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Resident Orchestra at the Green Music Center

SRS @ Home - March 28

This concert is no longer available for public viewing on YouTube. For more information about the PBS television broadcast of this concert, please click here.

Season Subscribers please note: On March 31, you will received a special access link to watch the concert for up to 30 days.


This performance was recorded on March 20, 2021 at Weill Hall at the Green Music Center.

Conducted by Francesco Lecce-Chong
Artistic partner, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Zuill Bailey, cello

JESSIE MONTGOMERY: Starburst for String Orchestra
BARBER: Adagio for Strings
ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
CHARLES IVES: The Unanswered Question for Chamber Orchestra
BRAHMS: Serenade No. 2

March concert program book

Click here to download printable verison

The Extras

  • Pre-concert talk with Francesco, live on YouTube one hour prior to the concert.

  • During the concert, the camera crew take you closer than ever before to Francesco and the musicians, and orchestra members introduce the works. 

  • Stay tuned immediately after the performance for a Q & A with Francesco and SRS musicians.

Exclusive Symphony Season Ticket Subscriber Benefits!

To acknowledge the support of Symphony season subscribers, please read below for some new benefits, available only to you.

Only Season Ticket Subscribers will have the opportunity to re-watch the above virtual concerts, whenever they want, up to 30 days after the Live Stream dates on YouTube.

Only Season Ticket Subscribers will receive exclusive access to guest artist recitals and concert conversations with Francesco on YouTube.

Exclusive access link to view the 2012 historic Orchestral Opening concert of Weill Hall  Soon, all subscribers will receive an exclusive access link to watch the 2012 Orchestral Opening Concert of the Green Music Center on the Symphony’s YouTube Channel. This celebratory extravaganza featured Bruno Ferrandis and Corrick Brown conducting, plus Jeffrey Kahane performing on piano. The palpable excitement will move you to your feet. Relive that momentous event, or view it for the very first time. 

April 5, 2021 on YouTube—Symphony Season Subscriber Exclusive Access
Zuill Bailey, celloIn Recital and In Conversation with Francesco
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
ROBERT SCHUMANN: Träumerei [Dreaming] from Kinderszenen [Scenes from Childhood], Opus 15, No. 7
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Prélude from Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011 

Guest Artist Zuill Bailey underwritten by Jamei Haswell and Richard Grundy


Information for 2020-2021 Season Ticket Holders

We understand that you purchased tickets for live concerts, but we are very excited for you join us on this virtual journey, experiencing a season like no other. Your subscription tickets are your access to Santa Rosa Symphony orchestral virtual concerts, special virtual soloist recitals and more! If access to these virtual performances is not possible, the SRS kindly asks that you convert your tickets to a donation, before January 15, which will allow us to sustain our ability to bring great musical performances to our community and music education programs to 30,000 young people annually. Thank you for your support and commitment—we are truly grateful. Please contact SRS Patron Services at (707) 546-8742 or by email. Symphony staff, working from home, continue to monitor voicemails, email and mail.


Ways to Watch

SRS @ Home Series will be available to watch on YouTube. Visit our Ways to Watch page for specific guides for viewing on a variety of devices. We highly recommend doing all the prep work at least a few days in advance of the event or concert. That way, the day of, you'll be ready to watch. Click here for Ways to Watch.

Concert Sponsors

Classical Concert Series underwritten by Sara and Edward Kozel, in memory of Laura Tietz
SRS @ Home Series Lead Sponsor – Charles M. Schulz Museum, dedicated to the Peanuts Creator
SRS @ Home Series Supporting Sponsor – Victor and Karen Trione
SRS @ Home Series Supporting Sponsor – The Stare Foundation and David Stare of Dry Creek Vineyard
SRS @ Home Supporting Sponsor – County of Sonoma – Board of Supervisors
Concert Sponsor: Jim Lamb 
Guest Artist Zuill Bailey underwritten by Jamei Haswell and Richard Grundy                                                      
Conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong underwritten by David and Corinne Byrd
Pre-Concert Talks sponsored by Jamei Haswell and Richard Grundy
Media Sponsor: The Press Democrat


March 2021 Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz

Jessie Montgomery
Starburst for String Orchestra

Composer: Born December 8, 1981, New York City
Work composed: 2012 for the Sphinx Virtuosi
World premiere: September 2012 by the Sphinx Virtuosi at the New World Center in Miami, FL
Instrumentation: string orchestra (originally for string quartet)
Estimated duration: 3 minutes

In December 2020, the Santa Rosa Symphony presented acclaimed composer Jessie Montgomery’s Source Code (2013), an homage to the work of African American artists during the Civil Rights era. On this concert, we continue showcasing Montgomery’s innovative voice. Her work combines classical language with elements of vernacular music, improvisation, language and social justice. The resulting music has earned Montgomery rave reviews for her “vibrantly inventive original works for strings” ( and numerous awards, including the ASCAP Foundation’s Leonard Bernstein Award. Montgomery’s works are performed frequently around the world by leading musicians and ensembles.

