Santa Rosa Symphony Logo


2020 - 2021 Season

May 28, 2021: Santa Rosa Symphony's virtual 2020-21 season full of highs lows silver linings

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, May 28, 2021

When the Santa Rosa Symphony made the risky decision in May 2020 to go on with the show for the 2020-21 season — virtually, with a downsized orchestra of no more than 32 players at a time and an all-new repertoire — no one really knew how it would turn out.
With the string players spaced 6 feet apart and the woodwinds surrounded by Plexiglas boxes, would they even be able to hear each other?
How would the orchestra survive financially with each streamed concert offered for free and only subscriptions renewed in advance supplying revenue for concerts?

Read on.

May 14, 2021: Redwood Violin debuts with student orchestra

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, May 14, 2021

When the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra presents their prerecorded virtual concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, there will be lots of unusual music on the program by little-known composers, including a woman contemporary of Mozart’s, two Black composers and an arrangement of Scott Joplin’s last published work, “Magnetic Rag.”

But a unique piece will highlight a trio of local talents, brought together by serendipity, for the debut performance of the Redwood Violin, a one-of-a-kind fiddle created by luthier Andrew Carruthers of Santa Rosa.

Through the curves and acoustics of the Redwood Violin, Carruthers has tried to paint a portrait of Sonoma County, paying tribute to its redwood forests and apple orchards, its talented artists and crafts people. His vision for the instrument is to embody the principles of the Go Local movement, with as much of it as possible made either by himself or another local artist, from local materials.

“It’s a way to show, especially in this pandemic, that you don’t need all this exterior commerce,” he said. “The only non-local things are the strings and the steel for a few metal parts. Everything else grew out of the ground right here. That’s kind of an amazing thought.”

Although he normally sells his hand-carved instruments to serious music students across the country, the internationally known luthier decided to use the Redwood Violin to promote local music education programs, such as the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education, the umbrella organization of the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra.

Aaron Westman, music director for the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, served as the glue that joined the three collaborators: luthier, violinist and composer. In the video recording of the concert, the Redwood Violin is played by the orchestra’s gifted co-concertmaster, Aeden Seaver of Petaluma, who is premiering a short but alluring work by the orchestra’s 17-year-old cellist, Gwendolyn Thalia Przyjazna of Cotati.

It doesn’t get much more local than that.

Przyjazna’s spirited and energetic piece, Concertina for Violin and Strings, is just 4 minutes long but covers a lot of emotional ground, from the strings’ quiet chorale in the beginning to the entrance of the violin, which climbs into the upper register for a brief climax, then settles back down. The piece ends with a wistful, dreamy chord. The performance marks the first time Przyjazna will have a work she’s composed performed in public.

“It ends in a really reflective mood,” Przyjazna said. “The last chord says, ‘I’m glad this happened, but I’m a little sad that it’s over now.’”

Westman was pleasantly surprised by the resulting recording.

“There are a couple of moments that gave me goose bumps,” he said. “To see all these pieces come together this year, when we couldn’t even play a live concert … the kids are really inspiring.”

A “soaring, ecstatic melody”
When she started writing the piece back in April 2020, initially for viola and piano, Przyjazna was feeling nostalgic for her life before the pandemic. Making and writing music helped her cope with the emotional toll of the past year.

“One morning, I just woke up and I had a soaring, ecstatic melody in my head,” she said. “The piece is optimistic and strong and speaks to the fact that I never stopped creating music.”

Przyjazna wrote most of the piece in one morning, she said. She added the violin cadenza after Westman asked her to arrange it for the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, which is made up of violins, violas, cellos and bass.

“I think arranging it was actually harder than writing the original,” she said. “Suddenly I had five different instruments instead of just piano to write for, and I learned I can’t translate every note directly.”

A season like no other
When the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra started meeting last October, Credo High School junior Aeden Seaver had returned to the group after taking a break.

Even before the Redwood Violin entered the picture, Westman said he already had Seaver in mind as the soloist for Przyjazna’s piece.

“He’s very expressive and physically a great violinist,” Westman said. “He gets a big, bold, bright sound. He reminds me of a professional colleague of mine who is a wonderful, natural musician.”

Seaver started playing the violin at age 6 and has performed with various Santa Rosa Symphony youth orchestras since he was 11. After taking an American Music class at Credo High, he has also started to play jazz, blues and rock on his acoustic and electric violins. He also busks on the sidewalks of downtown Petaluma with a friend who plays the flute.

“I like the role that music and the violin play in my life,” he said. “It’s good stress relief … and I like playing with my friends in different groups.”

Both Seaver and Przyjazna went to Carruthers’ studio on April 9 for the handoff of the Redwood Violin, which by then had all of its finishing touches, including pegs made by wood turner Kalia Kliban of Sebastopol and a bridge cut by Mick Loveland of Loveland Violin Shop in Santa Rosa.

Seaver was able to practice on the new instrument for 10 days before debuting it in a recording session on April 19 at the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma.

“From what I could hear, it really sounded so professional, even thought it wasn’t made from the ‘best’ materials around the world,” Seaver said. “It was bright and clear compared to my instrument and had less background noise and more potential for the actual playing to come through.”

Carruthers, who was initially afraid the violin would not be up to snuff, said he was happy it turned out as well as any of his other string instruments, which have been sourced from traditional materials from around the world
“I’m known for making instruments with clarity and balance,” he said. “It’s a Stradivari model, basically, and it has the characteristics of my version of that model.”

“Underrepresented … and great!”
For the concert this weekend, the roughly 15 members of the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra will be talking live on Zoom, introducing each piece in the program, which they prerecorded in April.

“I will talk a little at the beginning, and at some point we will introduce the Redwood Violin,” Westman said. “And I will record a video with Andy, and we will talk about our original conversation, when we said ‘Let’s make this happen.’”

In summer of 2020, Westman first met with Carruthers to chat about another project. During that meeting, the luthier shared his dream of making a violin out of only locally sourced materials and using it to bring the community together. Westman was immediately supportive.

“Since the 16th century, instrument makers have been sourcing the best materials from around the world,” Westman said. “That has always been the thing. … I just thought that it was an awesome idea and so unusual (to make an all-local violin).”

Westman brought the idea of the Redwood Violin to the education department of the Santa Rosa Symphony, and everybody loved it. So Westman held his first meeting of the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra outdoors last fall at the luthier’s studio.

“I thought, ‘Let’s kick this off and introduce the kids to the concept and give them some background on violin-making,’” Westman said. “Then we rehearsed in his backyard.”

Getting the support of the Santa Rosa Symphony was a key factor in motivating Carruthers to dig in and start the daunting project. He started carving out the back, front and sides of the violin in January 2021. Over the course of the next few months, he spent nearly an equal amount of time documenting the project in writing and in videos he learned how to make and edit.

“It helped a lot just to have an establishment, like the orchestra, embrace the idea,” Carruthers said. “And it made a focus for the story as well. This whole thing is partly the violin, but it’s mostly about the story.”
The streaming concert on Saturday evening will feature works that the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra has been rehearsing all year, but it’s not a run-of-the-mill repertoire. Westman wanted his players to be exposed to music from relatively obscure composers from a diverse background, hence the concert’s title, “Underrepresented … and great!”

“We play so little of the music that’s ever been written, just a tiny percentage of that,” Westman said. “We miss out on variety and diversity when we are in that mentality that great and perfect music is the best.”

For the program, Seaver recorded another violin solo, “Mother and Child” by William Grant Still, a well-known Black American composer of the 20th century. For this piece, the violinist will play his own instrument.

Another work, a keyboard concerto by Mozart’s contemporary Marianne von Martinez, will feature a guest appearance by Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong on the harpsichord.

Lecce-Chong said he’s excited about the Redwood Violin project and is following it as it develops alongside the symphony’s youth programs. But he also plans to include the Redwood Violin in the Santa Rosa Symphony’s programming next season.

“It’s a wonderful, local story,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that pass by.”

Meanwhile, Carruthers is updating his website to reflect the transition from “Made Local” to “Played Local.” He is lending the violin out to any local musician who would like to play on it, provided they can produce a video of their performance that he will post.

“I’m going to loan it out and get as much creative things happening around it as possible and hopefully collaborations with other people,” he said. “I want all genres and all abilities. I really want to encourage people about making music.”

North Bay Letterpress in Sebastopol has made him a bound book, where he can list everyone who has played on the violin, starting with Seaven.
Then in March 2022, after a year of lending out the instrument, Carruthers will donate the violin to the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education, and the book will then log every student from the youth orchestras who will play the violin.
Meanwhile, he plans to raise money for a Mendocino bow maker to create a local bow to go with the violin.

And he’s reaching out to local bands which already perform with violinists to give the Redwood Violin its time in the sun during a song or two of their set.
“Mads Tolling will play it at a winery up here,” he said. “If people are following it, it’s going to tell people there’s all kind of music out there, and maybe you would like to see it.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

April 15, 2021: Santa Rosa Symphony concerts to be televised for first time

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, April 15, 2021

For the first time in its 93-year history, the Santa Rosa Symphony will reach TV audiences. The broadcasts of three concerts, in partnership with Northern California Public Media, will be on two NorCal Public channels this spring.

The “Santa Rosa Symphony Presents” concerts, recorded and streamed online earlier this year as part of the symphony’s “SRS @ Home” series, will air on PBS channel KRCB and non-PBS channel KPJK in April, May and June.

The symphony was one of the first California orchestras to stream virtual orchestra concerts, beginning in October 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Online viewership averaged more than 5,000 per concert, drawn from 22 states and three countries, according to the symphony.

All three “Santa Rosa Symphony Presents” concerts were conducted by Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on the Sonoma State University campus. Each concert includes a guest artist performing with the orchestra and a work by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, artistic partner with the symphony and the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in music.

“The symphony is, once again, stretching and growing rather than closing its doors,” said Alan Silow, the symphony’s president and CEO.

“The symphony has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with NorCal Public Media over the years. We are very grateful for their similar commitment to delivering arts to the community.”

“This series on KRCB-TV and KPJK-TV extends the reach and the impact of the Santa Rosa Symphony into homes all throughout our region,” said Darren LaShelle, president and CEO of NorCal Public Media. “Having this exciting new series on our air is a perfect fit for our mission.”

The KRCB broadcasts of “Santa Rosa Presents” will air at 8 p.m. Sundays on April 18, May 30 and June 20. The KPJK broadcasts will air at 7:30 p.m. Mondays on April 19, May 31 and June 21.

The first of the three concerts, airing on April 18 and 19, will feature cellist Zuill Bailey performing Zwilich’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. That program also includes Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Jessie Montgomery’s “Starburst” for String Orchestra, Charles Ives’s “Unanswered Question” and Brahms’s Serenade No. 2 in A major for String Orchestra.

The second concert, airing on May 30 and 31, will feature Santa Rosa Symphony Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg performing Zwilich’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra, Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte” for String Orchestra, Arturo Marquez’s Danzón No. 4 for Orchestra and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra, Opus 48.

The third concert, airing June 20 and 21, will feature pianist Elizabeth Dorman performing Zwilich’s “Peanuts Gallery” for Piano and Orchestra; Rossini’s Overture to “Il signor Bruschino;” Michael Daughtery’s “Asclepius,” Fanfare for Brass and Percussion; Paul Dooley’s “Sonoma Strong” for Orchestra and Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, “Farewell.”

KRCB broadcasts over the air on Channel 22.1. Viewers can access it on Channel 22 on Comcast Cable, ATT U-verse, DirecTV and Dish.

KPJK’s over-the-air channel is 60.1. Viewers can access it on Channel 17 on Comcast, Channel 43 on ATT U-verse and DirecTV and Channel 60 on Dish.

“I am so proud of what this orchestra and organization have accomplished, both artistically and technically throughout the pandemic,” Lecce-Chong said. “These televised broadcasts of our virtual performances across the Bay Area are a testament to the brilliance of my musician colleagues on stage, the dedication of our staff and the belief of our patrons and donors in the vitality and necessity of music in our lives.”

The televised concerts are expected to reach 2.8 million households across nine Bay Area counties, from Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties in the South Bay to the southern tip of Mendocino and Lake counties in the North Bay.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

April 15, 2021: Santa Rosa Symphony Makes Television Debut This Weekend

by Charlie Swanson, North Bay Bohemian and PacSun, April 15, 2021

Last year, the Santa Rosa Symphony–the resident orchestra of the Green Music Center–changed it’s production model in the face of a pandemic with the online presentation of its ‘SRS @ Home’ virtual concert series.

The decision to move performances online and to make the concerts free of charge proved to be a success, as the symphony’s inaugural virtual presentation exceeded expectations and drew nearly 3,000 unique viewers when it premiered in October. Later online concerts averaged more than 5,000 viewers who tuned in from 22 states and three countries.

Now, the Santa Rosa Symphony debuts on television for the first time in its 93-year history. Beginning on April 18, Northern California Public Media will televise three of the ‘SRS @ Home’ virtual concerts on Public Broadcasting Service channel KRCB and non-PBS channel KPJK on select dates through June.

Through the partnership of the symphony and NorCal Public Media, these concerts– entitled Santa Rosa Symphony Presents–will reach 2.8 million households across nine Bay Area counties.

“In a season of firsts that we never would have imagined before the pandemic, the Symphony is, once again, stretching and growing rather than closing its doors, as so many other orchestras have had to do,” Symphony President and CEO Alan Silow says in a statement. “This is the first time, in our 93-year history, that we have televised a concert. The Symphony has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with NorCal Public Media over the years. We are very grateful for their similar commitment to delivering arts to the community, which allows us to expand our reach to the greater Bay Area and also into underserved communities.”

All three upcoming Santa Rosa Symphony Presents concerts are conducted by SRS Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong and all were recorded at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall on the campus of Sonoma State University. Each concert includes a guest artist performing with the socially-distant orchestra on stage for a work composed by SRS Artistic Partner Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize in Music.

The first of the three Santa Rosa Symphony Presents concerts airs on April 18 and 19, and features critically acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning cellist Zuill Bailey performing Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Zwilich’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. The program also includes Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Jessie Montgomery’s Starburst for String Orchestra, Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question for Chamber Orchestra and Johannes Brahms’ Serenade No. 2 in A major for Orchestra.

KRCB broadcasts Santa Rosa Symphony Presents on Sundays at 8pm on April 18, May 30 and June 20. KPJK broadcasts the same concerts on Mondays at 7:30pm on April 19, May 31 and June 21.

KRCB broadcasts over the air in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, San Francisco, Alameda, Solano, Contra Costa and the southern tip of Mendocino and Lake counties. KPJK’s over-the-air coverage reaches the south parts of Sonoma, Napa and Solano; all of Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.

“We treasure our partnership with the Santa Rosa Symphony,” Darren LaShelle, NorCal Public Media President and CEO says in a statement. “This series on KRCB TV and KPJK TV extends the reach and the impact of the SRS into homes all throughout our region. Having this exciting new series on our air is a perfect fit for our mission as the Bay Area’s trusted, independent and essential public media broadcaster.”

January 12, 2021: Santa Rosa Symphony Announces a Vibrant Spring Season

by Paul Kotapish, San Francisco Classical Voice, January 12, 2021

Santa Rosa Symphony is making the exigencies of the pandemic into an opportunity to explore all-new programming in its 2021 SRS @ Home spring season. As Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong told The Press Democrat, “It’s important to all of us to find ways to thrive, not just persevere. I wanted to do something that we would not be able to do under normal circumstances.”

The first move was to turn the problem of having a big orchestra on stage on its ear and use the limitation as a chance to explore music for smaller ensembles. Each of the concerts features pieces that require no more than 32 musicians on stage for any time. And Lecce-Chong decided to shake things up further by inviting Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich aboard as SRS’s new artistic partner. “She’s a legend of a composer who has defined classical music for a generation and has all these accolades from all around the world,” according to Lecce-Chong.

Every concert this spring will feature a Zwilich composition, ranging from her Concerto Grosso 1985 in homage to Handel to her Romance for Violin and Orchestra with soloist Joseph Edelberg to her popular Peanuts Gallery, a piano concerto inspired by the characters of the comic strip Peanuts by cartoonist and Santa Rosa resident Charles M. Schulz, who was Zwilich’s friend.

Prerecorded introductions to each concert will offer insight into Zwilich’s creative process. “I’m hoping to do more live stuff where people can join Q&A and to engage her in everything we are doing,” Lecce-Chong told The Press Democrat. “She’s really excited to have a chance to see her music performed this consistently over a brief amount of time.”

Concerts will be available on the SRS YouTube channel and on the SRS website. Details about ways to watch are available here.

Here are the upcoming concert programs. Click on the dates for more detailed information.
Jan. 24
Bach: Ricercare à 6 from Das Musikalische Opfer (The musical offering), arr. Anton Webern
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Concerto Grosso 1985 for Chamber Orchestra (after Handel)
Marianna Martines: Sinfonia in C Major
Mozart: Symphony No. 39
Feb. 28
William Grant Still: Serenade
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll for Small Orchestra
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Prologue and Variations for String Orchestra
Dvořák: Czech Suite
March 28
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
Brahms: Serenade No. 2
April 25
Joseph Edelberg, violin
Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte for String Orchestra
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Romance for Violin and Orchestra  
Arturo Márquez: Danzón No. 4
Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra
May 16
Elizabeth Dorman, piano
Rossini: Overture to Il signor Bruschino
Michael Daugherty: Asclepius, Fanfare for Brass and Percussion
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Peanuts Gallery for Piano and Orchestra
Paul Dooley: Sonoma Strong
Haydn: Symphony No. 45 (“Farewell”)

January 1, 2021: Santa Rosa Symphony adds virtual concerts to 2021 lineup

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, January 1, 2021

When life gives you a pandemic, some will turn it into an opportunity.

That’s how Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong views the 2020-2021 season, which will continue in 2021 with five virtual concerts featuring all new programming for 32 or fewer musicians onstage.

“It’s important to all of us to find ways to thrive, not just persevere,” Lecce-Chong said. “I wanted to do something that we would not be able to do under normal circumstances.”

That “something” was inviting Pulitzer-prize winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich to serve as his artistic partner to help build all five concerts around one of her works. About the only thing remaining from the original programming is the appearance of guest cellist Zuill Bailey.

“I had been thinking about working with Ellen, and Zuill had just given the premiere for her cello concerto last February, before everything shut down,” Lecce-Chong said. “I knew the cello concerto was written for a small enough orchestra, so that was my launching-off point.”

Bailey, who is a friend of Lecce-Chong’s, was originally scheduled to perform Grammy-winning composer Michael Daugherty’s “Tales of Hemingway” in March with the orchestra, but that work calls for an ensemble too large for the socially distanced protocols the symphony now follows.

As an artistic partner, Zwilich will be providing a glimpse into her creative process during prerecorded introductions to each concert and other virtual events.

“I’m hoping to do more live stuff where people can join Q-and-A and to engage her in everything we are doing,” Lecce-Chong said. “She’s really excited to have a chance to see her music performed this consistently over a brief amount of time.”

The first program in January will feature Zwilich’s Concerto Grosso 1985 for Chamber Orchestra, which she wrote to commemorate the 300th anniversary of George Frideric Handel’s birth.

“The Concerto Grosso was an homage to Handel, so it has harpsichord and everything,” Lecce-Chong said. “I think people are going to be so intrigued to be pulled into her world in this way.”
Breaking Ground
In 1983, Zwilich broke new ground by becoming the first female composer to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Music, for her Symphony No. 1 (Three Movements for Orchestra).

Although her early works are marked by atonality, by the late 1980s she had shifted to a more neo-Romantic style and was on her way to becoming one of America’s most popular and most frequently played living composers.

“She’s a legend of a composer who has defined classical music for a generation and has all these accolades from all around the world,” Lecce-Chong said.

In February, the orchestra will present her Prologue and Variations for String Orchestra, a work written in 1983. Then in March, Bailey will perform her Cello Concerto, which was completed in 2020.

“I picked these pieces because I think they will show off the orchestra in really fun ways,” Lecce-Chong said. “The cello concerto has more popular elements to it.”

April’s concert will feature Concertmaster Joe Edelberg in a performance of Zwilich’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra, written in 1993.

Finally, in May the orchestra will perform her beloved “Peanuts Gallery” for Piano and Orchestra, featuring guest pianist Elizabeth Dorman. That 1996 work was first performed by the orchestra under Conductor Laureate Jeffrey Kahane in 1998 and evokes the characters of the beloved “Peanuts” comic strip created by longtime Santa Rosa resident Charles Schulz, who attended the concert.

“For me, it’s not about just playing new music but connecting with it,” Lecce-Chong said. “It’s about finding a composer who wants to participate and share her creative process and has a really unique connection to Santa Rosa.”

Connecting with audiences
In addition to Zwilich’s contemporary works, Lecce-Chong has programmed several Romantic pieces by favorites such as Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak and Wagner.

“All four of them wrote absolutely gorgeous works for smaller groups of musicians,” he said. “That will add a nice mix to the programs.”

Dubbed SRS @ Home, the season also will feature classical works such as Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 and Hayden’s Symphony No. 45 “Farewell,” along with contemporary works such as Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” Jessie Montgomery’s “Starburst” for String Orchestra and Paul Dooley’s “Sonoma Strong,” commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony.

At Lecce-Chong’s urging, the Santa Rosa Symphony started recording virtual concerts in October, back when the Glass fire threatened Sonoma County. Among all the other challenges, the rehearsals and recording sessions had to be rescheduled, twice.

