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Ashen Community and Its Culture: Renewal!

By: , October 8, 2018 - Paul Hertelendy, Arts SF

The Phoenix of the Moment Leads the Way
Inspiration from the Santa Rosa Symphony is smoothing the long winding trek back to a vibrant life in fire-wracked Sonoma County.
Music’s healing force has been much needed, particularly for those imperiled symphony-goers who fled for their lives at 3 AM to escape the Tubbs wildfire and experienced destruction of  their dearest belongings. Some 40 died. To mark the one-year anniversary on the first weekend of October when the renewal concerts were held, all flags in the region flew at half-staff.
The phoenix of the moment was the new symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, whose concert a year ago was canceled by the chaotic fire devastation. His concert program now brimmed with hope: the great Brahms Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Fifth.
More than a concert, this was a catharsis.
The orchestra also commissioned a work to mark the renewal, Paul Dooley’s eloquent “Sonoma Strong.” It starts with silence, then strong wind sounds (via whirling flexible wind pipes) that few 2017 survivors will ever forget. Instruments in ones and twos enter in, leading to a web of reflection, consolation and aftermath serenity. The slow route back takes shape ever stronger, ever livelier, bursting forth with joyful runs on mallet instruments and surging full-force brass leading to an effusive finale. This work achieves for Dooley what “Egmont” achieved for Beethoven. It was a whole tone poem pressed into a concise and profoundly memorable  six minutes by the fortyish composer, a local figure now on the University of Michigan faculty.
If not obvious before, conductor Lecce-Chong’s success with this orchestra culminated in a brilliant Beethoven Fifth Symphony, itself a metaphor for triumph emerging from darkness. He made this highly motivated orchestra sound even better than it is, eliciting gorgeous woodwind ensembles and mellow cello-section sweeps of sound. Among the solos, it was hard to top the soulful oboe of Laura Reynolds.          
Lecce-Chong avoided the trap of the opening phrase doted on by oldtime maestros who turned a small but ever-growing di-di-di-dah phrase into thunderous “blows of fate” that Beethoven’s score never sought. He followed the score, even in that unharmonized strings-and-bass-notes dissonance opening the finale which doubtless sent early Viennese listeners right up the wall. The finale’s triumphal march  unfolded in all its major-key richness, the coda to a concert’s message of new spirit and new resolve.
On any other night, the French-born New York violin soloist Arnaud Sussman would have merited the headlines for his supremely polished Brahms Violin Concerto, lyrical to the core.
The concert opened with Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s “Celebration,” a brazen brassy curtain-raiser  built largely around a fast-repeated two-note phrase.
Lecce-Chong has emphasized adjusting musician deployment to produce optimum sound. He could well start with the kettle drums, which from their elevated site are loud enough to call forth the horse brigade.

MUSIC NOTES—The calm in the hall Oct. 7 belied the widespread trauma of a year earlier. Both the couple sitting next to us as well as Board Chair Jamei Haswell who made the concert introductions had had to flee ahead of their homes going up in smoke during the night.… Incoming Music Director Lecce-Chong, 31, will lead three of the seven concert sets this season.  

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