Since 1999, Montgomery has been affiliated with The Sphinx Organization, which supports young African-American and Latinx string players. She currently serves as composer-in-residence for the Sphinx Virtuosi, the Organization’s flagship professional touring ensemble. She was a two-time laureate of the annual Sphinx Competition and was awarded a generous MPower grant to assist in the development of her 2016 debut album, Strum: Music for Strings (Azica). In 2019, the New York Philharmonic selected Montgomery as one of the featured composers for its Project 19, which marks the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote.

“This brief one-movement work for string orchestra is a play on imagery of rapidly changing musical colors,” Montgomery writes of Starburst. “Exploding gestures are juxtaposed with gentle, fleeting melodies in an attempt to create a multidimensional soundscape. A common definition of a starburst— ‘the rapid formation of large numbers of new stars in a galaxy at a rate high enough to alter the structure of the galaxy significantly’—lends itself almost literally to the nature of the performing ensemble who premiered the work, the Sphinx Virtuosi, and I wrote the piece with their dynamic in mind.”

Samuel Barber
Adagio for Strings, Opus 11
Composer: Born March 9, 1910, West Chester, PA; died January 23, 1981, New York City
Work composed: The Adagio for Strings was originally the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, which he composed in Europe in 1936. It was first performed on December 14 of that year in Rome. Two years later, Barber arranged it for string orchestra.
World premiere: Arturo Toscanini led the NBC Symphony in the orchestral version of the Adagio on November 5, 1938.
Instrumentation: string orchestra
Estimated duration: 7 minutes

Plato’s Republic, which concerns itself with the disposition of a “just society” and the education of its citizens, has a lot to say about music. Plato, speaking through Socrates, even goes so far as to suggest banning certain modes (scales) because their melancholy qualities trigger feelings of weakness in the listener.

Certainly Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, perhaps the most recognizable work written by an American classical composer, would be included in Plato’s list of objectionable music. Its ability to evoke profound sadness makes it what one broadcaster has called our “national funeral music.” Americans associate the Adagio with the deaths of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and the attacks on 9/11. Many also connect it with the Vietnam War, thanks to Oliver Stone’s 1986 film, Platoon, which featured the Adagio in its score. Plato, with his emphasis on reason over emotion, perhaps did not appreciate the cathartic role such music plays in assuaging grief, but there is little doubt Barber’s Adagio has both moved and comforted many in mourning.

The Adagio began as the second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor. Two years later, Barber arranged it for string orchestra and gave the score to Arturo Toscanini, in hopes that the conductor would perform it on the radio with the NBC Symphony. Twenty-eight-year-old Barber was a rising star, whose music had already attracted favorable notice, but he knew that Toscanini’s endorsement of his work would launch him onto the national stage. Biographer Barbara Heyman writes, “Toscanini’s broadcasts were generally regarded with almost religious reverence, but the ten o’clock broadcast on the evening of November 5, 1938, held additional significance, for it marked recognition by the Italian conductor that there was enough merit in works by an American composer to bring them to the attention of a national audience.”

In his later life, Barber regretted that so much of his musical reputation rested on the Adagio. According to scholar Thomas Lawson, in his book The Saddest Music Ever Written, “After the lament took musical wing in 1936, it became an emotional albatross from which he was never free … Barber even forbade the Adagio from being played at his funeral, so that at least in death he would be free of it.”

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra

Composer: Born April 30, 1939, Miami, FL
Work composed: Commissioned by the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. Dedicated to its music director, Sebrina María Alfonso, and cellist Zuill Bailey in 2019-2020.
World premiere: Alfonso led the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, with soloist Zuill Bailey, on March 5, 2020.
Instrumentation: solo cello, string orchestra
Estimated duration:  15 minutes
At a time when the musical offerings of the world are more varied than ever before, few composers have emerged with the unique personality of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Her music is widely known because it is performed, recorded, broadcast, and – above all – listened to and enjoyed by all sorts of audiences the world over.

Zwilich’s works include five symphonies and a string of concertos commissioned and performed by the nation’s top orchestras. In 1983, her Symphony No. 1 earned her the Pulitzer Prize, making Zwilich the first woman so honored. Among her many honors are membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

“One of the things I love about the cello,” says Zwilich, “is that it has virtually the entire range of the human voice – from the lowest male voice to the highest soprano (I particularly like its mezzo soprano). But I sometimes refer to string instruments as ‘singers on steroids’ because of the power they give to a composer to explore virtuosity as well as expressivity.

“My Cello Concerto engages both the lyrical, singing nature of the instrument and its technical possibilities. Throughout the piece, the orchestra plays a significant role with many interactions, including some unusual dialogues (e.g. between the cello and a trumpet).”