“It’s been a huge learning curve,” Lecce-Chong said. “I know this season is the season that I will pour more of myself into than I will the rest of my life. The emotional, psychological and physical energy that is going into it is off the charts.”

Along with conducting, the music director also is heading up the video and audio team. But he feels the effort has been well worth it and is paying off in concerts that connect more with the audience.

“Everyone had this pent-up artistic and creative need to get something out there,” he said. “I think we’re making music in a way that’s much more real. ... We’re not taking ourselves too seriously and (we’re) letting people be themselves, with the orchestra musician introductions.

“That’s what I’m most happy with, to have the sense of community and fun and warmth. We can be ourselves and have that kind of raw joy and energy, which I think is missing from what I see online.”

In December, the Santa Rosa Symphony also announced it has renewed its contract with Lecce-Chong for another five years, after his current three-year contract expires in June 2021.

“I am thrilled to continue making music with my brilliant colleagues on stage and grateful for the opportunity to lead us through these challenging times,” he said.
The music director is also grateful for the positive feedback he has gotten from the three virtual concerts so far this season, which are reaching more people than ever.
“I’ve never gotten so many messages,” he said. “People are so grateful to have these opportunities to come together.”

For details on the five upcoming virtual concert programs, go to The symphony will continue to offer these concerts for free with help from donors, sponsors and subscribers. Subscribers will continue to have access to exclusive recitals and other extras.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at On Twitter @dianepete56

December 9, 2020: Free Beethoven!

by Clark Miller, Argus Courier, December 9, 2020

On Sunday, Dec. 13, the Santa Rosa Symphony will air the third and final program in its Home Series of free, online concerts. Appropriately, the program includes Beethoven’s majestic third symphony, the Eroica. The series, a bold and unusual way to not only keep the symphony busy during COVID but to expand its reach, has already reached thousands of viewers who may have never entered a concert hall.

“At every step of the way, we faced something new for us,” said music director Francesco Lecce-Chong, speaking of the series. “I like to tell people that we talk about inches when setting up the orchestra — it makes a difference when you must place musicians six feet apart.”

The series constitutes a celebration of Beethoven, who was born on December 17, 1770, 250 years ago. The first concert, on Oct. 11, featured Symphony No. 1, and the second included No. 2.

“To make the series free seemed crazy at first,” Lecce-Chong said, “but our donors have helped tremendously. Our expenses are huge, but it’s possible to go on when your support base steps up. Even people who have never donated before have given.”

The series and the online subscriber concerts are just the start, he firmly believes.

“We’ll keep on doing subscriber concerts every month,” says Lecce-Chong, “like in a regular season. We’re ready for the best or the worst.”

If the COVID cloud has had any silver lining for the Santa Rosa Symphony, it is this breakthrough in capturing concerts on video.

“If you look at the past 50 years, there’s been very little video in the realm of classical music,” Lecce-Chong said. “We’ve fallen behind the modern world. Now we can choose our reach.”
The series was planned over the summer. At one point, Lecce-Chong’s spirits sank as he watched musicians gagging on smoky air, and he wondered how much more adversity the symphony could stand.

“But then I felt everyone around me just pick me up,” he said.

The symphony’s unusual strategy for staying alive has been noticed around the country.

“We have other orchestras calling us for advice,” Lecce-Chong said. “We were one of the first to go this route. We’re ahead of nearly everybody.”

The Dec. 13 program includes “Source Code for String Orchestra,” by Jessie Montgomery, a contemporary African-American composer, “Concerto Grosso” for Violin, “Two Oboes and Two Horns,” by Vivaldi, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) and ”Fantasia on Greensleeves/Lovely Joan,“ by Vaughn Williams.

Working with Diversified Stages, a professional video production company, the symphony recorded the concert with close-ups and a variety of angles of the musicians performing. Sunday’s concert will include a virtual “peek backstage,” short interviews, commentary, and a post-concert discussion with Lecce-Chong.

Before the concert, viewers are encouraged to go to and read the “Ways to Watch” page to learn how to access the concert. While the concert is free, a donation will be requested during the event.

October 21, 2020: Santa Rosa Symphony Exceeds Expectations in Debut Virtual Concert

by Charlie Swanson, North Bay Bohemian, October 21, 2020

The Santa Rosa Symphony, the resident orchestra of the Green Music Center, is among the many arts and music organizations that has changed its production model in the face of a pandemic that makes live performances impossible for the time being.

In reimagining their planned 2020-2021 concert season, the Santa Rosa Symphony presented its first 'SRS @ Home' virtual concert on Oct. 11, recorded on the Weill Hall stage at the Green Music Center and available to view for free on YouTube.

The decision to move the performance online and to make the concert free of charge proved to be a success, and the symphony is reporting that their inaugural virtual presentation exceed expectations and drew nearly 3,000 unique viewers when it premiered.

"We are so thrilled at the response to these virtual concerts,” SRS President and CEO Alan Silow says in a statement. “The challenges of implementing appropriate health and safety protocols and obtaining approvals, which spanned months, has paid off with an unprecedented dividend."

The Oct. 11 virtual concert was enhanced for the at-home audience with live pre-concert talks and post-concert Q&As with the symphony's conductor and music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, as well as introductions of the pieces from the musicians.

"What an absolute joy to be on stage again with my fine colleagues, making music together and sharing it freely with the world," Lecce-Chong says in a statement. "This model affords our audiences a closer look at our exquisite hall and the programming beautifully showcases the tremendous talent within our orchestra. I'm so very grateful to all of the musicians, everyone in our organization and to our loyal patrons for making this successful event possible and helping to pave the way forward."

The Santa Rosa Symphony’s next 'SRS @ Home' concert is schedules to air on YouTube on Sunday, Nov. 15. The upcoming concert will feature classical selections such as Beethoven's Second Symphony and works by American composers Scott Joplin, Chen Yi, Gabriela Lena Frank and Max Bruch.

"I am delighted to showcase several of our own musicians as soloists on this program, violinists Jay Zhong and Michelle Maruyama, and cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns," Lecce-Chong says.

The Nov. 15 virtual concert will again feature a live pre-concert talk by Lecce-Chong at 2pm. The music starts at 3pm, and the concert is followed by a live post-concert Q&A.

All three elements of this event will be free, though donations to support the ongoing music and outreach programs of the symphony will be gratefully received during the event. The Santa Rosa Symphony’s comprehensive music education programs serve nearly 30,000 youths annually, and the symphony has gained national attention for its work in collaboration with Sonoma County schools and organizations.

September 13, 2020: A virtual, heartfelt Santa Rosa Symphony tribute to Norma, Corrick Brown

by Chris Smith, The Press Democrat, September 13, 2020

In normal times, the annual awards gala that launches a new performance season of the Santa Rosa Symphony is absolutely one of Sonoma County’s grandest and most anticipated cultural-social events.

Saturday’s expression of the fond and lyrical celebration was that, but virtually.

Lovers of classical music in general and of the 92-year-old Santa Rosa Symphony specifically watched on screens at home a streamed gala that honored conductor emeritus Corrick Brown and his wife and partner in all things, Norma.

Both fine pianists, the Browns have for more than six decades been instrumental to Sonoma County’s musical life.

Corrick Brown became the Santa Rosa Symphony’s second music director in 1958, leading, growing and elevating the orchestra for a phenomenal 38 years. Throughout, Norma worked alongside as a volunteer as committed as he to making the symphony one of the finest anywhere.

After retiring as music director in 1995, Corrick Brown, who shares his name with his family’s landmark Santa Rosa stationery, art and gift store, Corrick’s, remained a stalwart of the symphony and of the performing arts in Sonoma County. Saturday’s tribute lauded him for co-chairing the capital fundraising campaign for construction of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University, the symphony’s performance home.

Through the course of the free virtual gala, guests enjoyed photographs chronicling the Browns’ lives and they heard tributes from speakers who included columnist, history author and symphony booster Gaye LeBaron, symphony concertmaster Joe Edelberg and a son of the honorees, Ryan Brown.

LeBaron was the guest of honor of last year’s gala. In her recorded toast to the Browns, LeBaron said, “CorrickandNorma. It’s almost like word, no spaces.

“Corrick has been the one out in front, in front of the orchestra and the audience. And Norma, she’s done everything else.”

LeBaron, a close friend of the Browns, recalled the boundless effort and labor and love they put into the Santa Rosa Symphony back when it was young and poor and performing in the auditorium at Santa Rosa High School.

“It was a struggling orchestra,” she said, concluding her toast by raising her a glass to the pair of true Santa Rosa Symphony royalty.

Central to the program honoring the Browns was a musical salute by Russian-American pianist Olga Kern, who has played around the world and last appeared with the Santa Rosa Symphony in 2015.

The evening’s entertainment included also a violin performance by Mateo Prusky of the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, one facet of the symphony’s far-reaching services to children.

The Browns and everyone who tapped electronically into the celebration that kicked off the symphony’s 2020-21 season were greeted also by music director Francesco Lecce-Chong and his fiancée, Chloe Tula, symphony president-CEO Alan Silow and both the chair of the symphony board, Alan Seidenfeld, and its vice chair, Corinne Byrd.

In place of a live auction, the virtual gala provided an opportunity for guests at home to go online or to phone the symphony office and make a contribution to the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education. Its programs reach 30,000 children each year.

Donations can be made by visiting and clicking the “Donate Here” link at the top of the homepage.

As with the gala, the symphony’s 93rd season will be virtual, at least to start. In response to the pandemic, the October, November and December programs will feature chamber orchestra performances streamed on the symphony’s YouTube channel.

September 3, 2020: Santa Rosa Symphony adapts to pandemic with chamber music

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, September 3, 2020

Although the Santa Rosa Symphony won’t be able to perform in front of a live audience this fall, Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong is ecstatic they will be able to play together on stage in smaller groups for three concerts, the SRS@Home Virtual Concert Series, streamed virtually on the symphony’s YouTube channel.

“This is a big success for us, and every single person has pulled their weight — the staff, the board and the musicians,” he said. “It’s really taken everyone to bring this together.”

Lecce-Chong has retooled the October, November and December programs for chamber orchestra, to accommodate smaller groups playing together instead of the full orchestra. Various sections of the orchestra will get a chance to shine in works ranging from R. Strauss’ Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments to Chen Yi’s Romance and Dance for Two Violins and String Orchestra.

In addition, principal players will be showcased in works such as Bruch’s Canzone for Cello and Orchestra. Instead of mounting Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 9 in December, the orchestra will explore Beethoven’s first three symphonies over the course of the three concerts.

“We get to watch Beethoven’s journey,” Lecce-Chong said. “The first one is the most Haydnesque, but you already feel him pulling up those chains. And his second symphony is so devilishly humorous in the way he goes after the classical norms. Then you have the third symphony, which shattered bounds in its scope, in content and in the way instruments are used.”

The silver lining, for Lecce-Chong, is that the symphony will be able to employ its musicians and continue its connection to the community while trying its hand at an innovative repertoire.

“My sincere hope is that we’ll look back on this and think, ‘Wow, that was incredible to be a part of,’ ” he said. “The whole point is to give work to our musicians. For most of the Bay Area, we are going to be the only orchestra doing orchestra concerts, using as many musicians as we can.”

Opening up with precautions, protocols
Although risky in terms of technology and audience acceptance, Lecce-Chong feels confident the orchestra players will be safe as they strictly follow all the health protocols. The musicians will be socially distanced on the stage in groups no larger than 32 at a time and often smaller.

“A lot of European orchestras started four months ago, really cautiously, and that’s where we’re going to be,” he said. “If I want to keep my orchestra together, this is the only way to do it.”

In addition to getting the board, donors and staff behind the virtual pivot, Lecce-Chong said the orchestra has had to get approval from the county and the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University, where they perform.

“Over the years, this orchestra has built up such ground-level support that we had the ability to get things done,” he said. “That’s why you lay down those community roots. When these moments come and you do need help, people are there to support you.”

The concerts will be free for everyone, including non-subscribers. Guests don’t have to RSVP, although the orchestra will be fundraising during the programs to help keep itself afloat.

“Where the world is in the place that it is right now, and with our duty to bring people together, everybody should have access to that,” Lecce-Chong said. “This is our gift to our entire community, and no one should be left out.”

That said, there will be extra perks for subscribers and people who donate, including access to the concerts for 45 days and exclusive recitals by world-class artists.

 “We’re going to find ways to make our subscribers feel like they’re going to have a special experience,” he said. “We are asking them to stick with us, and that’s why we’re going all out on these programs.”

Subscribers and donors will have special access to a recital by Russian-American pianist Olga Kern in October, recorded in her native Russia. The recital video will be supplemented by a conversation between Lecce-Chong and Kern.

The orchestra will rehearse and record videos on the weekend that they were originally scheduled to perform, using a more condensed schedule. Then the virtual concerts will stream the following weekend in most cases.

Musicians "front and center"
The virtual concerts will offer up-close-and-personal moments with the musicians backstage and introductions by the musicians to specific repertoires.

“I want them front and center of this whole project,” Lecce-Chong said. “And I want to feature some young musicians performing and weave that in.”

At press time, Lecce-Chong was working on a storyboard for the videographers to show how he wants the concerts to flow. It’s new territory.
“Who is the first musician interviewed? How long do we have them talk?” he said. “And how do we deal with the end of the piece, because there’s not going to be applause?”

Lecce-Chong also plans to offer a livestream of a pre-concert talk and a post-concert Q&A with himself and the musicians for each concert, so audience members can interact online.

What will happen to the rest of the 2020-2021 season, starting in January, is still anyone’s guess. The symphony has postponed its first Family Concert Series this fall until Jan. 24, 2021, and has rescheduled canceled concerts from last spring to spring 2021.

By jump starting the season virtually this fall, however, the orchestra will be able to better adapt to new conditions once January rolls around, which is when most orchestras are planning to restart. That’s thanks to the musicians, who have agreed to let the orchestra hire them as they are able, a few months at a time rather than for the whole season, Lecce-Chong said.

“The gift they’ve given us is that we can adapt now,” he said. “If we hit January and things are going really well, we can fit 100 people in the audience and fit 50 musicians onstage. If things get worse, we can make those changes.”

"Showing the world why we're special"
Lecce-Chong also hopes the virtual pivot will allow the orchestra to reach a wider audience beyond Sonoma County, people who may have heard of the Santa Rosa Symphony and the Green Music Center but never experienced them.

“This is going to make a statement about who we are, whether we like it or not,” he said. “It’s about our community, but it’s going to be showing the world why we’re special ... the risky ways we’ve approached the classics and letting the manic edge around Beethoven’s music show and what we built up as our commitment to living composers of diverse backgrounds.”

Although the Santa Rosa Symphony is in uncharted territory for U.S. orchestras, it’s not uncharted for the world as a whole, Lecce-Chong said. European orchestras have already dealt with such artistic problems as having musicians play far apart onstage.

But the symphony will be making history by producing professionally made videos which will serve as a legacy for the regional ensemble now in its 93rd season.

“This is honestly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” he said. “How many videoed performances, professionally made, do we have of the orchestra? Great closeups of musicians, great sound? ... None.”

Lecce-Chong will introduce the new fall concert programs during a live video chat at 3 p.m. Sept. 27 on the Santa Rosa Symphony YouTube channel. For a link to the talk and more information on the season, go to

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

2019 - 2020 Season

April 10, 2020: Get to know Francesco Lecce-Chong, music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, April 10, 2020

Ask Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong if classical music is dying, and he’ll be brutally honest. He acknowledges that the 300-year-old tradition got a bit too comfortable and was slow to adapt to a changing world.

Then he dismisses its death knell, sweeping it aside with his own unabashed passion for the art form.

“My personal opinion is that right now is the most exciting time for orchestras because ... we’re trying new things,” he told the Pittsburgh City Paper in 2018 before leaving as assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. “Frankly, we’re just not that accessible sometimes, and we don’t show enough joy in what we do.”

Since being appointed to the Santa Rosa Symphony in March 2018, Lecce-Chong, 32, has proven himself both accessible and joyous, unassuming and brilliant, not only in his programming but in his interactions with the community, staff and musicians.

“We’ve all been getting to know each other this season,” said Joe Edelberg, the unflappable concertmaster of the Santa Rosa Symphony. “He’s friendly, respectful and demanding. My sense is that the orchestra developed trust in him pretty quickly.”

Over the past two seasons, symphony staff also have grown to value Lecce-Chong’s integrity, his collaborative style of leadership and his ability to relate to all ages, especially to young adults while leading one family concert a year, the first music director in the symphony’s history to take on that duty.

“Francesco’s positive impact and contribution has gone far beyond our admittedly high expectations,” said Alan Silow, the symphony’s president and CEO. “It includes creative programming, an articulate insight into the magic of new music and a major contribution to supporting our educational programs, which he deeply values.”

Audiences have taken note of the charismatic energy Lecce-Chong brings to the concert hall — that mysterious “it” factor — that makes the music viscerally and visually exciting, whether it’s an old warhorse like Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in January or the world premiere of Matt Browne’s Symphony No. 1, “The Course of Empire,” in February.

One of his motivations as a conductor is to connect people through the experience of live music.

“I have become so passionate about how an orchestra can be a center for people to come together,” Leece-Chong said. “It’s like a lifestyle. I have so many ideas to build on that, but it’s so exciting for me to go into a community (like Santa Rosa) that has a foot up in understanding this.”

Although the symphony’s final two concert programs of the season had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lecce-Chong did conduct a solid run of five concert sets from October through February and planned the 2020-2021 season, which will be the symphony’s second full season under his leadership.

Although the symphony’s final two concert programs of the season had to be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Lecce-Chong did conduct a solid run of five concert sets from October through February and planned the 2020-2021 season, which will be the symphony’s second full season under his leadership.

“It’s beautiful to remind people that I’m part of the orchestra.” he said. “We’re just doing this together.”

Last December, Lecce-Chong “play conducted” the orchestra from a fortepiano in a program that opened with Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 and closed with Mozart’s Requiem.

The transparent Haydn symphony — nervous and fleet, spare and elegant — came alive with bristled energy, mostly because of its perfect pacing.
“You can’t just play it perfectly,” Lecce-Chong explained. “There is one tempo that opens up the piece. When I do the perfect tempo, I can see the musicians smile.”

Setting the tempo is perhaps the most crucial job of a conductor, along with communicating feeling and dynamics with the body, giving cues for key entrances and coordinating the orchestra with soloists.

The high-energy Lecce-Chong admits he feels comfortable staying slightly ahead of the beat, like a pace car in a race, showing everyone where the music is headed.

“As a young conductor, it’s better not to be clear than to be late,” he said. “You always have to be on the front side of the beat.”

During Mozart’s Requiem, Lecce-Chong drew an amazingly professional performance out of the SSU Symphonic Chorus, especially on the enunciation of the consonants.

“When they rolled that first R, I knew it was going to be a good night,” he said. “I almost wanted to do a fist bump.”

The more he conducts, however, the more Lecce-Chong worries about the little details of a performance, he said. Perhaps he gave the perfect tempo, but then the orchestra slowed down. Perhaps he pushed the beat a little too much.

“I’m never satisfied,” he said. “The terrifying thing about being a music director is that you know it’s never going to be good enough.”

Looking ahead
Next season, Lecce-Chong will welcome some of his favorite soloists, such as the 19-year-old violinist Julian Rhee, recent winner of the 2020 Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition, and some under-the-radar composers.

There are two world premieres planned, including the second installment of the First Symphony Project, showcasing a major work by Bay Area composer Gabriella Smith, a protegé of composer John Adams. New music and innovative ideas are never far from Lecce-Chong’s mind.

“Her big love is nature and ecology,” he said of Smith. “And we may have her lead some nature hikes.”

Behind the scenes, Lecce-Chong is working on his long-term goal of improving the sound in the hall by bringing back some of the risers that reach to the edge of the stage. New risers built by the symphony’s own stage crew are still a work in progress, but they reappeared during the February concert under the violins and violas on the outside of the stage, after being thrown out.

“The new risers have an opening at the top, so they act like an amplifier,” Lecce-Chong said. “Essentially, we’ve added an instrument on stage.”

It was the first time he put his foot down about anything. So far, he’s been pleased with the results.

“Now I can see them, and they can see me,” he said. “You can’t hide, even if you’re in the back. So people play better, and we’re together now.”

“These musicians are so brilliant, and we have a hall that is the envy of the world,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we work to improve the sound?”

At home in Sonoma County
As each concert program this season grew in complexity and risk-taking, the conductor established more stable footing in the community, getting to know the region better.

“I’m obsessed with Bodega Bay,” he said. “I drive out there to the beach and look at the ocean.”

For part of each month, he rents a Santa Rosa apartment he can retreat to between rehearsals.

“It’s nice to have a mailing address,” he said. “At a hotel, you can’t cook and you can’t get things delivered. Now I know I’m going to sleep well.”

Although he can be intensely sociable, Lecce-Chong said he’s also an introvert who needs down time to work and to plan. He tends to be private about his personal life, but that’s not always possible.

“I realize that part of selling my art form is selling me,” he said.

“My mother and childhood anecdotes always end up in my pre-concert lectures.”

For the past three years, Lecce-Chong has been visiting Miami to spend time with his fiancée, harpist Chloe Tula, who won a three-year Harp Fellowship with the New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas.

