wells Fargo Center.
Although the symphony played four diverse pieces from three different centuries, including the present one, th... more
Between Beethoven and Brahms lurks--Onute Narbutaite. At least that's the version of music history proposed by the Vilnius String Quartet at their sold-out concert in the Occidental Community Church on Jan. 19. One hears Beethoven and Brahms all the time, but Narbutaite--a contemporary female Lithuanian composer--is a rarity in American concert halls. If the performance by her fellow Lithuanians is any indication, she deserves more frequent hearing.
Lang Lang. San Francisco Symphony. Carnegie Hall. Those were the three big names on the lips of speakers at a donor gathering in the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University on New Year’s Day. The upshot was that all three big names will be involved with the upcoming season in the new facility, beginning with a Sept. 29 appearance by Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang. The San Franciscans, led by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, will follow soon thereafter, with four subscription concerts ... more
Note: The following presentation was made prior to a performance of the Debussy string quartet at the Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa on July 26, 2009.
Good afternoon, and welcome to the Charles M. Schulz Museum. My name is Steve Osborn, and I’m the violist for the Felix String Quartet, which includes John Thompson on first violin, Diane Peterson on second, and Michael Fecskes on cello. We’re all local musicians with day jobs. We get together about once a week to play string q... more
The enjoyment of chamber music depends heavily on the acoustic friendliness of the spaces in which the music is performed. A bad acoustic can slam the lid on an otherwise great concert, muffling sound in a virtual coffin. Although Sonoma County has more than its fair share of acoustically dead halls—led by the notorious Wells Fargo Center and the lamentable Jackson Theater—there are a few bright spots, several of which are offering great chamber music programs this fall.