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MOVIE MUSIC ON THE WINDSOR GREEN IN SO CO PHIL SEASON OPENER
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 3, 2021
People approaching the Windsor Green bandstand Oct. 3 for the Sonoma County Philharmonic’s season opening concert had some cause for concern. After 18 months of silence would the all-volunteer orchestra have enough musicians for a big movie music program? After all, performers can move, retire, or
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY RETURNS IN TRIUMPH
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 3, 2021
It is often the case that a single piece or performer steals the show at a symphony concert, but at the Oct. 3 performance of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the show itself stole the show. The concert opened with a serene 1982 tone poem by Libby Larsen, followed by a masterful performance by soloist Julia
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TWO WIND SOLOISTS CHARM AT SSU ORCHESTRA CONCERT IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, September 26, 2021
The house of music has many rooms. That dusty adage was never truer than when Weill Hall Sept. 25 hosted a roaring New Orleans-style musical party, and less than a day later a mostly sedate Sonoma State University student orchestra performance. Before a crowd of 200 conductor Alexander Kahn led a
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SONIC CONTRASTS HIGHLIGHT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SPRING PROGRAM
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 25, 2021
In a curious mixture of compositions, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s penultimate virtual concert of the season April 25 unfolded in ways both highly satisfying and a bit perplexing. Directed by resident Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the event followed a familiar format – several contemporary wor
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY HITS THE SWEET SPOT
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Small orchestras can inhabit a sweet spot between chamber ensembles and full orchestras, but how well they hit that spot depends on the composer's orchestration and the players' ability to project. That dependence was on full display in the Santa Rosa Symphony's Feb. 28 concert, which featured three
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Sunday, May 5, 2019
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor. Alexander Toradze, piano

Pianist Alexander Toradze

ALEXANDER TORADZE DELIVERS A LESSON IN SERENITY

by Steve Osborn
Sunday, May 5, 2019

An entire concerto movement consisting of serene piano melodies over a soothing backdrop is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when seeing Shostakovich’s name on an orchestra program, but that’s exactly what pianist Alexander Toradze delivered--twice--at Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert, led by conductor emeritus Bruno Ferrandis.

The movement in question was the central Andante of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, a crystal-clear mountain lake perched between two torrential Allegros. The elfish Mr. Toradze, a last-minute substitute for an ailing Olga Kern, established a commanding presence in the opening bars of the first movement and never let go. Planted firmly on the bench and staring down at the keys, he projected well and generated lots of volume, aided by Ferrandis’s strong command of orchestral dynamics. Mr. Toradze’s runs up and down the keyboard were energetic and flawless, and he was wonderfully responsive to his fellow players.

Shostakovich wrote the concerto for his pianist son, and the first movement is a playful romp designed to show off the piano’s brilliance amid some inventive orchestration. The movement ended with wild applause followed by laughter as Toradze pretended to shake out his hands after their strenuous exertions. The laughter turned to pin-drop silence moments later as the orchestra established a lush background, followed by a series of magically suspended notes from the keyboard, a la Rachmaninoff. Mr. Toradze played his haunting melodies at the edge of audibility, floating above his accompaniment like a beneficent cloud. The end, when it came, was all too soon.

Mr. Toradze then segued effortlessly into the concerto’s sprightly finale. He replaced his languid sustains with a virtual perpetual motion machine, racing around the keyboard faster and faster until he achieved warp speed, bringing the orchestra along with him. A thrilling timpani flourish brought the proceedings to an end.

The raucous audience insisted on an encore, so Mr. Toradze asked which movement they would like to hear again. The consensus was for the second movement, even though some audience members lobbied for a complete repeat. The second time through was even better than the first. All you had to do was close your eyes and float away.

Before the Toradze fireworks, the Symphony set the mood for an afternoon of Russian music with a beguiling performance of Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique, an early work with several hints of the genius to come. One hint is the characteristic Stravinsky sound of sharply etched winds against a shimmering wave of strings. Others include persistent syncopation and unusual orchestration.

Despite these hints of greatness, the Scherzo lacks an overarching narrative to tie the diverse musical strands together. The orchestra played well, but the piece sounded episodic and at times meandering.

The Tchaikovsky symphony (No. 5) that ended the program was another story altogether. The clarinet duet that opened the first movement, followed by magisterial lines from the strings, announced the beginning of a long journey, one marked by hardship and emotional upheaval. Ferrandis was full of nervous energy as he exhorted the strings to apply more vibrato and the orchestra to intone more forcefully. The result was deeply expressive playing, as the band leaned into syncopations, crescendos and a long series of cadences. The repeated ascents and descents seemed to mirror Tchaikovsky’s fervid mental state, where moments of elation lead inexorably to precipitous declines.

The French horn solo at the beginning of the slow second movement was beautifully played by Caitlyn Smith Franklin. Her mellow, fluid and expressive sound led to an equally rich melody in the cellos. The drama continued as Mr. Ferrandis encouraged rhythmic flexibility in interpreting Tchaikovsky’s dramatic score. The strings spoke as one, but the mid-movement brass fanfare served as the emotional peak.

The famous waltz in the third movement carried listeners into more familiar Tchaikovsky territory, with one inventive dance after another marked by rapid handoffs between the orchestral sections. The strings kept up a furious pace, and the long bassoon solo by Carla Wilson helped tie the disparate elements together.

The tragic theme of the final movement is stated at the outset, and the rest of the piece attempts to turn that tragedy into triumph. The pace soon quickened, and the players once again launched into a series of cadences, each one marked by meteoric rises and rapid falls. Through it all, the orchestra played impeccably, transporting the listener on a rolling wave of sound. A frenzied ending, marked by blaring brass and thunderous timpani, led to a final statement that felt at once heroic and ambiguous.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]