Since the 2018-2019 classical music season, he’s also commuted to Oregon to lead the Eugene Symphony, where he also serves as music director. Having two West Coast symphonies to lead has simplified his travel itinerary, at least when he doesn’t have guest conducting gigs.

“In one month, I usually spend a week here (in Santa Rosa) and a week in Eugene.”

In mid-March, Lecce-Chong was on the runway in Miami headed to Oregon when his remaining concerts of the season were postponed. He went to Eugene for a day, then returned to Tula in Miami, where they are hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although he feels fortunate to be able to work from Miami, the maestro confessed the scenario felt a little like “marriage boot camp.”

“You guys get to spend two months together in a one-bedroom apartment, and you can’t go out?” he joked. “It feels like a reality show, sometimes. Let’s see what happens to this couple.”

Meanwhile, the couple may have to postpone their mid-June wedding in Portland, Oregon, so guests don’t have to make the decision of staying safe or attending the party. Since some of his symphony concerts have been rescheduled for June, it’s not going to be easy to jam in a wedding, let alone a honeymoon.

Meanwhile, Lecce-Chong is excited about a new “at home” program on his personal webpage (, where he is holding Happy Hour Watch Parties of famous performances and sharing Spotify playlists (including non-classical music he’s listening to like The Beach Boys) and posting educational videos he and Tula are working on together.

“I think it’s so vital that we find ways to stay connected with our audience, many of whom are most at risk,” he said. “Also, all these music students are at home, and parents are trying to deal with education ... so we’re doing a video each week.”

While he’s feeling good about having the time to connect with more audience members online, he also notes disappointment over the canceled concerts.
“I feel the weight of thousands of people who were looking forward to these concerts,” he said. “I thought I could connect people to this music, and suddenly I don’t have it anymore.”

Organic intro to music
An only child, Lecce-Chong was born in San Francisco to an architect father and artist mother. The family moved to Boulder, Colorado when he was 5, and he stayed there through high school. He considers himself a Colorado native, but his storyline has changed now that he’s based on the West Coast.
“My bio has gotten really confusing,” he said. “Now I’m a San Francisco-born, Colorado native.”

His parents met in New York City. His father, Curtis, studied architecture at Columbia while his mother, Catherine, studied visual art at Marymount College. Lecce-Chong is the only musician in his family.

“I was very fortunate that my parents were very arts-oriented, even though they weren’t musicians,” he said. “They had a few classical CDs — the Karajan Beethoven symphonies that I was obsessed with, and one or two others.”

More importantly, there was an old, upright piano from his grandmother in the house. One of his babysitters taught him to play his first little ditty — “Heart and Soul” — and he got hooked.

“I was so into it, and so relentless about it that my parents decided to give me formal lessons,” he said. “But everything about me becoming a musician was very organic.”

Initially enamored with baseball, Lecce-Chong never thought about a career in music — he was initially enamored with baseball — until he joined a Boulder youth orchestra. He played piano, violin and viola in the orchestra. By 16, he had started to conduct.

“The woman conductor there has always been my inspiration,” he said. “She gave lessons in exchange for helping her out. She believed in me when I didn’t know what I was doing.”

As soon as he conducted his first piece in public — the Russian Dance (Trepak) from “The Nutcracker” ballet — something clicked inside.

“I’ve always been as much of a people person as a musician,” he said. “As it turns out, I like working with a lot of people.”

A smooth trajectory
Lecce-Chong decided on the Mannes College of Music in New York City after he found a piano teacher there he wanted to work with. He studied composing and piano for a year, then dropped composing and transferred over to the conducting program, graduating with a double major.

Next, he won a fellowship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and studied with the legendary Otto-Werner Mueller, a German-born conductor who served as his mentor.

Lecce-Chong left Curtis early to take a job as associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and never looked back.

“I was so lucky,” he said. “I don’t know many others who have had as smooth a trajectory. ... I was always worried that I would not work, but I always worked.”

After four years in Milwaukee, he spent three years as assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. There, he deepened his understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of a professional orchestra, talking to the musicians about what style of conducting worked for them.

In April 2017, he was chosen out of 200 candidates to lead the Eugene Symphony, following in the footsteps of renowned predecessors such as Marin Alsop. Almost a year later, in March 2018, the Santa Rosa Symphony board unanimously chose him as its fifth music director in the orchestra’s long history.

Along the way, Lecce-Chong has continued to guest conduct all over the world, from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra to the New York Philharmonic. His debut leading the San Francisco Symphony in June 2019 was met with critical acclaim.

“Lecce-Chong’s energetic leadership, which made room as well for interludes of tender lyricism, was a constant source of excitement,” music critic Joshua Kosman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Strong relationships
While local symphony supporters hope Lecce-Chong will choose Santa Rosa as his full-time home, the conductor is leaving that decision to his fiancée, who has been planning their wedding long-distance from Miami. The conductor maintains that no matter where they end up, his willingness to spend extra time in Sonoma County outside of rehearsals and performances is what really counts.

Since he joined the symphony, he has put in long days, pinballing between meetings with community members and donors, business leaders and school and college music programs. In between, he carries out administrative duties and makes the rounds of the symphony’s four youth orchestras.

Sonoma State University Orchestra Director Alexander Kahn, who serves as Lecce-Chong’s unofficial assistant during rehearsals, said he is impressed by the conductor’s constant high level of preparedness, with all of his scores carefully analyzed and often memorized.

“His conducting is always expressive and full of information, which allows him to show what he wants without wasting too many words,” Kahn said. “When he does speak, he expresses himself humbly and with self-deprecating humor in a way that lets the musicians know that he respects them and enjoys their company.”

If he could be faulted for anything, it might be that Lecce-Chong leans a bit heavily on the well-known standards in his programming. But performing cornerstones of the repertoire is a bit like speed dating for the young conductor, a fast and efficient way he can get to know the orchestra, and vice versa.

And his clear vision of the music makes even familiar pieces sound new again.

“I was really proud of the way the orchestra handled the Brahms this season,” Lecce-Chong said. “They proved they could take it to another level.”

Like many conductors, Lecce-Chong tries to find a balance between the traditional interpretation of a work and the desire to invent a new one, so that each concert adds to the audience’s understanding of the music.

“Classical music has the most history behind us, so it can be scary because we feel like we’re trying to preserve something,” he said. “But it should never feel like we’re preserving Beethoven’s greatness. The question is, how do we communicate how great it is?”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 27, 2020: Santa Rosa Symphony postpones spring concerts

by Diane Peterson, Santa Rosa Symphonoy, March 27, 2020

The Santa Rosa Symphony has postponed all of its remaining 2019-2020 concerts until the summer in response to the county and state shelter-in-place orders. The postponed concerts include two Classical Series sets, one Family Series concert and one Pops concert.

The programming for all of the these concerts is unchanged, except that Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong will step in to conduct the Showcasing Contemporary Women series, which was originally planned for a guest conductor.

“In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to have beauty in our lives — especially as we are unable to join together in person to experience art,” Lecce-Chong said.

All of the concerts will take place at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, with the exception of the Pops concert, which will be held at its usual place, the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

The Showcasing Contemporary Women classical series has been rescheduled from March 21-23 to June 6, 7 and 8, 2020.

Beethoven Lives Upstairs, the family concert, has been rescheduled from April 19 to June 14, 2020.

The Visions of Hope classical series has been rescheduled from May 2-4 to July 11, 12 and 13, 2020.

Remember When Rock Was Young — the Elton John Tribute Symphony Pops has been rescheduled from April 26 to Aug. 9, 2020.

In an unprecedented move, the Symphony Board of Directors has approved a plan that guarantees that any musician hired to perform services in March, April or May will be paid promptly for those services, even though the work will happen at a later date.

Ticket holders can keep their tickets for the originally scheduled concert dates to use on the new dates. If you cannot attend on the new date, you have three options, but you need to make your request by the Thursday before the new concert date: you can convert your ticket to a tax-deductible donation, request a ticket voucher for the next season or request a gift certificate, which never expires and may be used toward a season renewal or purchase of single tickets.

Pops ticket holders should contact the Luther Burbank Center’s box office at 707-546-3600.

March 6, 2020: Santa Rosa Symphony 2020-2021 season program broadens horizons

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 6, 2020

For its second full season under Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony will offer an expanded 2020-2021 season that will include a new opera offering — Mozart’s “Magic Flute” in concert — along with two world premieres, balanced by beloved masterworks by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

The season will open on Oct. 2 with a gala honoring community icons Norma and Corrick Brown (Corrick Brown is the symphony’s conductor emeritus) and run through May 3. Returning guest artists include Russian pianist Alexander Toradze, cellist Zuill Bailey and violinist Elina Vähälä.

Lecce-Chong also will showcase a few of his favorite soloists: rising 19-year-old violinist Julian Rhee and clarinetist David Krakauer, who will perform traditional klezmer music and a world premiere of a klezmer clarinet concerto he co-wrote.

In keeping with the new standard of presenting two premieres every year, the orchestra will continue its First Symphony Project with a performance of a new symphony by Composer-in-Residence Gabriella Smith, the second of four composers commissioned over four years to write a major work. A short work by Smith, “Tumblebird Contrails,” will be performed in November.

“At this moment, this orchestra has five commissions over the next three seasons, all longer than 20 minutes,” said Lecce-Chong, who put together the private funding for the First Symphony Project, a collaboration between his two orchestras in Santa Rosa and Eugene, Oregon.

During the 2019-2020 season, Lecce-Chong said he intentionally programmed a chunk of American music written during the past 10 years to show its vitality and accessibility. This included eight contemporary works and two world premieres.

For next season, Lecce- Chong has sprinkled in some little-known gems, shining a light on composers who are no longer alive and not well known, such as Mieczyslaw Weinberg, whose “Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes” will open the first concert set.

“The big picture for this (new) season is the fact that I am now able to diversify a bit.” he said. “I wanted to kind of broaden our horizons.”

This November and December, the symphony will perform the final symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, back-to-back.

“This is the meat of the repertoire,” he said. “Audiences know them and the orchestra will have played them many, many times.”

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 will be performed with the SSU Symphonic Chorus for the holiday choral concert, a long-standing tradition that brings the community together.

“It hasn’t lost an ounce of relevance,” Lecce-Chong said of the sprawling, 70-minute work. “These days, there are so few things that people can come together over. This is one of those.”

While the 2019-2020 season will close with a new work that fuses mariachi and classical music, next season the orchestra will introduce another folk form — a concerto incorporating klezmer music — during the January concert set.

Clarinetist David Krakauer, once Lecce-Chong’s chamber music coach, made a famous klezmer recording, “The Dreams of Prayers of Issac the Blind,” with the Kronos Quartet.

“Klezmer music is part of the Jewish heritage and comes from the oral tradition of storytelling,” Lecce-Chong said. “To begin the concert, he has arranged traditional klezmer music. His concerto will be very eclectic, so it’s good to hear the traditional first.”

Lecce-Chong also is looking forward to the final concert in May, in which he will pair a contemporary work by Carolyn Shaw — an homage to one of Haydn’s string quartets — with Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 performed by violinist Julina Rhee. Rhee already has won several major violin competitions.

“We worked together when he was 16, and he played Brahms and knocked my socks off,” Lecce-Chong said. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on him. ... I love that his virtuosity is an afterthought. The first thing you recognize is the musicality and the warmth. Then you notice that the violin is easy for him.”

Picking up where his predecessor Bruno Ferrandis left off, Lecce-Chong is excited to add a special Opera in Concert, Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” for one evening only in April.

The concert will be a collaboration with the Santa Rosa High School’s ArtQuest program, which offers a school choir, string quartets and visual artists who will create a lively experience in the lobby before the concert.

“They are going to focus on the Enlightenment,” he said. “The opera was a very personal statement on the Enlightenment. ... It was about becoming your own person.”

This will be the first time the symphony will present an opera in concert, but probably not the last.

“We want to give people a chance to hear the orchestra play these great operas such as ‘Carmen,’ ‘La Boheme’ and ‘La Traviata,’” he said. “I am dedicated to growing and to filling a need in the community.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 6, 2020: Santa Rosa Symphony announces lineup for 2020-2021 season

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 6, 2020

There are seven Classical Series Concert programs and a new Opera In Concert program planned for the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 2020-2021 season. All are conducted by Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong except for the February concert set, which will be led by guest conductor Aram Demirjian.

Oct. 3, 4, 5: Pianist Alexander Toradze returns to perform Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2; Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Rhapsody on Moldavian Theme; and Berlioz’ “Symphonie fantastique.”

Nov. 7, 8, 9: Finnish violinist Elina Vähälä performs Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D major; composer Gabriella Smith’s “Tumblebird Contrails”; Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique”

Dec. 5, 6, 7: Brahm’s “Academic Festival Overture”; Vaughan Williams’ “Flos Campi” for Viola, Orchestra and chorus, featuring principal violist Elizabeth Prior; and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, featuring the SSU Symphonic Chorus and soloists.

Jan. 9, 10, 11: Clarinetist David Krakauer performs traditional klezmer music as well as a world premiere of “The Fretless Clarinet Concerto,” which he wrote with Kathleen Tagg; Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

Feb. 13, 14, 15: Pianist Michelle Cann performs Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Second Rhapsody,” William Grant Skill’s “Darker America” and Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

March 20, 21, 22: Cellist Zuill Bailey performs Michael Daugherty’s “Tales of Hemingway”; Ernesto Lecuona’s “Malagueña” from “Andalucia Suite”; Ravel’s “Bolero,” and Gabriella Smith’s Symphony No. 1 will get its second set of performances, just days after its world premiere in Eugene, Oregon as part of the First Symphony Project.

April 10: Opera in Concert: Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” a collaboration with San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows and ArtQuest at Santa Rosa High School.

May 1, 2, 3: Violinist Julian Rhee performs Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5, “Turkish”; Carolyn Shaw’s “Entr’acte” for String Orchestra; Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2.

The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center. Discovery rehearsals are held at 2 p.m. Saturdays.

In addition, the Santa Rosa Symphony will continue to offer a three-concert Family Series in 2020-2021, with Lecce-Chong conducting the spring concert; Pops Conductor Michael Berkowitz will conduct four Symphony Pops concerts at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

The symphony will also offer special, multimedia concerts at the Green Music Center this summer to be announced with the GMC’s summer season.

Classical Series subscriptions will go on sale Sunday. The subscription renewal deadline to retain the same seats is April 10.

New and current subscribers can renew their subscription in person at the Patron Services Office at 50 Santa Rosa Ave., by calling 707-546-8742, mailing in a completed renewal form (in season brochure for new subscribers) or faxing their form to 707-546-8742.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 3, 2020: Simply Strings - Musical Instruction for Life

by Mayra Lopez, La Prensa, March 3, 2020

The music has impacted, in many ways, the students of the Simply Strings program at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School in Santa Rosa. With the guidance of the Santa Rosa Symphony, children are learning to play classical string music, while developing social skills and self-confidence.
Parents also benefit, as Ashley Cruz, a third-year student who plays the violin, says, "My parents like me to be learning violin, because they say that now they won't have to hire a mariachi anymore!"
Simply Strings was founded in 2013 by Christina Penrose, then a Master's student at Sonoma State University. Penrose was working to graduate in music education and felt inspired to start the project as part of her studies. She now directs the Institute for Musical Education of the Symphony of Santa Rosa.
Penrose created the program with the "El Sistema" model in mind. Founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu, "El Sistema" is a Venezuelan musical program aimed at social justice, created with the vision of bringing musical education to underserved communities. Initially it began in Caracas, Venezuela, and has spread throughout the world.
There are currently 61 students enrolled in Simply Strings, who receive free music education five days a week, and have access to the instruments. Participants are students ranging from second year (elementary) to high school, and the majority are students of the Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School. But the program is also open to other students.
One of the strongest elements of the program is its instructors and its staff, who patiently support and guide their students. “I am really impressed with the teaching staff, with how dedicated they are to teaching,” says Kate Matwychuk, Program Director.
The students are very expressive about the affection they feel towards their mentors. “They drive you, so you do it right,” says Gael Guzman, 9, who plays the violin. "Until when you think you can't."
Katherine Garcia, a fifth-year student who plays the cello explained, "You can tell them anything."
Many of the students said they joined Simply Strings because they wanted to learn something new. “I always wanted to learn to play the violin,” says Ashley. "I like how it sounds".
Students not only play for their classmates, they also do it at events, even at the Rohnert Park Green Music Center.
When I asked them if they ever got nervous when they played, the response was quick and strong: "Yes!" Julissa García, 9-year-old bassist, explained: "I'm always afraid of making a mistake."
Although they may have stage fright, children have also discovered that they love to play. “I like that we show people what we can do, we are sharing what we love,” he continued.
"It's amazing to see them learn and improve, face challenges," says Matwychuk. "Because that is also part of the concept."
Another success of Simply Strings is that parents and families also join the program. A parent association was formed to give more support to children, something that has come to distinguish them from other projects of "El Sistema." "They are very dedicated and committed," said Wendy Cilman, Director of Education at the Symphony of Santa Rosa. "This is unusual in the program "El Sistema."
According to her, Simply Strings seeks to “give students a sense of self-esteem, achieving it with hard work and discipline, but also having fun.”
Participants not only learn musical skills; They are also develop passion and discipline. They practice two hours a day, five days a week, after school.
When they are ready to graduate from elementary school, they are encouraged to continue participating in their musical education throughout high school and even later. Some Simply Strings alumni have continued to play with the Santa Rosa Youth Symphony Orchestra (SRSYO).
Cilman expects them to continue growing. "We would love to have more students," she says.
On March 15, students will meet for a unique performance. The ensemble will play an experimental and sensory show at the Green Music Center. "There hasn't been a concert like this before," explains Matwychuk.
For Cilman, the performances are more than just a show. "Students are reaching populations that are harder to reach with this type of music."
It is difficult not to smile, watching students practice seriously with their instruments. "I love to see the potential of children," she continues. "It's exciting to see them grow, develop as people and as musicians."

January 29, 2020: Santa Rosa Symphony gives world premiere of Matt Browne work in February

by Diane Peterson The Press Democrat, January 29, 2020

Composer Matt Browne grew up in a Monument, Colo., with all kinds of music swirling about his ears. He performed sax in his school band, his dad played in a rock band and his mom was a Bob Dylan fanatic.

But it was Browne’s two older brothers — one a fan of ’90s hip-hop and R&B, the other deeply devoted punk rock and metal — who pushed him toward the world of classical music.

“They fought each other and were always trying to vie for my musical allegiance,” he said. “Because I wanted to be the angry contrarian, I went the exact opposite direction. But I still love Boyz II Men and Bad Religion.”

The 31-year-old composer, who now lives on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, already has a list of nearly 60 classical works to his name. He will premiere his first symphony with the Santa Rosa Symphony under Francesco Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong in early February at the Green Music Center. The five-movement, 40-minute work will get a second premiere in March with the Eugene Symphony, also under the baton of Lecce-Chong, its music director.

The two premieres will mark the launch of Lecce-Chong’s ambitious First Symphony project, a four-year co-commissioning enterprise between the two symphonies and four young American composers, all chosen by the conductor. In addition to a full symphony apiece, each composer will also have a short work performed by each symphony, enabling them to connect with the communities through multiple residencies. (Browne’s short work, “How the Solar System Was Won,” was performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony in October.)

As a rising young composer, Browne knows only too well that the First Symphony Project presents a rare opportunity. He normally gets commissioned to write works of 10 minutes or less.

“I know that this project is a massive undertaking for both orchestras,” Browne said. “It takes someone like Francesco to really convince people that it’s worthwhile. ... I also know I’m setting the tone with the orchestra, the donors and Francesco. I am the first example of whether or not this was a good idea, so I do feel the responsibility.”

Browne, who majored in music compositions at the University of Colorado and got his master’s and PhD from the University of Michigan, based his Symphony No. 1, “The Course of Empire,” on a series of five paintings by 18th-century painter Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School. The paintings depict a fictional landscape at different points of its natural and human development.

Replicas of the five paintings will be on display in the lobby before the performances, and Browne will be there too, to chat with concert attendees.

Earlier this month, Browne spoke by phone with the Press Democrat (this interview has been edited for length).
Q: What inspired you about those five paintings by Thomas Cole?
A: The scope of it made me think of Mahler. What I always loved about his music was his maximalism. He was really trying to take the orchestra and use it to its full potential. There will be 100 musicians on stage, and sometimes they will all play, and then there will be a 3-minute flute solo. ... There are small stories going on amidst these big stories, and it’s the same with these paintings.

Q: Some of these paintings depict elaborate buildings and bridges. Do you see a link between architecture and music?
A: I use a metaphor when talking about composers, conductors and performers. Composers are the architects. They have the crazy ideas and then they hand them off to the conductor and performers, who are like the foreman and the engineers who build the things.

Music and architecture are very similar because they are built by particular building blocks. There are certain styles of music and architecture, but there are still basic things — in architecture there are doors, arches and scaffolding, and in music, melody harmony and rhythm.

Q: Could you describe the dramatic arc of the five movements?
A: The general arc is the arc of humanity as we know it, with warnings about what the future could look like. There’s a big, upward trajectory through the first three movements, with everyone working hard and building and taking over. Then in the third movement, we have arrived and at the end, it’s like the end of a Tchaikovsky symphony. It could almost end there. But as an ironic statement, I go into the devastating fourth movement and from there, it deteriorates into madness and the fourth movement just peters the idea out. It ends just like it began.