The concerto was commissioned by the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, and Zwilich notes that it is "dedicated to conductor Sebrina María Alfonso and cellist Zuill Bailey, and written in memory of [cellists] Leonard Rose and Mstislav Rostropovich.” 
Charles Ives
The Unanswered Question for Chamber Orchestra, S. 50
Composer: Born Oct. 20, 1874, Danbury, Conn.; died May 19, 1954, New York
Work composed: 1906, rev. c. 1930-5
World premiere: Theodore Bloomfield conducted a chamber orchestra of graduate students from The Juilliard School on May 11, 1946, in New York City.
Instrumentation: 4 flutes, trumpet and strings
Estimated duration: 6 minutes
Charles Ives wrote this existential music, subtitled “A Cosmic Landscape,” as a counterpart to another short instrumental work. Ives paired them as “1. A Contemplation of a Serious Matter” or “The Unanswered Perennial Question” and 2. “A Contemplation of Nothing Serious” or “Central Park in the Dark in ‘The Good Old Summer Time.’
Ives first sketched The Unanswered Question in 1906. When he returned to it in the 1930s, he revised the wind parts, changed the final note of the trumpet’s question and added an explanation to the score:
“The strings play ppp throughout with no change in tempo. They are to represent ‘The Silences of the Druids – Who Know, See, and Hear Nothing.’ The trumpet intones ‘The Perennial Question of Existence,’ and states it in the same tone of voice each time … the hunt for ‘The Invisible Answer,’ undertaken by the flutes and other human beings, becomes gradually more active … as the time goes on, [the flutes], after a ‘secret conference,’ seem to realize a futility, and begin to mock ‘The Question.’ After they disappear, ‘The Question’ is asked for the last time, and ‘The Silences’ are heard beyond in ‘Undisturbed Solitude.’”
The strings provide the harmonic underpinning by floating a series of slow-moving shimmering chords revealed rather than created. There is no traditional harmonic motion; in a manner that anticipates the minimalism of the 1970s and 1980s, the chords simply evolve seamlessly, with no linear directionality. Over the strings, a solo offstage trumpet intones a five-note question, haunting in both its simplicity and ambiguity. This question is repeated seven times; six of the “questions” trigger responses from a quartet of flutes. These responses range from a tentative restatement of the question to angry chatters and outbursts that seem to refute it. The final question receives no response; it simply floats in the air over the strings until all sound fades away into a cosmic silence.
Johannes Brahms
Serenade No. 2 in A major for Orchestra, Opus 16
Composer: Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg; died April 3, 1897, Vienna
Work composed: 1858-9
World premiere: Brahms conducted the first performance with the Hamburg Philharmonic Society on February 10, 1860
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, violas, cellos, and basses (no violins)
Estimated duration: 32 minutes
In 1857, a 23-year-old Johannes Brahms accepted an invitation to the tiny court of Lippe-Detmold. His duties included giving piano lessons to Princess Frederike, accompanying Prince Leopold II, leading the court choir, and giving concerts. From 1857-1860, Brahms spent each October through December at Detmold, where his relatively light work schedule and access to the court’s musicians gave him much-needed experience writing for a full orchestra.
Four years earlier, Robert Schumann “introduced” Brahms to the musical world via an article in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik about an unknown young genius from Hamburg who would take up where Beethoven left off. Schumann meant well, but Brahms felt this crushing weight of expectation all too keenly. “I shall never write a symphony!” Brahms declared. “You have no idea how it feels to hear behind you the tramp of a giant like Beethoven.”
During his time at Detmold, Brahms sidestepped the daunting prospect of a symphony with an ingenious alternative: orchestral serenades. Serenades, with their bucolic nature, multiple movements, and emphasis on lyrical, lighthearted melodies, provided an excellent opportunity to explore the sonic possibilities of a full orchestra without all the weighty compositional expectations attached to the writing of a symphony.
Brahms’ first orchestra serenade, in D major, was well received. For his second, Brahms made the interesting choice to omit violins from the string section. This decision places the winds in the forefront, while the strings take on a collaborative role. The resulting sound links the A major serenade directly with earlier chamber music serenades by Mendelssohn, Mozart, and others.
The Allegro moderato features clarinets and bassoons in graceful interplay. Brahms punctuates the liquid quality of his free-flowing melodies with a characteristic rhythmic gesture: triplets dueling with 2/4 meter.
The two dance movements offer interesting contrasts: a short, exuberant scherzo and a refined but oddly duple metered minuet (Minuets, predecessors of the waltz, are usually written in ¾ time). These two dances bracket the central movement, a lovely Adagio whose main theme Brahms sets to a series of gentle, almost poignant, variations. The concluding Rondo: Allegro rouses with the piercing sound of the piccolo. The music romps freely like an off-leash puppy; the late Michael Steinberg described this ebullient finale as “a happy cheerleader.”
© 2021 Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a writer and music historian based in the Portland area. She has been a program annotator for more than 20 years, and works with music festivals and ensembles around the country. Ms. Schwartz has also contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today” (now heard on American Public Media).
NOTE: These program notes are for Santa Rosa Symphony patrons and other interested readers. Any other use is forbidden without specific permission from the author, who may be contacted at


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