Q: Does it feel different to be writing a long-form work, such as a symphony?
A: Yes, it feels different. I’ve been squeamish about using the word symphony, just because it has so many connotations for me and anyone listening. You think of Beethoven and Mozart. I eventually got past that. I’m 31 now, so I’ve been out of school for a few years, and I cultivated what I consider a ‘voice’ and a ‘style,” and I don’t want to pigeonhole myself. ... Now I’m going to try some other stuff. But this big, massive orchestra piece is putting an exclamation point on what I’ve done so far.

Q: What may surprise the audience about this work?
A Just the fact that a living composer is having a 40-minute piece performed on an orchestra program is pretty unusual. I’ve written a lot of orchestra music, but they’re all 5 to 10 minutes long ... so you don’t have a lot of time. You have to front-load your ideas.

I think what people might be surprised by is how much time I take to unfold some of these ideas. In the first two or three minutes of the symphony, there is no harmony or melody. It’s just a building of a texture.

Q: The composing process is often mysterious. Can you talk about what it looks like for you?
A That’s tough because it is different every time. But how I get my inspiration is being away from anything musical and doing my own thing, reading books, looking at historical sites. Almost all of my music is based on something that piques my interest.
Then I think about how I could turn it into a piece. I sort of do it backwards. I think of the overall structure and form of the piece first ... and then I focus in on the key and the melody. Finally, I have enough information to sit down and write the piece.

Q: Is there a big difference between writing chamber and symphonic music?
A: I think of all of my music in some way as being theatrical. So if I’m writing for two cellos, I like to think of it as two actors on stage talking to each other. When I write for an orchestra, the drama comes from the breadth of the sound.

Q: This piece has a lot of percussion in it. Why are you drawn to that section of the orchestra?
A: Percussionists are some of my favorite people to work with because they are very adventurous in what they will try to do with you. I write a lot for saxophone, and percussion has the same issue — Beethoven never wrote for them. So their repertoire is being written right now. I just wrote a percussion quartet with four friends of mine, because I have all these strange ideas, and they will give it a try. There’s an insane amount of possibility, especially for orchestra.

Q: You incorporate a Welsh hymn into the symphony. Why did you choose that work?
A: The text of the hymn very much goes along with the message of the piece, which is anti-ambition. Look for happiness in what you have. But what I really loved about the hymn is that it is almost the national anthem of Wales, and they have one of the best rugby teams in the world. Every time they have a big, national game, the entire stadium will sing the hymn, in harmony. It’s an unbelievable community-building thing that I absolutely love.

Q: How much revision do you think you’re going to do?
A: I love revising, up until a point. During rehearsals, I can guarantee we are going to be making changes. After the performances in Santa Rosa, I’m going to be making changes for Eugene, and after that, I’ll make a few more changes. And then I’ll think, this piece is locked. In the meantime, I want to make the piece as good as possible.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

November 29, 2019: Mozart's Requiem at Weill Hall

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, November 29, 2019

Mozart’s final work, the powerful Requiem in D minor, has always been cloaked in mystery.

The 35-year-old composer died before he could finish the work, and in the delirium of his final illness, he grew to believe he was preparing it for his own demise. After his death, his wife had it completed in secrecy so she could present it as Mozart’s work and collect the much-needed fee.

“What we have from Mozart himself is probably only 25% of the piece that we know,” said Francesco Lecce-Chong, music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony. “That means 75% was completed by people who may or may not have received directions from Mozart.”

Some students and friends of the composer ended up finishing the sketches and fragments left behind. Foremost among them was Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and his version has been the one heard in concert halls for more than two centuries.

“I’m like most people — the version that I fell in love with is the traditional one,” said Lecce-Chong, who will lead a newer arrangement of the beloved choral work with the symphony, four soloists and the Sonoma State University Symphonic Chorus in early December.

Lecce-Chong is excited to be working from the score developed in the 1990s by Robert Levin, who he describes as “the greatest living Mozart scholar today.

“He has taken the Süssmayr (version) as the closest thing we have to Mozart, so he’s not trying to create a different piece,” Lecce-Chong explained. “This version simply clarifies and heightens the experience that we know and love.”

Although Süssmayr was a student of Mozart’s, apparently he was not a very skilled one. And Levin used that knowledge to make a few judicious changes, looking at the work from the point of view of Süssmayr himself.

“He asked, ‘If you were rushed and were not a good composer, what are the mistakes you would have made?,’” Lecce-Chong said. “There’s a lot of orchestration issues, text setting issues, and most importantly, Süssmayr cut some of the fugues short, because they are the hardest type of writing to do.”

In Levin’s arrangement, the “Hosanna” fugue is doubled in length and a brand new movement, an “Amen” fugue, has been added, Lecce-Chong said.
“Mozart always did a fugue for ‘Amen,’ and they found a fragment on the back of one of the manuscript pieces,” he said. “So Levin takes those 12 bars and turns it into a glorious fugue.”

Lecce-Chong, who performed the Mozart Requiem with the Eugene Symphony earlier this month, has personally purchased the parts to Levin’s arrangement of the Mozart Requiem and had them notated for how he wants the orchestra to play it, with tempi, dynamics and articulation markings.

“Owning the parts also allows me to make small, personal alternations in how certain instruments are used that will be completely unique to these performances,” LecceChong said.

The Santa Rosa Symphony’s December concert set, on Dec. 7, 8 and 9, will also include American composer Jessie Montgomery’s “Records from a Vanishing City,” a tone poem based on her memories of growing up on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1980s and 1990s; and Haydn’s dramatic Symphony No. 39, one of the few pieces the composer known for his sunny disposition wrote in a minor key. Lecce-Chong will lead the Haydn symphony from the fortepiano.

October 31, 2019: Santa Rosa Symphony showcases banjo master Béla Fleck

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, October 31, 2019

Béla Anton Leos Fleck was named after three, 20th-century classical composers — Bela Bartok, Anton Webern and Leos Jánacek — so it’s not surprising that one of the world’s most versatile and virtuosic banjo players has written three solo concertos showcasing his own instrument.

“Juno Concerto,” which Fleck will perform this weekend with the Santa Rosa Symphony, is his third attempt at the genre and was written after the birth of his oldest son, Juno, now 6. The commission for the concerto allowed Fleck to spend more time at home with his family while refining his orchestration chops.

“When I wrote this new one, I had a better idea of what each instrument does well (in an orchestra.),” Fleck said in a phone interview from Mesa, Arizona, where he was on tour with a world music trio. “It plays down better, and it works.”

For the concerto, Fleck said, the challenge will be integrating his instrument’s natural rhythms with the orchestra.

“The notes come in a flurry, and you have to ride the waves,” he said. “It always depends on the conductor’s ability to listen and understand the speed.”

Throughout his career, Fleck has routinely broken new ground in the musical world, experimenting with new sounds, techniques and genres, particularly jazz.

During the 1980s, he performed and recorded with the progressive bluegrass group New Grass Revival. In 1988, he put together the Flecktones, an all-instrumental band blending elements of bluegrass, jazz, rock, rhythm and blues and world music. He also continued to collaborate with other musicians, including bassist and composer Edgar Meyer and Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. Over the years, he has won more than a dozen Grammy awards that span more categories than any other artist.

In one of his most interesting experiments, Fleck went on a pilgrimage to sub-Saharan Africa — the birthplace of the banjo — where his interactions with local musicians spawned a fascinating 2008 documentary, “Throw Down Your Heart,” and a 2009 companion album, “Throw Down Your Heart: Tales from the Acoustic Planet.”

“If I had a mission, it’s to give the banjo a little more respect,” Fleck said. “It comes from Africa — it’s not the white, Southern joke instrument of “Dueling Banjos” and “Hee Haw.” It became pictured in a certain way, and that left out a central truth ... all the African music that was played on it, the banjo orchestras (of the late 19th century), and the music coming out of the New Orleans scene.”

Fleck first became aware of the banjo at age 5, when he heard bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs play the “Scruggs style” of picking on the country hit, “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which became the theme music of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

“It wasn’t just the banjo, it was the way he played it,” Fleck said. “There was something about that sound that went directly into me ... he played with three fingers, with elegance and grace.”

Scruggs had originally played with Bill Monroe, known as the “Father of Bluegrass,” alongside guitarist and singer Lester Flatt. The pair later peeled off to become Flatt & Scruggs, then split up to form their own bands.

“When Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt joined that band, that’s when bluegrass coalesced. Then they left, and the game was on,” Fleck said. “The bluegrass banjo is one of the great offerings bluegrass has made to American music. There’s nothing like that anywhere else in the world.”

Despite growing up in New York City, where there was “no folk or country music anywhere,” Fleck’s love affair with the banjo finally came to fruition when he was 15 and his grandfather bought him an instrument. He immediately picked it up, making progress with the help of a string of banjo teachers and his own, bottled-up passion.

“I would race through teachers and grab all I could, and they would send me to somebody else,” he said. “I was sponging up all this material, but I was definitely self-motivated.”

One of his most important mentors was the banjo player, Tony Trishka, who Fleck describes as “very jazzy and progressive and open-minded.”

“I tried to be like him,” he said. “And eventually, I realized I could find the things that suited my personality.”

When plucked rather than strummed, the banjo sounds similar to a classical guitar. For that reason, Fleck will have to amplify the instrument this weekend to be heard above the symphony.

“It’s not loud when you compare it to the other instruments,” he said. “I’m into attempting to draw a beautiful sound.”

Fleck wrote the three banjo concertos — plus other concertos for multiple instruments — because he wanted to stretch himself as a composer.

“In my first concerto, I tried a lot of stuff, and a lot of it was hard for the orchestra,” he said. “By the second concerto, I had played the first piece several times with orchestras in Philadelphia and Cleveland and Nashville, so I had the experience of being around all the orchestra instruments.”

As a composer, Fleck was inspired by Edgar Meyer, who writes for the string bass because there is a dearth of repertoire for that instrument.

“It seemed like there wasn’t a banjo concerto out there that I wanted to go out and play,” he said. “So I needed to create it myself.”

As preparation, he immersed himself in classical music he wasn’t familiar with, including works by Brahms and Bartok, as well as some of his favorites by Mozart and Beethoven.

A resident of Nashville since 1981, Fleck is married to banjo player and singer Abigail Washburn, and the couple has toured together as a duo with their son, Juno, and a nanny. Now that they have another little boy, 16-month-old Theodore, touring has become more difficult.

Being a father was an eye-opener for Fleck, who felt the experience allowed him to “join the human race.”

“Before becoming a father, I was under this impression that music was the most important thing in the world, and everything else was secondary,” he said. “So it put me back into real life, and things that matter and taking myself a lot less seriously. All of a sudden I got demoted.”

As he has gotten older, Fleck has found it harder to pivot between the different genres of music he has played over the years. So he now takes his time and practices before each gig.

“I used to play on Thursday with the Flecktones, and on Friday with bluegrass,” he said. “Now I want preparation for each one.”

Although he’s not crazy about the “crossover” label, Fleck points out that music has always evolved and borrowed from other music. What’s more important is whether it’s good crossover or not.

“I think blending is a good thing to do, and hopefully you do it well, and it sounds good to people,” he said. “It comes down to the actual musicians and how good they are and if they can make it work.

“That’s my goal, and that’s what I battle for ... every day.”

October 6, 2019: Gaye LeBaron, Press Democrat columnist, honored at Santa Rosa Symphony gala

by The Press Democrat, October 6, 2019

Historic, really, was Friday night’s recital and dinner at Sonoma State University’s Donald & Maureen Green Music Center that launched the 92nd season of the Santa Rosa Symphony.

Present for the gala honoring premier Sonoma County history author, journalist and community conscience Gaye LeBaron were two founding pillars of the world-class performance hall that became the symphony’s home in 2012. Joining Green Music Center pioneers Don Green and Corrick Brown were more than 160 symphony champions, arts advocates and admirers of guest of honor LeBaron.

A reception in the music center’s Prelude Restaurant & Bar transitioned to the recital on the main stage by piano virtuoso Garrick Ohlsson.

He was introduced by Francesco Lecce-Chong, who begins his first full season as the symphony’s fifth music director. Ohlsson, the only North American to win the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, played selections by Brahms and Chopin.

He would go on to appear as guest pianist in the weekend and Monday performances that open the symphony’s new season.

From the recital, gala guests moved into the lobby for dinner and salutations to LeBaron, a longtime patron and chronicler of the Santa Rosa Symphony who declared it “the best in the whole world.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire led an auction, then a fund-a-need appeal that brought donations of nearly $245,000 to the symphony’s far-reaching Institute for Music Education.

October 3, 2019: Santa Rosa Symphony launches first full season under new maestro

by The Press Democrat, October 3, 2019

Francesco Lecce-Chong opened the season for the Eugene, Oregon, Symphony last week, then flew directly to Santa Rosa to start rehearsing for the opening concerts this weekend with the Santa Rosa Symphony.

The rising young conductor takes the fast pace in stride after spending a busy summer on the road. He made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony, opened the summer season of the San Diego Symphony and made his debut with the Xi’an Symphony in China. Not to mention conducting three summer concerts in Eugene and two in Santa Rosa.

“It’s amazing that this season worked out, because it’s always a jigsaw puzzle between the two orchestras,” Lecce-Chong said in a phone interview from Eugene. “It comes together in the course of a month — a period of time where I really dig in — so it’s a product of where I’m feeling musically at that moment.”

In April 2017, Lecce-Chong was chosen to lead the Eugene Symphony. In March 2018, he was named the fifth music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony in its 90-year history. This is his first full season in Santa Rosa and marks the first time Lecce-Chong has done all his own programming. His aim was to find “good music and a diversity of music.”

For diversity, he knew he wanted to include recently written music on every program to refresh the musicians’ and audiences’ idea of “new.”

“These are all pieces I feel strongly about,” he said.

“I don’t want to do new music that doesn’t communicate something, that’s either so wrapped up in itself or so foreign in its relevance that it has no meaning.”

Case in point: This weekend’s concerts at the Green Music Center open with “Masquerade,” a swirling, cinematic but brief work by English composer Anna Clyne. Commissioned by the BBC, the piece was inspired by the 18th-century, outdoor music and dance performances held at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in London.

“It’s one of those beautiful, glorious pieces,” Lecce-Chong said.

“I was kind of shocked — it’s sort of become the token new music piece that’s being programmed around the orchestras this season.”

Providing a sneak peak of the February concert, when Matt Browne’s new symphony will get its world premiere as part of the First Symphony Project, Lecce-Chong will also introduce the young composer and his dynamic, 8-minute work, “How the Solar System Was Won.”

Browne will engage in the pre-concert talks with Lecce-Chong, so people can get to know him, before he returns in February for another week of residency.

“It makes a big difference when the audience has the flesh and blood of the composer right there,” Lecce-Chong said.

“Part of the success of the First Symphony Project is having the composer come out beforehand, so they can get to know the hall and the orchestra ... so when he comes out in the spring (February), there’s a connection.”

Beethoven’s No. 4
Representing the classics on the first concert program will be San Francisco pianist Garrick Ohlsson, performing a polished, gem of a piano concerto, Beethoven’s No. 4.

The conductor views such masterworks of the classical repertoire as a crucial part of his mission, since it allows the orchestra to work on ensemble together, then use that to build on in the future.

“The classics are something that is important, for all of us to get to know each other,” he said.

“Last year, I opened with the Beethoven 5th (symphony), which was very nice.”

This weekend, Lecce-Chong is really looking forward to the big showcase on the program, Richard Strauss’ tone poem, “Also sprach Zarathustra,” well known to millions as the opening piece on the soundtrack for the film “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

‘Play out like a soloist’
One of the things that makes this particular piece a challenge, he said, is that Strauss wrote individual music for each music stand of the strings, so everyone must play out like a soloist.

“All of the Strauss tone poems are really difficult,” he said. “But this one is just terrifying.”

Another part of Lecce-Chong’s programming philosophy is to make sure all the masterworks stand out on their own.

Although he enjoyed conducting the “epic and awesome” Mozart and Mahler program last January, he felt the 70-minute Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 overshadowed Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, a revolutionary work that got short shrift in rehearsal time.

“This season, I think the masterworks are going to shine,” he said.

“ ‘Zarasthustra’ will hold its weight and will really shine with the Beethoven concerto.”

In February, the conductor is looking forward to introducing a new, larger work by Browne, who will return for the world premiere of his 35-minute symphony, titled “The Course of Empire,” after a cycle of five paintings by Thomas Cole that inspired each of the symphony’s five movements.

“For me, this is a dream come true to have a chance to do something like this,” Lecce-Chong said. “It’s the riskiest thing, but it’s also the most important thing we can do. This is how the art progresses — through the larger statement.”

Almost by chance, the final concert of the symphony season in May will also feature a “massive world premiere” of a work commissioned for mariachi and orchestra.

“The project had stalled when they hired me,” he said.

“When they asked me if I wanted to do the project, I said, ‘I don’t want it to sound like a pops mariachi concert ... where the orchestra plays backup to the mariachi band, and it still sounds like mariachi music.”

So Lecce-Chong was thrilled when he first spoke with Mexican composer Enrique Chapala, who understood that the project would require both ensembles to explore new textures and new ways to interact with each other. For the new work, Chapala has chosen the theme of the bracero program, which brought millions of guest workers to the U.S. from 1942 to 1964.

“It (the theme) works so well for what I hope this piece can do,” Lecce-Chong said.

“This is a piece that has a chance to change the way we think about everything — how we relate to others, how we think about cross-cultural relationships.”

Meanwhile, the conductor will get a chance to flex his cinematic muscles at 3 p.m. Oct. 27 when he conducts “Halloween with Harry Potter” as part of the symphony’s three-concert Family Concert Series. The concert will include pieces from two “Harry Potter” movies, “Beauty and the Beast” and others.

“I’ve taken the entire series under my umbrella of things that I want to pass by me,” he said. “I feel so strongly about it, and I think this season is really strong for us ... ‘Harry Potter,’ great. ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ great. ‘Beethoven (Lives Upstairs),’ great. All the heavy hitters, all in one season.”

Light-hearted spirit
Like Leonard Bernstein, who led the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts, Lecce-Chong plans to keep the musical quality high for the kids while still providing a fun and light-hearted spirit.

“Let them hear the best that we can do,” he said. “Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ ballet is the kind of story that could have come out of Harry Potter.

“Normally you don’t have a chance to hear 25 minutes of Stravinsky, but at this concert, they will hear an entire masterpiece. The orchestra is going to help me narrate the story, so the kids get to meet the individual instruments that represent the prince, the bird and the evil creature.”

That same philosophy will be in play when Lecce-Chong guest conducts a family concert with the New York Philharmonic in early November, focusing on new American composers as well as Ives, Copland and Bernstein.

“This will be my debut there,” he said. “So I get to follow in the footsteps of Bernstein.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

August 30, 2019: Yale Abrams, leader at United Way of the Wine Country and Santa Rosa Symphony, dies at 78

by Chris Smith, The Press Democrat, August 30, 2019

Yale Abrams was a marketing whiz and former United Way leader who savored the Santa Rosa Symphony, community service performed collectively, Penn State football, romps with his three grandkids, “Pink Panther” movies and good laughs to bad jokes.
Given the way life tickled him, Abrams almost certainly would be amused that his final meal was one of his guilty pleasures: a hot dog at Costco.
The gentle-natured Sonoma County volunteer and management consultant to nonprofits and businesses was enjoying a food-court snack with his wife of 50 years, Terry Abrams, on Aug. 20 when he went into heart failure. He died a short time later in the emergency department at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.
Abrams, a Philadelphia-born community booster who for decades brightened all sorts of benefit and cultural events in and around Santa Rosa, was 78.
“He had an incredibly beautiful sense of humor,” said friend and fellow Rotary Club of Santa Rosa member Cathy Vicini.
“And his heart! If you ever asked him to do something, or you needed a volunteer, his hand went up.”
Abrams’ constant, unpaid work for the greater good included an unmatched 40 years of service to the board of the Santa Rosa Symphony.
Its president and CEO, Alan Silow, was grateful to Abrams for sharing his historical perspective on the evolution of the symphony, based now at the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.
Silow praised Abrams also for “his vast marketing knowledge that helped tremendously in our audience development strategies.”
Abram’s years of leadership on the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board, charged with promoting the county’s economic vitality through job creation and readiness, brought him a 2018 Spirit of Sonoma award.
He’d worked most of his career in sales and marketing when, in 1995, he became president-CEO of what is now called United Way of Wine Country.
He told The Press Democrat early in 1996 that switching from business to the nonprofit United Way, which grants donations from community members to a host of local programs and causes, was not difficult.
“I asked myself, ‘What do you really care about?’ And I decided that I’d rather spend my time working for my community than for myself.”
Abrams was born Nov. 8, 1940, in Philadelphia. He earned admission to the city’s Central High School, the second-oldest public high school in America, and upon graduation continued on to Penn State, where he became editor of the campus newspaper.
A student he’d dated introduced him in 1962 to Terry Salmon, who’d come to Penn State from New York. Little did they know that in 2019 they would make plans for celebrating 50 years of marriage.
Not long after Yale Abrams graduated in 1963 he was drafted into the Army. America’s war with North Vietnam was heating up as Abrams was sent to Fort Lewis in Washington as an intelligence specialist. He was honorably discharged in 1966.
He went to work as a helicopter parts buyer for the Boeing Co. in Philadelphia, and at the same time earned an MBA in marketing from Temple University.
Terry Salmon was living in San Francisco and carrying on a bi-coastal relationship with Abrams when he asked her, not for the first time, to marry him.
He launched that last proposal on July 20, 1969, the day of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. She said yes. He was over the moon.
The couple married Sept. 6, 1969, at the Swedenborgian Church of San Francisco. A short time later they set up housekeeping in San Francisco, and Yale Abrams began his career in marketing.
His and Terry’s first of two sons, Kim, was born in 1974.
It was two years later that an opportunity arose to move to Sonoma County. Abrams took up an offer from Canada-based Ecodyne to become marketing manager of its cooling tower division in Windsor.
The Abrams family settled into a home in Larkfield, just north of Santa Rosa. Son Dale was born in 1978.
Something profound happened to Yale Abrams early on in his tenure at Ecodyne. Higher-ups asked him to help out as a loaned executive to what was then United Way of Sonoma-Lake-Mendocino.
That introduction to the world of community nonprofits opened Abrams’ eyes to the vast need for — and rewards of — volunteer service and local philanthropy.
While advancing in his marketing career he immersed himself in the missions of a variety of community organizations. He was active over the years on the boards of the Sonoma County Family YMCA, Blood Bank of the Redwoods, Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, World Affairs Council of Sonoma County and Sonoma State University Enterprises.
“He was all over the community,” said longtime friend and fellow Rotary Club member Rich de Lambert.
“He was a leader; just a pleasant guy, kind of rolled with the punches. You can’t say anything bad about him.”
In the mid-1980s, Yale and Terry Abrams became partners in Abrams Thompson, Inc., a marketing and advertising agency. That firm would become the current Abrams Consulting.
Yale Abrams, whose career also included working as a marketing executive at Data 3 Systems Inc. and teaching marketing at Santa Rosa Junior College, took a long break from corporate life starting in 1995. He returned to the regional United Way office as the operation’s president and CEO.
Abrams held that position until 2003, then rejoined his wife at Abrams Consulting. The two made plans to travel to Italy in October to celebrate a half century of marriage.
On the evening of Aug. 20, they stopped at the Costco in Santa Rosa for gasoline and Yale offered to treat his wife to one of his favorite meals: the warehouse store’s hot dog and soda deal.
As they were eating, Terry Abrams said, “I could see he was feeling discomfort.” She went for help.
Yale Abrams was taken by ambulance to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “He was actually awake and talking when I got there,” Terry said.
But a short time later his heart stopped. His wife of 17 days short of 50 years will go ahead with the anniversary journey to Italy, but will travel with her sister and brother-in-law.
In addition to Terry Abrams in Santa Rosa, Yale Abrams is survived by sons Kim Abrams of Oakland, Dale Abrams of San Jose and three grandchildren.
A memorial service will be private.
Abrams’ family suggests memorial donations to Santa Rosa Symphony, or 50 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa 95404; Sonoma County Family YMCA, or 1111 College Ave., Santa Rosa 95404; Disability Services & Legal Center, or 521 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa 95401; or United Way of the Wine Country, or 975 Corporate Center Parkway, Suite 160, Santa Rosa 95407.

2018 - 2019 Season

March 1, 2019: Santa Rosa Symphony announces 2019-2020 season

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 1, 2019

The Santa Rosa Symphony has announced its 2019-2020 season — the first season programmed and conducted by new Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong — with a lineup that ranges from well-known masterworks by Brahms and Beethoven to new works by living composers, including two world premieres.

“We’ve clearly laid down the road map for how to keep our art form alive and relevant,” Lecce-Chong said about the season. “We’ve done this by programming these less-familiar works in ways that connect them with masterworks from the past.”

Other highlights of the seven-concert series season include the December set, when Lecce-Chong will conduct a Haydn symphony from the harpsichord and the Sonoma State University Symphonic Chorus will join the symphony in Mozart’s Requiem in D minor.

As part of the launch of the First Symphony project, composer-in-residence Matt Browne will premiere his co-commissioned work during the February set.

The symphony in collaboration with Mariachi Champaña Nevin will give a world premiere of a work by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela Barba during the final concert set in May.

The 2019-2020 Santa Rosa Symphony Classical Concert Series runs from October through May at Weill Hall at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center and includes seven concert programs, each with three performances. (7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays and 7:30 p.m. Mondays.) The symphony also offers a Discovery Dress Rehearsal Series at 2 p.m. Saturdays that are reasonably priced working rehearsals. Lecce-Chong will conduct all the concerts, with the exception of the March set, which will be led by guest conductor Gemma New.

Here are the concert programs for the 2019-2020 season:

“Unmasking the Stars”: Opening concerts Oct. 5 to 7 feature Bay Area favorite Garrick Ohlsson performing Beethoven’s beloved Piano Concerto No. 4. Strauss’ epic tone poem, “Also sprach Zarasthustra,” part of the soundtrack for “2001: A Space Odyssey,” will be paired with “How the Solar System Was Won,” by First Symphony Project composer Matt Browne. The concert opens with “Masquerade,” by London-born composer Anna Clyne.

“Master of the Modern Banjo”: Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck will perform his own “Juno” Concerto, an homage to Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” during the Nov. 2 to 4 concert set. Copland’s Four Dance Episodes from “Rodeo” and Mussorgsky’s dramatic “Pictures at an Exhibition” round out the program.

“Mozart’s Swan Song”: The Sonoma State University Symphonic Chorus and four vocal soloists will join the symphony Dec. 7 to 9 for Mozart’s searing Requiem in D minor. Lecce-Chong will conduct from the harpsichord for an authentically inspired Haydn’s Symphony No. 38. Jessie Montgomery’s jazz-folk “Records from a Vanishing City” completes the holiday, vocal concert set.

“Shadows and Sunshine”: Rising young violinist Simone Porter will perform Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor on Jan. 11 to 13. American composer Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) and Brahms’ pastoral Symphony No. 2 bookend the concerts.

“Riveting Rachmaninoff”: The Feb. 8 to 10 concerts open with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3, followed by Rachmaninoff’s thorny Piano Concerto No. 3 performed by Natasha Paremski. After intermission, Composer-in-Residence Matt Browne will unveil the first premiere of the four-year First Symphony Project, jointly commissioned with the Eugene Symphony and a group of patrons.

“Showcasing Contemporary Women”: With “Down Under” guest conductor Gemma New on the podium March 21 to 23, the symphony will honor women artists with Katherine Balch’s “like a broken clock” and feature violin virtuoso Jennifer Frautschi and her “ex-Cadiz” Strad in Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 3. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastorale,” will end the concert on a bucolic note.

“Visions of Hope”: Thanks to a commission by the symphony, the season finale on May 2 to 4 will feature a world premiere of a work for mariachi, orchestra and four vocalists by Mexican composer Enrico Chapela Barba to be performed with Mariachi Champaña Nevin. Two popular tone poems by Respighi — “The Pines of Rome” and “The Fountains of Rome” — close the season with a sonic evocation of the City of Seven Hills.

Symphony subscriptions will be available beginning March 4 and can be purchased at the Symphony’s Patron Services Office at 50 Santa Rosa Ave. or by calling 707-546-8742.

February 18, 2019: Arts Endowment Grants Back Bay Area Organizations

by Peter Feher, San Francisco Classical Voice, February 18, 2019

Most days of the year, a conversation about the federal budget is nothing but a source a grief. But there was some decidedly good news on the government-funded end of things last week. On Feb. 13, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced a big roster of grant recipients, with a sizable number of Bay Area arts organizations on the list.
Among the awarded institutions: San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, and SFJAZZ. Because NEA grants are allotted for specific projects and not general operating costs, the money received by each organization will be in service to a set purpose. S.F. Opera’s grant will underwrite performances of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs. S.F Symphony receives support for two separate youth programs. And SFJAZZ will continue to strengthen the mission of its Collective.
Other beneficiaries include Voices of Music, in support of the ensemble’s “Musical Crossroads” program; Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, for the production of a new opera titled Artemisia; and Kronos Quartet, who will stage their fifth-annual Kronos Festival this year. Music at Kohl Mansion received funding for the Bay Area iteration of “Violins of Hope,” and the Santa Rosa Symphony, with its second NEA grant within a year, will collaborate with violinist Elena Urioste. Some notable Bay Area festivals — CAAMFestSFFILM Fest, and the Silent Film Festival — also secured NEA support, via their parent organizations.
A full list of recipients, sorted geographically, can be found here. Nationally, the NEA proffered over $27 million in grants to artists from all 50 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. California received 152 grants, totaling more than $3.5 million.

February 11, 2019: SR Symphony plans four-year project for new music

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, February 11, 2019

The Santa Rosa Symphony in collaboration with the Eugene Symphony in Oregon — both under the leadership of Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong — are embarking on an ambitious, four-year commissioning project with four, young American composers that represents the largest such project in the history of both orchestras.   The First Symphony Project will launch in the fall of 2019 during Lecce-Chong’s first full season as the conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony. Over the course of four years, each composer will have a short work performed in the fall by both orchestras, then return in the spring for the world premiere of their first-ever symphonic work.

“I believe we are in a Golden Age, and composers have found a music to reach their audience,” said the 31-year-old Lecce-Chong, who studied composing himself. “It’s not music from the 1970s or ’80s. It’s from the past five years. As an artist, I have to believe the best is yet to come.”

The project is being co-commissioned by both regional orchestras plus nine patron families. Fulfilling the goal of community engagement, composers will be embedded in the community during multiple residencies, presenting master classes for local colleges, speaking to youth orchestras and sharing the creative process with their local patrons.

“When people can put a face to the music, it becomes much less intimidating,” Lecce-Chong said. “The multiple residencies will allow us to not only celebrate these new creations but bring us closer to their creators.”

“It touches all the bases that we would hope for in a new commission,” said Alan Silow, president and CEO of the Santa Rosa Symphony. “It’s very community based, because Francesco wanted it to be commissioned by local patrons … and he’s one of the donors, which is rare and admirable.”

Lecce-Chong said he has been personally fundraising for the project for the past nine months. He also selected the four composers and recruited eight patron families — four in Santa Rosa and four in Eugene. Today, most new music commissions depend on nonprofit or government grants, but Lecce-Chong specifically wanted to seek out individuals.

“Francesco is almost harkening back hundreds of years ago when composition was a collaboration between composer and conductor and patron,” Silow said. “It’s introducing new music in a new model.”

Lecce-Chong selected two male and two female composers for the project — Matt Browne, based in New York City; Gabriella Smith, based in the San Francisco Bay Area; Puerto Rican-born Angélica Negron, based in Brooklyn, and Michael Djupstrom, based in Philadelphia. The conductor is acquainted with each composer and admires them for their openness to collaboration and feedback.

“They are just young people like me. They are doing innovative stuff, and they believe that music builds community,” Lecce-Chong said. “Basically, I want to treat these people like the rock stars that they are.”

Donors from Santa Rosa who are Emeritus Board members include Nancy and David Berto, Chuck and Ellen Wear and Creighton White, all of Santa Rosa. Current board member Gorden Blumenfeld is also a patron of the project.

“It’s a great idea to do this, and it aligns well with our overall goal of making this a first-class, regional orchestra,” said White, who has been involved with the symphony since 1996. “This will give these young composers a chance to bring a full symphony into the 21st century. Most commissions are not of that scope.”

Ellen Wear of Santa Rosa said she and her husband were honored to be asked to support the project, which she views as emblematic of a new day dawning for both the symphony and community.

“It’s such a unique concept that Francesco has created ... and it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” she said. “Symphonies aren’t commissioned very often, and these are all young composers. They are just ecstatic to have this opportunity.”

Next season, the Santa Rosa Symphony will welcome composer-in-residence Matt Browne for the first concert set in October, when the orchestra will play one of his smaller works. His commissioned symphony will receive its first world premiere in February 2020, then be repeated in Eugene at a later date.

With Lecce-Chong at the helm, donors said they did not have qualms about the success of the project.
“It’s an exciting project, and we have an exciting new music director to make sure it works,” White said. “He’s the kind that can make things happen.”

For his part, Lecce-Chong said he was thankful for all the support he has received so far.
“I never thought with orchestras of this size that you could do something like this,” he said. “I’m hoping to set a trend.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

November 29, 2018: Kick off the holidays with the Santa Rosa Symphony and Vivaldi's Gloria

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, November 29, 2018

When the Santa Rosa Symphony was searching for an Italian choral piece for this weekend’s “Viva Italia” program, they picked the brain of Jenny Bent, choral director of the symphony and director of choral activities at Sonoma State University.

Bent suggested Vivaldi’s Gloria in D major, a hybrid work that is part concerto, part opera . The Latin text dates back to the fourth century and is part of the Ordinary of the Mass, so it is often performed at the holidays.

“They wanted a piece 25 minutes in length that had minimal soloists,” she said. “For this time of the year, it seemed like a good fit.”
The work, which will feature two sopranos and a countertenor as soloists, is one of Vivaldi’s best known sacred works, a joyful hymn divided into 12 brief movements. While providing striking contrasts, from deep sadness to sunny brilliance, the movements also exhibit a cohesive structure, with the signature octave leaps of the first movement returning in the penultimate movement.

“The opening movement is probably one of the most familiar ... a lot of people recognize it, and it has an overall jubilant, joyful feel,” said Bent, who has been preparing the chorus since August. “The second movement has a little more of a mournful sound. It’s in the minor key.”
Although Vivaldi is believed to have composed the work around 1716, it was consigned to oblivion for two centuries after his death. In the 1920s, the Gloria in D Major was rediscovered in a pile of discarded Vivaldi manuscripts. It was finally performed in its original version in 1957.
Guest conducting the work this Saturday through Monday will be Jayce Ogren, a rising star in both the symphonic and operatic worlds. For the rest of the program, the symphony will a perform Rossini’s Overture to “Guillaume Tell” and Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy,” featuring viola soloist Nokuthula Ngwenyama.

“Jayce wanted this to be more of an intimate experience for the performers, so it’s a smaller choir than what we’ve had in the past,” Bent said of the chorus, made up of 65 singers from SSU and 25 singers from the Santa Rosa Junior College Chamber Singers. “And it will be a smaller orchestra than we used in the past.”

Due to the smaller ensemble, chorus will stand onstage, directly behind the orchestra, rather than in the choral loft behind the stage.

Vivaldi originally wrote the work for the choir of the Ospedale della Pieta, an orphanage for girls who were the illegitimate daughters of Venetian noblemen and their mistresses. Vivaldi spent most of his career there as priest, music teacher and virtuoso violinist.
Back in Vivaldi’s time, the girls sang from the upper galleries of the church and were hidden from view, to protect them from corrupted noblemen and visitors to the city.

As for Stravinsky’s alleged criticism of Vivaldi — “Vivaldi did not write 400 concerts; he wrote one concerto 400 times” — Bent begs to differ.

“‘The Seasons’ is an early example of program music that is more associated with Romantic composers like Berlioz,” she said. “I consider him ahead of his time ... He was also operating within a time when you don’t have as broad a palate of chord progressions. It’s harmonically limited.”
Although she has sung Vivaldi’s Gloria before, this is Bent’s first time conducting the work. With Ogren’s help, she said the performance will follow the modern-day Baroque style while using modern pitch and instruments.
“It’s not too heavy with the tone and has specific articulations that are typical, such as a line that will swell into a dissonance and then release when it dissolves,” she said. “A hallmark of Baroque music is that it is very decorative and ornate, which is what baroque means, so you see a tapestry of various textures.”’

Bent is particularly excited about the three soloists, who all have strong connections to SSU: sopranos Esther Rayo and Jennifer Thuman were freshman in 2006, when Bent first started teaching there.

“They are starting out their careers now, and it’s fun to see that come full circle,” she said of the singers, who are also best friends. “Just to see them perform professionally is very exciting.”

The third soloist, countertenor Chris Fritzsche, lives in Santa Rosa and is a graduate and former vocal teacher at SSU. He has sung in the a cappella ensemble Chanticleer and is a founding member of the vocal ensemble, Clerestory.

“He is fabulously talented,” she said. “He’s a fixture in the Bay Area.”

The Santa Rosa Symphony, led by Guest Conductor Jayce Ogrenwill , will perform “Viva Italia” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1; 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2; and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall at Sonoma State University. Tickets are $24-$87. To reserve: 707-546-8742;; or at the patron services office at 50 Santa Rosa Ave..

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

October 30, 2018: Sharon Isbin’s Villa-Lobos in Santa Rosa

by Jeffrey Freymann, KDFC, October 30, 2018

Guitarist Sharon Isbin joins the Santa Rosa Symphony this Saturday through Monday, playing the Villa-Lobos Guitar Concerto, as part of a program called ‘Dancing Across Time.’ The Grammy Award-winning Isbin, who founded and runs the Guitar department at Juilliard, actually started studying the instrument by chance when she was a child – what she really wanted to do was study science and rocketry.
Isbin says the Villa-Lobos concerto originally lacked one of its most memorable moments. “It was written for [Andrés] Segovia, and when Villa-Lobos first presented it to Segovia, he was a little disappointed, because it didn’t have a cadenza. So he insisted that that be added. And it ended up being one of the best cadenzas ever for a guitar concerto. So it’s kind of the prize of the piece… It comes at a moment where you are just poised to hear the guitar, in all its virtuosity and lyricism.” She’s spent her career expanding the repertoire of music written for the guitar, with a dozen or more concertos written for her, as well as many chamber works. But were it not for her brother backing out of lessons, she might not have begun. “Our family moved to Italy for a sabbatical year when I was nine, and at that time my oldest brother said he wanted guitar lessons. So my parents were amazed to find that twice a week, a fellow would commute from Milan, who had studied with Segovia and was concertizing all over Italy. So brought my brother for the interview. He said, ‘Classical? No way!’, and I volunteered to take his place…My passion really was science and model rockets. And my father used to say, ‘You can’t launch your rockets until you put in an hour of guitar playing.’ And so that’s how they bribed me to keep it up…The turning point really was when I won a competition to perform with the Minnesota Orchestra for ten thousand people. I remember walking out, I was 14 years old. I thought, “You know, this is even more exciting than seeing my little worms and grasshoppers go up into space. I think I’ll switch gears and become a guitarist,” and that’s what happened.”

October 26, 2018: Starting Early: Family Concert Series continues SRS effort to make a good first impression on young fans

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, October 26, 2018

When Francesco Lecce-Chong started his tenure as Music Director with the Eugene Symphony in Oregon last season, he launched a new family concert featuring preconcert activities in the lobby where he could hang out with the kids.

“By the time I got on stage, there was already a great buzz,” Lecce-Chong said. “We’re going to have fun … but it’s going to be serious.”
When the conductor was named as the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Music Director last spring, he embraced the organization’s 6-year-old Family Concert Series with botharms, insisting on conducting the third of three concerts aimed at elementary kids and their families. When that program rolls around in April — he chose to lead “The Composer is Dead” by children’s author Lemony Snicket — he will make history as the symphony’s first music director to take on that duty.
“Our new music director brings huge experience and enthusiasm for music education for young people,” said Alan Silow, the symphony’s president and CEO. “It harks back to his memory of Leonard Bernstein doing the Young People’s Concerts.”

One of the attractions for Lecce-Chong is that he gets to make an impression on the entire family, not just the kids. And he can let everyone know, including the orchestra, that he takes the quality of the performances seriously.
“Family concerts for me are the No. 1 thing that is important for a music director to do,” he said. “Bernstein was the first to do it, and for some reason, no one has followed his lead. That’s disappointed me.”
The symphony’s Family Concert Series started in 2012 when the orchestra first moved into its new home at the Green Music Center and its beautiful, wood-lined Weill Hall.
“The Luther Burbank has a long-standing family concert series of their own, so we never wanted to compete with them,” he said. “When we entered the Green Music Center … I didn’t want it to be enjoyed only by the Classical Series patrons.”
Series debut program
At 3 p.m. on Sunday, this season’s Family Concert Series kicks off with “The Conductor’s Spellbook,” written and narrated by Santa Rosa native Paul Dooley, who also wrote “Sonoma Strong,” a piece commissioned and performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony at its season-opening concerts earlier this month.

Dooley, who teaches music composition at the University of Michigan — Ann Arbor, played percussion in the Santa Rosa High School band and sang with the choir when Santa Rosa Symphony Conductor Laureate Jeffrey Kahane was actively collaborating with local high schools.
“I got to sing with the orchestra,” Dooley recalled. “And Jeffrey Kahane would come to the high school and do rehearsals with us.”
Dooley describes “The Conductor’s Spellbook” as “Harry Potter meets ‘Peter and the Wolf.’” In the 35-minute work, the composer not only introduces the instruments of the orchestra but explains the science behind how each of them works.
Dooley said he wrote the piece, which has already been performed by the Detroit and Singapore symphonies, because he feels strongly about giving kids an early taste of classical music. His kindergarten experience of attending the San Francisco Symphony not only affected his choice of a future career but inspired him to write his own family work.
“It’s the first time for most kids hearing an orchestra live, so it’s an important moment to teach and capture their imagination a bit,” he said. “It’s nice to have a concert experience that’s been created for them.”
Costumes welcome
At this Sunday’s concert, where children are encouraged to wear costumes, there will be a photo booth as well as an instrument petting zoo, where children can get a hands-on experience to help pique their interest and excitement in the music.
The family concerts often feature audience interaction and collaborations with other performing artists to help keep the young people’s attention. The first two concerts will be led by Bobby Rogers, the symphony’s new Youth Orchestra conductor.
“We keep ticket prices purposely low for the series,” Silow said. “Sometimes parents come, and sometimes grandparents. I think it’s emotionally rewarding for them to have that kind of family experience … and everyone can discuss it.”
Broadening audience
A few years ago, Silow broadened the symphony audience by offering free tickets to the Classical Series to children between 7 and 17 accompanied by a paid adult ticket. That opened the way for older kids to attend concerts in an affordable manner.
“We’re well aware of the cost of the tickets … and a lot of adults have a difficult time attending our concerts,” he said. “So we wanted to make it easy for the parents and encourage them to expose their children to a lovely night out hearing classical music.”
Young adults attending Sonoma State University and the Santa Rosa Junior College can also attend the symphony’s Classical Series for $10, through a student rush discount offered one hour before each performance.
Santa Rosa family physician Parker Duncan and his wife, Paola Diaz, have brought their two highschool- age sons — Justin Diaz and Nathan Garcia-Diaz Kaz , an oboeist and English horn player with the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra — to the Classical Series for the past three years.
“I think that’s one of the coolest things going,” Duncan said. “We would probably find a way to take them anyway, but that really enhances it.”
Both parents grew up in musical families and look upon the local orchestra as a good way to support and participate in the local community. For Nathan, he said, the symphony’s diverse array of educational programs have been a gift.
“Seeing the symphony shows him that this is one way that people can have a day job or a night job,” he said. “And his youth orchestra participation has launched him as a teen finding his way in the world.”
Jennifer and John Foley of Sebastopol have also taken advantage of the family discount deal for the symphony’s Classical Series, bringing along their two sons: Owen, 13, who plays the violin, French horn, sax and piano; and Evan, 11, who plays the cello, trumpet and sax.
When her youngest begged to play the cello, Jennifer joined him in the symphony’s String Orchestra Workshop, an entry-level training program open to both kids and adults. She’s now in her third year of cello studies.
“Evan just skyrocketed ahead of me,” she said. “They took him out … and I had to stay behind. It’s me and the little kids, but I feel age doesn’t matter. I’m just one of them. The little kids teach me.”
Because the two boys are both enrolled in the symphony’s youth orchestras, the family also gets free tickets to the Discovery Rehearsals that take place on the Saturday afternoon before each Classical Series opens.
“They really get to see the conductor from a different vantage point, because you hear him talking,” Jennifer said. “They can appreciate all the work that goes into each piece.”
Model for musicians
After attending the rehearsal, the Foley family goes back on Saturday evenings to listen to the concert, sitting in the third-floor balcony above the stage where the boys can look down on all the action.
“There’s so much going on,” she said. “The music makes them feel good, and they can appreciate the real symphony so much.”
Wendy Cilman, the symphony’s director of education, said the organization now offers six youth orchestras, including the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra for advanced students. But it’s crucial to connect them to the professional orchestra so they can see what they’re striving for.
“It’s great modeling,” she said. “We’re just so lucky to have the Santa Rosa Symphony as a resource … it’s exciting for them to see their coaches onstage and their teachers perform.”
Due to its rich array of programs, Cilman said the Santa Rosa Symphony has become nationally known as one of the finest music education programs in the country.
“There is no program that is like this north of Los Angeles in California,” she said.
“We’re working hard to reach out to the community and let people know what resources they have in us.” 
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@ On Twitter @dianepete56

October 3, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony’s New Music Director

by Jeffrey Freymann, KDFC State of the Arts, October 3, 2018

Francesco Lecce-Chong takes the podium for his first concerts as Santa Rosa Symphony's new Music Director this Saturday through Monday. The 31-year-old is only the fifth conductor to occupy that post in the 90 years of the orchestra's history. In April, after the announcement was made, an audience at the Green Music Center's Weill Hall at Sonoma State University had a chance to begin to get to know him.

There's more information about the upcoming concerts at the Santa Rosa Symphony website.

“This was the most beautiful hall I'd ever conducted in in my life, and now it's to be home for me. And it's unbelievable, really. I'm so grateful, and so thrilled, and truly humbled to have an opportunity to be here with you all, make music, and connect with you all.” Community is very important to Lecce-Chong, who also conducts the Eugene Symphony. “Making great music is one of the great joys obviously of being a conductor. But for me, I can make great music by myself, I can listen to great music. But what really is great about [being] a conductor is the people that you get to make it with, and the people that you get to share it with. And that to me is always the number one thing that brings me back to what I do… I want people to come to concerts not in spite of the fact that they have to sit there with a thousand other people, because they get to experience music with a thousand other people.” He says having to wait from October, when he auditioned (and his final concert was cancelled because of the fires) until the Spring was very difficult, because he immediately felt such an outpouring of friendship. “You have something exceptional here. It is incredible. It is beyond what I thought was possible, and certainly beyond where I ever thought I would land. You have a community that is so supportive, so generous, and most importantly, so engaged with what is going on with this orchestra.”

September 29, 2018: New conductor to open Santa Rosa Symphony season with fire-inspired composition

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, September 29, 2018

Anyone who experienced last fall's tragic wildfires will never forget the sound of the hot, erratic wind swirling about, scattering leaves and more in its path. It was as if the witches had decided to call a sabbath on the Mayacamas Mountains instead of on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Bald Mountain.”

What kind of music would you come up with if you were asked to commemorate the Wine Country wildfires and the community’s rise to recovery?

Paul Dooley, a composer who grew up on the west side of Santa Rosa and now teaches at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, accepted that difficult assignment from the Santa Rosa Symphony last year. His challenge was also to work within the confines of a succinct, six-minute work.

“I wanted to do something in two parts — a little more reflective — but also, have a celebratory and emotional ending that was more joyous,” he said. “So the challenge was trying to do that in a short amount of time.”

To simulate the wind at the start of the piece, he employed some unusual instruments known as a tuned whirlies, which create a whistling sound through corrugated tubes as you swing them around.

“Visually, they look like a siren spinning, so there’s an analogy to that, but they sound very nice,” said Dooley, who started out as a percussionist and pianist. “I set those against a long, lyrical trumpet solo, then I add strings. For some reason, when the trumpet is in the low register with lots of vibrato and there are long, meditative strings, that has a very California sound to me.”

The Santa Rosa Symphony, which debuted Dooley’s “Sonoma Strong” for Orchestra this summer during its free mariachi concert, will perform it again on Oct. 6, 7 and 8 at the Green Music Center during the season-opening set under new Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong. The work was a last-minute addition suggested by Santa Rosa Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow.

“Alan had mentioned the piece, in case I was interested in adding it,” Lecce-Chong said in a phone interview from Miami, Florida. “It’s such a great way to start off the season. It will open the second half, and I’m pairing it with Beethoven’s 5th (symphony), which is fascinating."

The theme of both pieces, he explained, is personal struggle and overcoming hardship. Beethoven’s entire existence was a struggle, he noted, but the composer was able to transcend his suffering in his fifth and most famous symphony.

The iconic work, which has become synonymous with the composer’s life, ends with the triumph of C major over C minor. That’s exactly the kind of high note Lecce-Chong is aiming for in the symphony’s season opener.

“I think of this program as bringing people together for a celebratory start to the season,” Lecce-Chong said. “Alan made the executive decision (last year) that if we finish the season in the red, that’s OK. They gave free tickets to people (who lost their homes), and they were able to finish in the black, yet again, because the ones who could give continued to give.”

Last October, Lecce-Chong was the first music director candidate to audition for the post when the fires broke out. He and the soloist left a day early after the third concert was cancelled on Monday, Oct. 9. Before he left, he handed the keys to his hotel room to Symphony Board Chair Jamei Haswell, who lost her home to the firestorm.

“It seems more and more surreal the more I look back on it,” he said. “It was such a stressful week anyway. You’re dealing with so many events, and then at the end, you have the concerts, you step it up and put everything on the line. I was so exhausted every night.”

Although he had turned his cellphone off Sunday night in order to sleep in, his parents in San Francisco managed to call the hotel and wake him up around 9 a.m. Monday. He turned on the TV, and it showed photos of the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country, which had burned down. For a moment, he feared it was his hotel, the Doubletree by Hilton Sonoma Wine Country.

“I thought, do I need to run out right away?” he recalled. “That was really freaky for a moment. Then I looked out my window, and I couldn’t see the trees across the parking lot. That was the moment I realized we were not going to have a concert that night. It’s right here. In our back yard. OK.”

Toured fire areas
Later, when he returned in April for a welcome reception, Lecce-Chong toured the neighborhoods affected by fire and spoke with staff and board members who had lost their homes.

“You don’t think about what it’s like to lose your home,” he said. “At the same time, they’re so feisty and dedicated. It’s unbelievable to me how much energy and willpower they have in the face of everything they’ve had to deal with.”

During the early morning hours of Oct. 9, composer Dooley was in Michigan, communicating with his parents via his cellphone. He started to receive text messages around 4 a.m., when the fires were still raging through Coffey Park.

“My parents said that ‘Santa Rosa is on fire.’ What? The whole town”? he recalled. “So I went online … and was able to see some video in real time.”

It wasn’t until the morning of Oct. 10, however, that the gravity of the situation hit home for him and many others. He went online and watched a video by a drone flying over Coffey Park.
“That’s when people really figured out what had happened,” he said. “This is an all-time devastating fire.”

At that point, Dooley had already been in touch with the symphony about his young people’s work, “The Conductors’ Spellbook,” scheduled to open the symphony’s Family Concert Series on Oct. 28 at the Green Music Center. A few months later, Silow called him back and asked him to write a commemorative piece to address the impact and recovery from the October wildfires.

At home for Christmas, Dooley took photos of the fire-impacted areas, including Coffey Park and Fountaingrove, where his dad works at Keysight Technologies.

“They just went back to work there three or four weeks ago,” he said. “My dad has to drive through a moonscape on his way to work.”

Delecate texture
For his commissioned work “Sonoma Strong,” Dooley decided to open with a transparent, delicate texture because he feels that small, intimate works sound best in the acoustically sensitive hall.

“It’s very thin for the first few minutes, and the strings just sneak it,” he said. ‘It evolves into an emotional climax, and then it transitions to the second half. The first time the woodwinds come in signals a rebirth — Part II.”

With the help of the percussion section, the piece gains energy and rhythm in its second half as it moves toward a big, celebratory ending.

“It’s very heartfelt,” Lecce-Chong said of “Sonoma Strong.” “It represents what I love about new music. It’s present and now and has a different way of connecting with people.”

The first half of the concert will open with another contemporary work, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s exuberant “Celebration,” then will showcase a favorite workhorse: Brahms’ Concerto in D Major for Violin performed by French violinist Arnaud Sussman.

Lecce-Chong said he is looking forward to giving the pre-concert lectures — it’s one of his favorite things to do — but he likes to change it up so people don’t know what to expect.

“I like to have a little time with the guest artists to get some of their insights, but it varies depending on the program,” he said. “There are programs where I will spend the entire time at the piano, and other times I’ll do audio or video clips.”

Especially during times of deep loss, when housing and other necessities seem more pressing, Lecce-Chong believes that live music plays a crucial role in demonstrating the importance of the arts.

“I think the opening concert will bring back a lot of memories,” Lecce-Chong said. “I’ve become so passionate about how an orchestra can be a center for people to come together … the fact that the symphony was able to get through this year as well as they did, with financial stability and good attendance, that says something about the community and how much they wanted this in their lives.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

August 31, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony's Simply Strings program gives all students a chance to shine

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, August 31, 2018

As a second-grader, Juliana Avalos was one of 20 fledgling students learning the violin through the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Simply Strings program offered at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School.

  That was in 2013-2014, the first year the program offered free instruments and free instruction— two hours a day after school, five days a week — through the social-action music program modeled after the famous El Sistema of Venezuela.

“I was in Mexico when they introduced it, and when I got back, I found out they had one more spot open,” said Juliana, 12, who just started seventh grade last month. “I made a lot of friends, and I learned how to be social.”

That first year her math grades went up dramatically. By the end of that year, she had performed at the Green Music Center side-by-side with Santa Rosa Symphony members, and her confidence began to soar as well.

“It’s made me more confident and has given me more experience,” she said. “Now, I know what I want to do in the future. I want to do some teaching and present concerts ... I am thinking of UC Berkeley. We had a concert there three years ago, and I loved everything about it.”

“It was so emotional for me when she played for the first time at the Green Music Center, ” said her mother, Florita. “With everybody playing together, the sound was so strong. I was crying.”

Like other El Sistema-inspired programs across the country, the goal of the program is to improve access to music education for underserved children while sparking positive, communitywide social change. L.A. Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel got his start in classical music through El Sistema, which was founded in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu of Venezuela, who used his 2009 TED Prize to train 50 fellows to teach and administer the program in the U.S. and beyond.

‘Transforming experience’
Here in Santa Rosa, the Simply Strings program was proposed by Christina Penrose, who earned a master’s degree in music education for social change from Sonoma State University and now serves as project manager of Simply Strings.

“It’s so clear there’s a social justice issue in music education,” Penrose said. “Most of the programs have a large portion of funding coming from parent groups ... We need to create an access point and break down that socioeconomic barrier so there’s a path to high-quality music education.”

When the Santa Rosa Symphony’s new music director, Francesco Lecco-Chong, auditioned with the orchestra last fall, he dropped by a beginning class of Simply Strings, where the students start out by learning how to carry and care for a cardboard violin made by their parents. He returned to the same class last spring to work with the budding musicians, who had advanced to playing scales on real violins.

“It is a transforming experience,” Lecce-Chong said during a reception at the Green Music Center. “Any time I need a dose of inspiration, I’m going to drive over there.”

The 31-year-old conductor, who is committed both to the educational and community engagement role of an orchestra, lit up and “made magic” when he worked with the young students, Penrose said.

“He’s creative and likes to experiment with new things,” she said. “That’s what it takes to be really responsive to the community.”

The El Sistema-inspired music programs tend to succeed because they are matched by a high degree of commitment from everyone involved. The program makes a seven-year commitment to each of its students from grades 2 to 8 — with all training provided for free — after which time the young musicians can audition for one of the symphony’s three youth ensembles and apply for need-based financial aid.

“Our hope is they will go into our youth orchestras and go all the way up,” Penrose said. “The reason music is an excellent social program is because of the nature of the relationships. It helps students set a goal and work hard to reach it. It teaches students to dream big.”

Intense commitment
For participating students, the commitment is also intense: two hours a day, every day of the school week, from grades 2 to 6.

“When we got home, we had to eat dinner and go to bed,” Juliana recalled of her elementary school experience. “But there was less homework.”

This year, a Simply Strings musician — cellist Joshua Huertas — is going to become the first from the program to audition for the symphony’s youth ensembles.

“We can take them through the youth orchestras, and through their life, to professional musicianship,” Penrose said. “Even if they don’t become professionals, they will appreciate music, and hopefully their input will help us remain relevant.”

Simply Strings is different from other music training in that it is a social program first and a training program second. It also embraces all kinds of music, not just classical music.

Some of the coaches specialize in jazz, and all of them are expected to perform as “teaching artists,” a standard first defined by El Sistema.

“Their role as a musician is just as visible as their role as a teacher,” Penrose explained. “So they play for the students.”

A handful of Simply Strings students, including Juliana, also take part in a vibrant mariachi program created by SSU graduate José Soto as a partnership between Cook Junior High and the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

“The mariachi music is faster,” Juliana said. “I am Mexican, so the singing is easy.”

Program expanding
Over the past five years, the Simply Strings program has grown and evolved with its burgeoning student body. Last year, the parents formed a support association and donated money. This year, more staff is being added. In addition to seven coaches for musical literacy and musicianship, there will be a new site coordinator, Enrique Rojas, running day-to-day operations, and Jerome Flegg, director of instrumental music at the Santa Rosa Junior College, who will lead the orchestra of both beginning and advanced students.

Also, for the first time, enrollment has been opened to all of the Roseland District schools, not just Sheppard.

“It’s all about opening doors for our kids,” said Jenny Young, principal of Sheppard Elementary School. “It’s an incredible opportunity for students ... Oftentimes, sports isn’t their thing, so they have an opportunity to express themselves in music.”

As one of the advanced students, Juliana is looking forward to serving a leadership role in the orchestra and mentoring younger students.

“Juliana is very into giving back,” Penrose said. “She’s extremely dedicated and a very good role model.”

“No matter what she puts her mind to, she takes it to another level,” Young said. “You know her future is bright. She just sparkles.”

On her calendar at home, Juliana keeps track of all her rehearsals, recitals and concerts, because she enjoys being organized and on time.

But she also enjoys the freedom of being a kid, hanging out with family on the weekend, and hanging out with friends at orchestra rehearsals.

“We always get to learn new techniques and skills, and we eat pizza and have fun,” she said. “It’s extra fun when you’re with your friends. In our school, it’s cool to play music.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

2017 - 2018 Season

June 14, 2018: Green Music Center concert raises funds for Santa Rosa youth orchestra’s European tour

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, June 14, 2018

When 70-some students from the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra take off for Europe on Tuesday, they will be accompanied by several professionals who have written works for them to premiere on their 10-day tour, including Trumpet Principal Doug Morton of the Santa Rosa Symphony and guitarist Jason Eckl of Dirty Cello.
The young adults will also have the honor of meeting American composer Gloria Coates, who lives in Germany and wrote a special piece for the ensemble after learning about how their community came together to help each other after the wildfires last October.
“I was already working on a concept for the piece when the fire disaster struck,” Coates explained in an e-mail. “I decided to create a positive music by taking a simple five-tone scale and transforming it into a new sound complex of many scales and microtones. This echoes ... the people joining together and creating a new and vibrant community.”
Behind the young musicians — ranging from ages 10 to 23 — stand a raft of supportive parents, who spent countless hours driving them to lessons and rehearsals, supplying food for Sunday night practices, volunteering for concerts and working with the Santa Rosa Symphony League to help create “A Night in Vienna,” the major fund-raiser for the tour.
Some of those parents will be going along as chaperones while others — too excited to stay home while their kids go to Europe — have planned itineraries that follow the students as they perform in historic halls from Salzburg and Vienna to Budapest. These shadow parents, however, are only allowed to attend concerts. Otherwise, the kids will be operating independently.
“I’m excited for them to have their own experience,” said Julie Forrest of Windsor, who will follow her two children — bass player Isaac, 16, and violinist Pippa, 13. “They will feel confident and independent, and I’m so excited for them. It’s so magical to feel that way, like you’re experiencing another world for the very first time.”
To launch the 10-day tour, the youth orchestra under Conductor Richard Loheyde will give a Bon Voyage concert at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall showcasing the repertoire they will perform in Europe. Loheyde’s programming goal was to create a strong connection between the music and the composers of the various cities they are going to visit.
“In Vienna you have to play Strauss, so we’re doing the ‘Thunder and Lightning Polka,” Loheyde said. “And we also have to do Brahms as well, so that’s why we programmed the Academic Festival Overture ... and Lizst is closely associated with Hungary and Budapest in particular, so we’re doing his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” “I’m super excited about the Lizst, and probably my favorite piece is the Academic Festival Overture,” said Isaac Forrest. “It’s so fun to play. It’s a big German college drinking song.”
As a nod to Mozart, who was born in Salzburg, Morton wrote a piece for the youth orchestra based on the composer’s timeless “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” melody and will join the tour as well. His work, “Variations on a French Folk Song,” is an homage to Beethoven, Mozart and American composers Copland and Gershwin.
Also joining the tour will be Dirty Cello, a blues and bluegrass band led by Santa Rosa Symphony cellist Rebecca Roudman. The band has collaborated with the youth orchestra before — they performed a Blues Concerto together in November — and the band’s guitarist, Jason Eckl, wrote a Klezmer Heritage Concerto for the tour featuring the cello as the lead instrument.
“It is based on the Eastern European Jewish heritage that he and I share,” Roudman said in an e-mail. “It weaves the traditional sound of Klezmer music with the classical orchestra sound.” Coates, who is an internationally recognized composer, finished writing “Stardust and Dark Matter” about a month ago. The challenging, contemporary work includes a mosaic of interesting sounds and sound effects.
“There’s a basic, pentatonic scale that gets passed around to different voices in the orchestra,” Loheyde said. “Just when the audience gets the hang of it, there are these other elements that come in ... these glissandos and microtones and special effects like snap pizzicato.”
Bassoonist Chloe Watson, who won the orchestra’s Concerto Competition, will be featured at the Bon Voyage concert performing Hector Villa-Lobos’ “Cinrada das sete notas” (Serenade of seven notes) but will not go on tour.
Rounding out the eclectic program will be Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 and 2.
“Peer Gynt is so fun to play and listen to,” said Pippin Forrest, who is the second youngest to go on the tour. “Candide is fun, but it’s fast and a little bit abrasive to the ear, especially when you sit next to the cymbal player.”
One of the highlights of the tour. Loheyde said, will be a workshop for the students with Principal Second Violinist Christoph Koncz of the Vienna Philharmonic. The musicians are also looking forward to performing side-by-side with another ensemble, the Musikveirein Rabenstein, which is connected to a music school in Vienna.
“That will be fun to meet kids that play our instruments,” said Principal Oboeist Chiara Rackerby, 17. “I feel like we’re going to make a lot of awesome friends.”
Her father, Tom Rackerby of Healdsburg, has never been to Europe before but has signed on as a chaperone so he can keep an eye on his daughter along with his own group of kids.
“I’m one of those over-protective dads — you’ve heard of helicopter parents. I’m the drone parent,” he quipped. “It’s going to be neat to have these kids go to Vienna and see how people are immersed in the music.”
Christina Freenor of Cloverdale is also excited for her son, bass player Francis Freenor, 14, who is going on the tour. She plans to follow the tour and attend all the concerts with her husband and sister-in-law.
“To be honest, I think it’s better for him, as an only child, to be able to explore without us,” she said. “I just couldn’t stay here. There’s no way I could try to relive the concerts through his explanations.”
While the Forrest family has been scrimping and saving in order support the kids’ music and the tour, they feel the sacrifice is more than worth it.
“I’m a teacher, so I will say that music, especially classical music, supports your learning in ways you don’t get anywhere else,” Julie Forrest said. “It’s a way of life ... it’s part of the way they see the world now.”
Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

May 23, 2018: Windsor student musicians to embark on European tour

by Heather Bailey, The Windsor Times, May 23, 2018

Five Windsor school students who play with the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra (SRSYO) will go on tour with the orchestra in June. The tour will include performances in Salzburg, Germany, Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary.

Violist Sammie Moore, violinists Mina Burns and Pippin Forrest and concert bass players FJ Freenor and Isaac Forrest will perform with SRSYO in these three European cities known for great music and classical roots.

Students leave June 19 and return June 28. They will be in Salzburg for three days, performing in the Grosse Saal of the Mozarteum, in Vienna for three days, performing with the local youth orchestra in Rabenstein and attending a workshop with Christoph Koncz of the Vienna Philharmonic and in Budapest for two days performing in the Ceremonial Hall of Budapest.

Moore is a WHS graduating senior and has been an important member of the WHS String Orchestra. She plays both violin and viola. With WHS, she played the violin and served as principal violinist (also called concertmistress). With the SRSYO, she plays viola.

Burns will be a junior next year and plays in the first violin section of the WHS Strings Orchestra. Burns studies with Sonoma County Philharmonic concertmistress Pam Otsuka.

Pippin Forrest will be an eighth grader at WMS next year where she will continue playing first violin. She studies privately with Bay Area musician Ivy Zenobi. Freenor will be a sophomore and Isaac Forrest will be a senior next year at WHS. Both played bass at WMS with strings teacher Steven Hoffman. Freenor continues to study privately with Hoffman and Isaac studies with Santa Rosa Symphony bassist Karen Zimmerman.

“This European concert tour is a trip of a lifetime for me,” said Moore. “What a terrific graduation gift.”

Brother and sister Isaac and Pippin said it will be extra special to go on tour together. “I am incredibly excited to share this amazing experience with my little sister and as well as with my extended orchestral family,” said Isaac.

The 70 SRSYO students, from all over Sonoma County, ranging in age from 10 to 23, will have the opportunity to experience Vienna, the birthplace of western classical music; Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart; and Budapest, formerly two cities, Buda and Pest, located on the Danube River.

April 29, 2018: Santa Rosa symphony, community bid fond farewell to departing conductor Bruno Ferrandis

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, April 29, 2018

Bruno Ferrandis, the tall, lanky Frenchman who loves Mahler, Russian music and ancient languages, will conduct his final concerts as the music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony on May 5-7, bidding “au revoir” to Sonoma County after an historic, 12-year tenure.
  Beloved for his charm and sense of humor, his big heart and his small ego, the maestro will say goodbye with Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 — the composer’s farewell symphony, written after his daughter’s death — and the U.S. premiere of Czech composer Michal Rataj’s “Temporis,” featuring the cymbalom, an Eastern European hammered dulcimer.

“There will be a surprise in that concerto,” Ferrandis told the Santa Rosa Symphony League during a lunch earlier this month. “I’m always experimenting with new things.”

The eclectic and versatile conductor, who ushered the orchestra through its transition from the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts into the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in 2012, said his future plans include guest conducting, opera conducting and perhaps helping to create a new ensemble. He also hopes to spend more time with his daughters: Cassandre, 15, and Alma, 9.

“After 12 very intense years, I want to enjoy my daughters more,” he said. “I want to rest.”

Like the orchestra’s newly appointed music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, Ferrandis was the symphony board’s unanimous choice as the orchestra’s fourth music director back in July 2006. His appointment came before the recession of 2008 and before the construction of the long-awaited Green Music Center was delayed indefinitely. Then he started commuting from Paris to Santa Rosa every month or so during the season, enduring tight security, weather delays and jet lag on both sides.

“I have plenty of energy left, but year after year, the trip was the most difficult part,” Ferrandis confessed in a phone interview in 2016, after announcing that he would step down at the end of the 2017-2018 season.

Born in Algiers, raised in Nice and having ancestral roots in both Spain and Italy, Ferrandis said he has always felt at home in the Mediterranean climate of Sonoma County, where staff, musicians and subscribers welcomed him warmly and the landscape looked familiar.

“The visits into the most beautiful villas around Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Road, and the little Geyserville and Sebastopol, the elegance of Healdsburg, the visits to the shores of Bodega Bay — all that made me feel really at home,” he said. “Plus the extreme kindness and sense of hospitality of the people here in Santa Rosa.”

When asked for some highlights of his time here, Ferrandis singled out the symphony’s “extraordinary” education department, especially its “Simply Strings” program; the friendships he established with staff and audience members “year after year,” and the orchestra itself which has grown into what he described as “a very capable entity,” attracting high-caliber new musicians.
From the start, Ferrandis was always excited about the potential of the Green Music Center’s main venue, an intimate hall built in a shoebox shape to enhance the acoustics.

“I remember myself sitting outside, on the lawn, listening, and one viola player was warming up,” he said. “I could hear so precisely what they were practicing, as if I was very close to them.”
But once the orchestra moved into the hall, the musicians had to adapt to the new space, and he recalled that was often difficult to make everyone happy.

“We got into the problem of heights of risers, and no risers vs. risers,” he said. “Compared to the LBC, we have physically a lot less room on stage, and also the problem of having a chorus so high up. We conductors have to move a lot, and the orchestra has got to listen a lot.”

Little by little, however, the issues were resolved under Ferrandis’ calm and reliable leadership.
“Everyone has told me the orchestra sounds incredible,” he said. “I believe yes, the orchestra has grown a lot.”

As for musical highlights, the maestro listed the many works he programmed over the years by living composers, especially the premieres; all the romantic works from the Germans, Russian and Czechs; Mozart and Haydn; “of course” the French, Italian and Spanish composers; quite a few U.S. composers; the “extraordinary soloists”; and all the requiems and oratorios performed with singers.

“So many incredible memories,” he said. “And from time to time, some great wine tasting in Sonoma.”

When he came back to lead a special concert in November to raise money for the October fire victims, Ferrandis was taken on a tour of some of Santa Rosa’s burned-out neighborhoods, including Coffey Park, where Patron Services Manager Brenda Fox lost her home.

“Brenda took me to visit the sites and to the forest,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much vast destruction in all my life.”

On a lighter note, Ferrandis also rang up the symphony’s newly chosen music director Lecce-Chong to congratulate him on being chosen as his successor.

“He is the most wonderful human being,” Ferrandis said. “He’s young, and that’s a big asset today, in the conductor’s profession. It’s good for the orchestra to rejuvenate.”

Although Ferrandis programmed the upcoming season in 2018-2019, Lecce-Chong will conduct three of the seven concert sets. Ferrandis was invited to return as a guest conductor for the final concert featuring Russian-American pianist Olga Kern and an all-Russian program.

“By fate or by choice, I ended up with a program that I like,” he said. “One thing I wish for Francesco is, please, conduct the music that you love. That’s how you transfer the love to the orchestra.”

But Ferrandis stopped short of giving any other programming advice to Lecce-Chong, another Renaissance man who has studied piano, violin and composing.

“He’s very creative, and I hope he can express his creativity,” Ferrandis said. “I will help him and give him anything he needs ... but the programming is his own journey.”

Ferrandis will be feted after each concert on May 5, 6 and 7 with benefit receptions in Prelude Restaurant featuring hors d’oeuvres, wine and the chance to say “Merci beaucoup” to the maestro in person. Tickets are $100 and must be reserved in advance at 707-546-8742 or

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

April 4, 2018: Meet the Maestro: Santa Rosa Symphony names new music director

by Charlie Swanson, North Bay Bohemian, April 4, 2018

Ever since late 2015, when Santa Rosa Symphony conductor and music director Bruno Ferrandis announced his plan to step down from the podium after the 2017–18 season, the symphony has searched the globe to find his successor.

Last week, they selected 30-year-old Francesco Lecce-Chong, who begins his tenure with the orchestra next season.

"I'm feeling fantastic," Lecce-Chong says.

Born in San Francisco, Lecce-Chong is a rising star in the classical world. He is currently also conductor of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Ore., and this summer he wraps up his stint as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Last October, Lecce-Chong came to Santa Rosa to meet the community and conduct the orchestra for three concerts as an audition. That audition ended with heartbreak when the last concert was canceled after the fires broke out in October. "I came to care so much about the community and the people here," says Lecce-Chong. The fire "was one of the most awful things I've ever experienced."

Now that he is returning to the region as the Santa Rosa Symphony's music director, Lecce-Chong says he is committed to helping the healing process after the fires. "That's what a symphony does so well, what music does so well," he says. "It gives us a chance to bring people together, and I'm grateful for that opportunity."

Lecce-Chong is also excited about expanding the community's access to music. "I'm passionate about making sure that people of all ages and all backgrounds have a chance to experience what we do," he says.

That sentiment is a major component of the symphony's mission, and Lecce-Chong praises its youth orchestra as well as its various school and after-school programs. "It's important that we not only invite kids to the concert hall, but that we go to them and offer our services," says Lecce-Chong. "I want to be with an orchestra that has those priorities."

Santa Rosa Symphony president and CEO Alan Silow calls Lecce-Chong the total package. "He's incredibly talented and exuberant on the podium, inspiring both the orchestra and the audience," Silow says. "And he has a genuine passion for what we do in music education. He's eager to support that and build on that mission."

Silow also notes that Bruno Ferrandis is marking his farewell with the symphony's last two shows of this season. "This will be a great last opportunity to be with Bruno."

April 2, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony’s Next Music Director

by Jeffrey Freymann, KDFC The State of the Arts, April 2, 2018

After five sets of concerts auditioning candidates to be Santa Rosa Symphony‘s next Music Director, it’s now official: it will be Francesco Lecce-Chong, who last year was picked to lead the Eugene Symphony in Oregon. He’ll start next season conducting three programs, and will program and conduct more sets the following year. He’s already served as Associate Conductor for both the Milwaukee and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, and brings a special interest in community outreach and music education programs.
[audio file]
He had a chance in October to very quickly try to bond with the players, and let them know about him. “I really enjoyed myself. It’s like the most intense seven-day speed dating, where you just… You try to meet every single person you can, and get to know the community, and make sure they have a really clear idea of who you are as well… Every community is so unique, and really the first thing I did in Eugene, and certainly the first thing I’ll do in Santa Rosa, is just get to know the community and the organization.” His concerts came right before the fires, in fact, the final concert was cancelled because of them. He says it was heartbreaking to see the community that had been so welcoming to him have to leave their homes, and struggle with the aftermath. Even though his time with the musicians was brief, he was very impressed. “It’s an orchestra that has a lot of personality, they know how to have a lot of fun, and they love what they do, and you know, that’s pretty much all you can ask for as a conductor.” He says he’ll likely begin with works that are better known, so both the players and audiences can see his style and personality. “That’s really kind of how we’ll grow together, as far as the sound of the orchestra, the ensemble of the orchestra. But then really exploring the diversity of repertoire that we have available.” He says he’s gone through the history of his orchestra in Oregon to find pieces and composers who haven’t been performed, and has begun to program them – along with young American composers, who he’d like to see better reflected in the concert hall. Lecce-Chong adds that, from a young age, he’s been a champion of classical music, despite having non-musical parents. “When I was like ten, when I was playing piano and violin and clarinet, and composing, and playing in youth orchestra, and I had to advocate to my parents for what I wanted to do. And all my friends, and everyone around me, I was in a constant conversation about this is why I love it so much. I think that’s kind of naturally carried over very well into what I do now, really being an advocate for our artform.”

March 30, 2018: Newly picked Santa Rosa Symphony conductor likes to take risks, have fun

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 30, 2018

When Francesco Lecce-Chong auditioned for the Santa Rosa Symphony music director post in October, he didn’t set out to impress the musicians.

“All you can do is go in there and be yourself,” the 30-year-old conductor said in a phone interview earlier this week. “You’re simply there to help them make great music. So if you make it about yourself, it’s never going to work. But it still may not work ... and that’s OK.”

Despite being the youngest candidate and the first to audition this season — both potential liabilities — Lecce-Chong, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in Colorado, was chosen earlier this week as the fifth music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony in its 90-year history, succeeding Bruno Ferrandis.

Those involved in the two-year search process say they were struck by the young conductor’s enthusiasm and collaborative spirit, which he demonstrated both on and off the podium. A strong background in education and community outreach seemed to seal the deal.

“We found excellence, passion and dynamic style in his conducting, a background of superior training and broad musical knowledge, genuine sincerity and humility in his personality, and a respectful and collaborative interaction with our professional musicians,” said Jim Hinton, Music Director Search Committee chairman.

Suddenly, after spending three years in Pittsburgh as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, Lecce-Chong (pronounced LECH-ey-chong) has landed with both feet back on the West Coast.

His star has been on the rise. Last spring, he was chosen from 250 applicants as the music director of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon, and started conducting there this season. A few months later, he was offered representation from IMG Artists, one of the premier global artist management firms.

This season, the maestro of Italian-Chinese descent has brought new ideas to the Eugene Symphony in an effort to expand access to music and develop more connections among the listeners. In the lobby of the performing arts center, for example, he put up a big white board for the audience to write down their impressions during intermission.

“People should not go to the concerts in spite of 1,000 other people but because of it,” he said. “The energy and the people in the hall affect how we perform ... the listeners are active.”

When Lecce-Chong talks to the audience in Eugene, he likes to focus on their own dialogue, letting them come to their own conclusions rather then telling them what to think. On the podium, he is also interested in drawing musicians into the process.

During his first rehearsal last fall, for example, Santa Rosa Symphony Board of Directors Chairman Jamei Haswell noticed that he would often turn to Concertmaster Joe Edelberg and ask what he thought about a certain approach.

“I don’t think any of the other maestros did that,” she said, referring to the tryouts of the five music director finalists over the course of five months. “Even asking for an opinion was a wonderful thing to do.”

Edelberg, for his part, praised Lecce-Chong for his “inspired and inspiring musicianship, good will and natural leadership.”

“He has many, many ideas about how a symphony orchestra and a community can work together,” he added. “I am excited about working with him.”

Lecce-Chong, who was trained as a pianist and a conductor, said he favors a collaborative approach because the musicians’ personalities are integral to the end result.

“For me, making great music is one of the most important things I do, but it’s also who I make it with,” he said. “It’s taking the energy that’s there — the strengths, weaknesses and personalities — and that all goes into a performance.”

In addition, he likes to invite the musicians to perform a high-wire act with him, pushing their musicianship to the heights of expression while striving to stay spontaneous and in the moment.

“I like my performances to be risky — that’s part of the joy,” he said. “You don’t play it safe in the way you try to express yourself. It’s about saying something so genuine, that sometimes a mistake might happen, but you’re still communicating something important.”

During the Oct. 7 concert, Lecce-Chong broke a baton and suffered a clothing malfunction — his shirt came untucked in front — during a passionate rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Keeping his cool, Francesco, playfully shrugged off the glitches, accepting a new baton and leaving his shirt untucked.

“That was my test to see if we could all relax and have fun,” he said. “Can the orchestra laugh it off, and can we have some fun? OK, good.”

Lecce-Chong, who has an apartment in Eugene, plans to establish a second residence in Santa Rosa next summer in advance of the 2019-2020 season, when he will conduct six out of seven concert sets.

For the 2018-2019 season, which were planned by Ferrandis, outgoing music director, he will conduct only three concert sets because of previous guest conducting engagements. When Lecce-Chong was here last fall for his live performance audition, about 40 family members came to the Saturday night concert to serve as his cheering section.

He was scheduled to conduct his final concert on Oct. 9, the day the wildfires tore across large swaths of Sonoma County, drastically altering lives and landscapes. After the concert was canceled, his parents drove up from San Francisco and picked him up, along with guest pianist Joyce Yang, and drove them both back to the city.

Before he left, however, he handed the keys to his hotel room to Haswell, who had lost her home in the early morning hours, and told her that she and her husband could have a place to stay that night.

Despite moving on to other cities and concert venues, the maestro has checked back in regularly with Haswell and others over the past six months as he had trouble getting the natural disaster out of his mind.

“I have never witnessed this kind of devastation before on a personal level,” he said. “It was simply heartbreaking to see all the people who had so warmly welcomed me into their community now displaced and having no idea if their homes had survived.”

As part of his mission in Santa Rosa, the conductor said he hopes to continue to find ways for the symphony to be a part of the city’s rebuilding.

“Music helps us connect with each other,” he said. “It strengthens community through hope, inspiration and connection.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 29, 2018: Eugene Symphony Music Director Takes on California Post

by Bob Keefer, Eugene Weekly, March 29, 2018

Francesco Lecce-Chong, Eugene Symphony’s still-new music director and conductor, has been named music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the California orchestra announced late on
Tuesday, March 27.

That doesn’t mean we’re losing the popular young conductor. Lecce-Chong’s Santa Rosa appointment, which begins in the fall, won’t interfere with his work here, a Eugene Symphony spokeswoman tells EW. “This doesn’t affect his commitment or his schedule here,” Lindsey McCarthy says, adding that Lecce-Chong will still be conducting 10 of the upcoming season’s 12 concerts, as planned.

He was known to be a candidate for the Santa Rosa job while he was also being considered for the Eugene post. He guest-conducted a program with the Santa Rosa orchestra in October, during the area’s catastrophic fires. Lecce-Chong, who was named music director of the Eugene Symphony last April, will replace Santa Rosa’s Parisian music director Bruno Ferrandis, who is stepping down at the end of the season after leading the Santa Rosa orchestra for a dozen years.

March 29, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony names Francesco Lecce-Chong Music Director

by Pizzicato, March 29, 2018

Californian Santa Rosa Symphony announces Francesco Lecce-Chong, 30, as its fifth Music Director, beginning with the 2018-2019 season. Born in San Francisco, Lecce-Chong is a native of Boulder, Colorado, where he began conducting at the age of sixteen. He is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music and Curtis Institute of Music. Lecce-Chong is also Music Director of the Eugene Symphony, in Eugene, Oregon, where he currently resides.

This summer he concludes his position as Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Principal Conductor of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra.

March 29, 2018: ​Santa Rosa Symphony names Francesco Lecce-Chong music director, effective in July

by League of American Orchestras HUB, March 29, 2018

“After a two-year international search, the Santa Rosa Symphony has chosen the fifth music director of its 90-year history: 30-year-old Francesco Lecce-Chong, a trained conductor and pianist of Italian-Chinese descent, to succeed Bruno Ferrandis,” writes Diane Peterson in Tuesday’s (3/27) Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA). “Lecce-Chong was born in San Francisco and raised in Boulder, Colorado. He was the first to audition with the symphony during the 2017-2018 season … The 10-member Music Director Search Committee … unanimously recommended him to the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 38-member board of directors…. The board’s vote was also unanimous…. Lecce-Chong’s three-year contract with the Santa Rosa Symphony begins July 1…. In April, he was chosen as the music director of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon.” He will hold both positions simultaneously, and will complete his associate conductor post at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra this summer. “Lecce-Chong studied composing as an undergraduate at New York’s Mannes School of Music and has a strong interest in new music…. This season in Eugene, the multifaceted conductor has led early music works from the harpsichord twice, including a sold-out concert last month titled ‘The Four Seasons of the McKenzie River,’ [a] multimedia, collaborative project.” 

March 29, 2018: California’s Santa Rosa Symphony Appoints New 30-Year-Old Music Director

by The Violin Channel, March 29, 2018

The Santa Rosa Symphony in California, United States, has today announced the appointment of 30-year-old Italian-Chinese-American conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong as their new Music Director – effective from the 1st of July this year.
He will replace Maestro Bruno Ferrandis, who will leave the ensemble at the end of the current season – after 12 years at the helm.
[Screenshot of FB post]
“About 30 board members voted … and it really is remarkable that the vote was unanimous …” orchestra board chair Jamei Haswell has told local press.
“He wowed us in so many different ways … he was absolutely spectacular on the podium, and he communicated well with our donors and audience alike,” he has said.
“The candidates were all top notch … I’m still a little bit in shock … I can’t tell you how excited I am, and more grateful than ever to have the chance of going back to Santa Rosa,” the Mannes College of Music and Curtis Institute of Music graduate has said.
Francesco, in addition, currently serves as Music Director of the Eugene Symphony and as Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

March 27, 2018: Symphony names Lecce-Chong as new music director

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 27, 2018

After a two-year international search, the Santa Rosa Symphony has chosen the fifth music director of its 90-year history: 30-year-old Francesco Lecce-Chong, a trained conductor and pianist of Italian-Chinese descent, to succeed Bruno Ferrandis.

The youngest of the five finalists for the role, Lecce-Chong was born in San Francisco and raised in Boulder, Colorado. He was the first to audition with the symphony during the 2017-2018 season, but his time was cut short when his third concert on Oct. 9 was canceled because of the October wildfires.

Still, the talent displayed in the first two performances, his strong interpersonal skills, collaborative approach and interest in the community made him the top choice of the 10-member Music Director Search Committee, which unanimously recommended him to the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 38-member board of directors earlier this month. The board’s vote was also unanimous.

“About 30 board members voted, and it really is remarkable that the vote was unanimous,” said Jamei Haswell, chairman of the board and a search committee member. “He wowed us in so many different ways. He was absolutely spectacular on the podium, and he communicated well with our donors and audience alike.”

Alan Silow, president and CEO of the Santa Rosa Symphony and a member of the search committee, said Lecce-Chong (pronounced Lech-ey Chong) was the top choice among both orchestra members and the community, who were surveyed for their feedback.

“He really is the whole package,” Silow said. “I feel like Francesco crosses every ‘T’ and dots every ‘I’ on all of those important components: outreach, education ... talent and exuberance on the podium, and also a real desire and commitment to this orchestra and to this community in particular.”
Lecce-Chong emerged as one of the front-runners from an initial field of 70 candidates, whittled down to 10 finalists by June 2016, and then five. The search committee, which first met in December 2015, included five symphony board members, four orchestra musicians and Silow.
Each finalist spent a little over a week in Santa Rosa this season, conducting rehearsals and three performances while meeting with community leaders, board members, staff and musicians.

“The candidates were all top notch,” Lecce-Chong said in a phone interview from Miami. “I’m still a little bit in shock ... I can’t tell you how excited I am, and more grateful than ever to have the chance of going back to Santa Rosa.”

Lecce-Chong plans to move to Sonoma County next summer, partly because his parents and extended family live in San Francisco and partly for professional reasons.

"I always want to have a residence with any orchestra I am music director of,” he said. “It’s a matter of principle for me.”

Lecce-Chong’s willingness to relocate to Sonoma County, although not a requirement, may have swung the pendulum in his favor.

“He offered some innovative new programs for music education and community outreach, and the fact that he wanted to live here was icing on the cake,” said Haswell, who lost her home in the October wildfires. “My gut was that Francesco, if he lived here, would be something that our symphony and community really needs, especially right now.”

Lecce-Chong’s three-year contract with the Santa Rosa Symphony begins July 1. He will only be able to conduct three concert sets in the 2018-2019 season because of previously scheduled guest conducting engagements. After next season, however, he will conduct six out of the seven concert sets, just like his predecessor Ferrandis, who was appointed in March 2006 to succeed Jeffrey Kahane.

“What will be important for me as a young conductor is that I will do three performances of each program,” Lecce-Chong said. “That’s how an orchestra and conductor grow together.”
Lecce-Chong’s star has been on the rise. In April, he was chosen as the music director of the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon. A few months later, he was picked up for representation by the international performing arts management firm IMG Artists.

Although rooted in the standard orchestral and operatic repertoire, Lecce-Chong studied composing as an undergraduate at New York’s Mannes School of Music and has a strong interest in new music. While serving as associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra from 2011 to 2015, he curated and presented two works commissioned by the orchestra as well as two U.S. premieres.
This season in Eugene, the multifaceted conductor has led early music works from the harpsichord twice, including a sold-out concert last month titled “The Four Seasons of the McKenzie River.” The multimedia, collaborative project featured projected photos of the McKenzie River taken by members of the community accompanied by a live performance of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”
“I can’t take credit for (planning) it, but what I took away from it is doing community-based projects is incredibly powerful in the way they bring interest and community into the hall,” he said.

Lecce-Chong plans to complete his three-year post as associate conductor with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra this summer. A few weeks ago, he bid farewell to the Pittsburgh Symphony Youth Orchestra, where he has served as music director.

The conductor said he is looking forward to being based on the West Coast next season, dividing his time between Santa Rosa and Eugene instead of flying back and forth between coasts.
After spending a week in Santa Rosa last fall, Lecce-Chong was excited to learn about all the community outreach and the educational resources of the symphony, which has built a multitiered corps of youth orchestras.

“I’m looking forward to being able to contribute to that and inspire it,” he said.
He also was impressed with the intimacy of the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall at Sonoma State University, where the symphony serves as the resident orchestra.

“This was my first chance to perform in a hall of that size, seating 1,500,” he said. “I think that’s the sweet number ... where the audience is a part of what’s going on onstage in a physical way.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

March 27, 2018: Eugene Symphony conductor Lecce-Chong adds Santa Rosa Symphony to his music director duties

by Morgan Theophil, The Register-Guard, March 27, 2018

Eugene Symphony music director and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong has been chosen as Santa Rosa (Calif.) Symphony’s music director for the 2018-2019 season.

Lecce-Chong still will fully maintain his current role as music director and conductor with the Eugene Symphony.

The 30-year-old conductor will begin his tenure in Santa Rosa conducting the October, November and January concerts in the upcoming 2018-19 season, taking over as the symphony’s fifth music director in the 90 years.

“Francesco’s appointment in Santa Rosa further corroborates what all of us in Eugene have come to know since he joined our organization last spring,” said Scott Freck, Eugene Symphony executive director. “We know that Francesco will achieve great success in this new opportunity and bring even more ideas and energy to his role here at Eugene Symphony.”

Concluding his positions as associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra this summer, Lecce-Chong said in a phone interview Tuesday that working with both the Eugene and Santa Rosa symphonies will coincide with ease.

“I think in this case it’s particularly complementary, with the way the two orchestras are geographically and the way in which I’ll be able to grow in both places and use what I learn in one place for the other place,” he said. “It’s really quite remarkable in that sense.”

Lecce-Chong said that changes to his role with the Eugene Symphony will be virtually unseen, as he will conduct nine of the 12 concerts as planned in the Eugene Symphony’s 2018-2019 season, which begins Sept. 27.

Lecce-Chong will maintain his current residence in Eugene and will take up a second residence in Santa Rosa next summer.

“This is really an opportunity for me to work with different artists, more guest artists, discover new music, new projects and new collaborations,” he said. “And I’ll be able to bring ideas from my time so far in Eugene to Santa Rosa, and eventually have that go the other way as well.”
For example, Lecce-Chong said he has been excited to introduce family concerts to the Eugene Symphony, the first of which is scheduled for April 29, and the Santa Rosa Symphony has been performing a three-concert family series for some time.

“This is something I’ve been working really hard about and something that means a lot to me, and this will allow me to see in Santa Rosa how their family concerts are working, what’s been great, what have they done that’s been really successful, and then bring some of those ideas to Eugene,” he said.

While allowing ideas to migrate between the two symphonies, Lecce-Chong said he is planning to recognize and maintain the community-specific elements that exist in the separate places.
“There are a lot of unique things (in Santa Rosa) just like there are a lot of unique things in Eugene, and I really do believe that programming and projects should be very community-involved and very community-specific,” he said. “So while elements might inspire things in both cities, I certainly don’t intend to make it in any way the easy way out.”

The announcement comes after more than a two-year long international search by the Santa Rosa Symphony.

“I feel like I’ve grown light-years this year in Eugene, just being given the opportunities and the leadership role that I have, and to be this supported is remarkable for a young conductor,” Lecce-Chong said. “That’s something that I want to build on, not something that I want to end any time soon.”

March 27, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony Chooses Its Next Music Director

by Michael Zwiebach, San Francisco Classical Voice, March 27, 2018

The Santa Rosa Symphony announced today that they had selected Francesco Lecce-Chong as the orchestra’s next music director. The announcement comes at the conclusion of a year-long process that saw five highly-regarded contenders appear with the orchestra. Lecce-Chong will take up the position full-time in 2019–2020, to allow him to fulfill prior commitments, but he will conduct three concerts in 2018-2019.

The San Francisco-born, Boulder-raised, 30-year-old conductor is already making an international career. He has been the music director of the Eugene Symphony for almost a year, where he follows in the footsteps of the likes of Marin Alsop and Giancarlo Guerrero among others who became sought after conductors. He will retain that position. He is Associate Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and has guested with National Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and St. Louis Symphony, as well as upcoming debuts with the Louisville Orchestra, the Louisiana Symphony, and the Xi-An Symphony.

SRS Principal Oboe and Music Director Search Committee member Laura Reynolds says, “Francesco is an inspiring presence on the podium, with deep commitment to the craft and a musical sense, or spirit, if you will, that invites players into a collaborative space to create our sound. I very much look forward to working with him!”

SRS Board Chairman Jamei Haswell says, “The Board’s vote was unanimous. He has the perfect balance of on-the-podium skills and off-the- podium passion for community outreach and music education. Francesco is an excellent communicator.”

Lecce-Chong becomes the orchestra’s fifth music director, succeeding Bruno Ferrandis, whose tenure comes to a close at the end of this season.

Michael Zwiebach is the senior editor/ content manager for SFCV. He assigns all articles and content, manages the writing staff and does editing. A member of SFCV from the beginning, Michael holds a Ph.D. in music history from the University of California, Berkeley.

February 6, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Michael Christie relates to players, audience

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, February 6, 2018

Conductor Michael Christie has amassed an impressive resume since he received an “outstanding potential” prize at the First International Sibelius Conductor’s Competition in Helsinki at the age of 21.

Now 43, Christie is at the top of his game, having forged an international career in Europe, the U.S. and Australia while proving himself a musical adventurer through his innovative programming with the Minnesota Opera, where he has served as Music Director since 2012.

Last July, for example, he conducted the premiere of “The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs” at the Santa Fe Opera, a project that drew upon talent from the Minnesota Opera. According to the MinnPost, Christie “presided in the pit ... giving careful guidance to the pulsating yet delicate electro-acoustic score by the 40-year-old Mason Bates.”

Stints at symphonies such as the Queensland Orchestra (2001-2004), Phoenix Symphony (2005-2013) and the Brooklyn Philharmonic (2005-2010) round out the career of this former wunderkind, not to mention his 13-year tenure as music director the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder and guest conducting gigs all over the world.

Christie — the fifth and final music conductor candidate to try out with the Santa Rosa Symphony this season as a successor to Bruno Ferrandis — will lead the orchestra this Saturday, Feb. 10, through Monday Feb. 12 in a colorful program of Bernstein, Prokofiev and Dvorak at the Green Music Center. He also conducted the orchestra in January 2015, when he arranged for fiddler Mark O’Connor to perform with his wife in the first half of the program before tackling his own Fiddle Concerto after intermission. The concert ended on a colorful note with Copland’s “El Sálon México.”

“I’m not afraid to look at how the menu of the concert is set up,” Christie said in a phone interview in September. “I really felt like, ‘Let’s wrap it up with something quick, splashy and fun for the orchestra.’”

A former trumpet player, Christie is known for his clear conducting of even the most challenging scores and for his strong rapport with musicians.

“Having played in lots of orchestras gives me a good idea of what the orchestra musicians are experiencing, especially those who are far away from the podium, ” Christie said. “Unlike a keyboard player, I have a pretty good sense of the canon ... and I’ve tried to implement successful rehearsals.”

Christie likes to make small tweaks to traditional program formats in an effort to create a better experience for audiences. He likes to provide variety in programming and to balance the expectations of every audience member in the hall, a challenge he finds as rigorous as it is rewarding.

“When you have about 1,500 people in a space, everybody comes there wanting their own experience,” he said. “Some people just want music. Some people want to know what’s going on. Trying to find a balance is really fascinating for me.”

Here is an edited version of our interview with Christie, who lives in Minneapolis with his wife Alexis, a pulmonary critical care doctor; daughter, Sinclair, 9, and son Beckett, 3.

What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I’m very much about making the experience of the concert fun and entertaining, and having an open mind about what people should experience. I’d like to think that I would be able to give the musicians a broad view of the repertory, and hopefully, get them as engaged as possible with the audience there, who really struck me. They’re magnificent. I really felt like the audience was very actively engaged in what was happening, and I felt like they had great pride in the orchestra.
So they can expect artistic leadership and also community leadership ... it’s the music director’s job to be a bit of a curator and help people find different ways through what we’ve selected, and a lot of that is how we interact with the audience and break down the barrier by speaking to them. With the hall and the surround seating, we already have the benefit of people being able to surround the orchestra.

What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
I have for a long time done interviews of guest artists immediately after they’ve done their concerto, usually at intermission, and give the audience a chance to ask questions. Let’s say there is a 20-minute intermission. The soloist and I will stay out there, and for 10 minutes, we do a Q & A. And the people who want to get a drink and go to the bathroom can leave.

I also did some crazy things. For anyone who wanted to sit on the stage, I’d have them leave their ticket stubs with the usher, and we’d draw their names. It gives people a chance to be a little bit closer to what’s happening.

I’ve got a few other arrows in my quiver that I know work and am really eager to fine-tune them with another group ... There are a lot of compelling artists that do things that aren’t just violin and piano concertos. I worked with a life-size puppeteer, Basil Twist, and he brought all these puppeteers and did a presentation of (Stravinsky’s) “Petrouchka.” I wanted the audience to see that the music is a ballet and is meant to be danced.

In this day and age, everything is so much about the user experience, and as an arts organization, we have to leave a little bit of time in our thinking about designing that user experience ... you have to be sensitive about what actually makes that experience great.

What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
My philosophy overall is that variety is key. Especially with music that the audience might not know. I try to imagine my wife sitting in the audience. What would she get out of this? If the music is obscure and crazy ... then I won’t pick that piece. I try to marry variety with that first listening. What will people get out of it if they only hear it once?

As the music director and curator, you are laying out people’s trail through a museum, and it has to be there for a specific reason. Is it worth doing for them and for us as performers?

Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
The future is very community specific ... that’s why I’m putting my chips in the experience basket, because I really believe that there’s not many other opportunities for people to experience live performances of instrumental music.

We can’t just say “Love us because we’re playing Brahms.” It’s got to have more meaning. I just had the feeling, from that week with the orchestra and the audience, that there’s a real sense that people are engaged in the arts there. So you really feel that energy.

There is so much presented in that hall, so it’s not like this is a surprise. It’s a matter of how we do it going forward? It’s going to be a mix of the standards and this enormous palette we get from all over the world and helping people understand what’s going on. That’s an enormous component to being successful.

What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as conductor?
I got my degree in trumpet performance at Oberlin, and I’d like to think that ... playing in lots of orchestras gives me a good idea of what the orchestra musicians are experiencing ... and I try to be aware of their needs.

One of the challenges for many California orchestras is that they only play together a couple times a month. How do we establish the relationship with them and decide how we’re going to do things in the hall? How do we get quickly into the mindset of that space?

Those musicians are busy and racing all over, and when they arrive, how do they have confidence in the conductor? For a goal, you want the Santa Rosa Symphony experience for our musicians to be the very best of all the orchestras that they play in.

Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
First of all, I was really struck by how the audience and the orchestra felt with each other in that space. It was a very fertile ground.

It’s been a lot of fun being in opera, but at the same time, I’ve got 20 years worth of great orchestral experience, and I want to keep refining that.

The music director needs to be as involved as possible. So I will learn more about what the optimal time commitment would be as the process unfolds.

Being an American music director is a very involved experience. It’s a wild job in a lot of ways. You have to be able to sell the vision and be an ambassador, performer, fundraiser and a bit of a psychologist, not only for the musicians but for the board. You’re a planner and a collaborator with the staff. It’s not a job that anybody gets trained specifically to do. If I got the position, this would be my sixth music director position in my life.

Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
amily is at the forefront of everything, but among non-family things, I love flying. It’s a source of great joy, especially as a hobby. I have a Mooney, low-wing, single-engine prop plane. I did my flight training in my early 20s, and got my license when I was 24. If I can fly without stopping for fuel, then I can beat the airlines. But as soon as you have to make a stop, the curve works against you.

Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
One of the big things I wanted to do was to be part of Bernstein’s centenary (he was born in 1918), and it’s important for any orchestra to nod its cap and appreciate how important he was. I thought it would be fun to present a piece that is a little bit off the beaten trail (“On the Waterfront”.) It’s jazzy and very lyrical, and there’s a lot of rhythm, which directly correlates with “West Side Story.” It speaks to variety, because he’s a well-known composer, but let’s look at him from a little bit different angle.

The orchestra assigned everybody soloists and gave us some choices about what the soloists were willing to do. The Prokofiev (Piano Concerto No. 3 (performed by Anna Fedorova) is great for the audience and has a lot of vibrancy, and it’s a great showpiece for the pianist.

Then they asked us to look at the repertory from the last five years and pick a standard piece that hasn’t been done in that time frame. That’s the motivation for the Dvorak (Symphony No. 9). That’s what people could imagine me thinking of doing in future programming.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or

January 11, 2018: Meet Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Graeme Jenkins

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, January 11, 2018

Like Santa Rosa Symphony’s outgoing Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, music director candidate Graeme Jenkins is based in Europe but has spent a great deal of time in the U.S.
Also like Ferrandis, Jenkins knows his way around the string bass and has deep roots in opera, serving as the music director of the Dallas Opera for nearly 20 years. But the similarities between the Frenchman and the Brit stop there.

The 58-year-old Jenkins, a choral and orchestral conductor who specializes in Mozart and the Viennese classics, will lead a program of Haydn, Mozart and Bartok from Saturday through Monday, Jan. 13 to 15, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.

The mostly Classical-era program will provide a palate-cleanser from the music performed so far this season, which has leaned heavily toward big, Romantic works by composers such as Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

One of his most famous mentors — Sir Peter Hall, a theater, opera and film director who died in September at age 86 — set Jenkins on the “less is more” path a long time ago, and he has never veered very far from it.

“Sir Peter Hall really insisted on integrity to the piece, and that is the heart of what I do as a conductor,” Jenkins said. “So that the music speaks its truth to the audience.”

Jenkins, who has conducted all the major UK orchestras and other opera companies such as the Vienna State Opera, uses restrained gestures when he conducts to communicate the sound that he wants to the orchestra.

“If you watch the greatest conductors ... they shape the music with their hands,” he said. “If you want (Gustavo) Dudamel — somebody doing huge and flamboyant gesture — that’s maybe what Santa Rosa needs. But if you want someone to delve deep into the music, that’s where I might fit in better.”

A self-made musician, Jenkins is the son of a banker and a hard-working housewife and fell under the spell of music as a young boy. He was able to excel, he said, due to Britain’s top-notch musical education system. His training started at Dulwich College, a private boarding school in South London; and continued at the University of Cambridge, where he read music; then at the Royal College of Music in London, where he studied conducting.

“I come from a family where there wasn’t much music, but for some reason I loved classical music,” he said. “I’m a product of education bringing people to music.”

His career took off when he was appointed Music Director of the Glyndebourne Touring Opera from 1986 to 1991. “I was very, very lucky,” he said. “After doing a festival in Brighton, the Glyndebourne Touring Opera asked me to come there, and I was there for seven years, with (Bernard) Haitink and (Sir Simon) Rattle.”

Jenkins is the fourth and penultimate candidate to audition with the Santa Rosa symphony this season to take Ferrandis’ place. A final decision made by the board will be announced in March.
Here is an edited version of our interview with Jenkins, who lives in Dorset, England, with his wife, Joanne. The couple has two daughters: Martha, 27, and Isabella, 25.

What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I hope, in that week, that some form of spark will come between the rostrum and the musicians. Without talking, without enormous movements from me, the music will speak for itself.

From the very first down beat, I’ll know if there’s the concentration and level of professionalism that wants to go further. I’ll start with the Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra) and those quiet phrases, and I’ll know from the intonation from cellos and bass how we’re going to get on.

In my first job, I was wonderfully tutored in committee, letting everybody talk, getting the feeling of the room, and then suggesting an approach ... it’s much better to have everybody involved. That’s the same way when you conduct an orchestra. Yes, you dictate the tempo, but you need to nurture the person in the back of the second violins and the new student in front, and remind the jaded members that the music is life-giving and remind them what it was like when they first did it.

What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
That’s very hard to answer without being in California and seeing what is needed. I’ve seen what the planning has been and the educational works that have already been done. It’s actually sitting down with the board and audience and asking, “We have this marvelous orchestra, what do you want to do with it and how can we grow an audience?”

In Dallas, it was very much working together with board members and audience and singers. It’s pointless saying, ”We must do this,” without knowing and nurturing what is going on there.

What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
It’s making every piece you do as exciting as possible. To take the orchestra to the absolute limits of what they can do and beyond. We must not become a museum culture. We must find new composers and new works. Why was it Haydn wrote 104 symphonies? Everyone wanted to hear something new.

Now the obsession is to hear everything everybody knows already. I don’t go into the same restaurant and eat the same meat with the same sauce. I want to try all kinds of things ... There are many different shades of cabernet sauvignon, depending on how much time in the barrel and the bottle. It’s the same with music. You want to try and develop different great varietals of the time.

Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
Classical music is in a difficult place at the moment, in that media does not take it seriously and everyone is calling it elitist. For me, it’s never been elitist. In Germany, every child at age 4 goes to see a production of “The Magic Flute.” It’s not difficult. And what is vital is that one keeps the support from the board and community to keep prices low so that anyone who wants to can afford to go.

The traditional standard repertoire should not be unknown. One should know the works of Mozart and Beethoven. But in America, that’s a challenge. So one has to tell the audience, “What we’re doing is really important, and you must come and hear it.”

And if one is to do an hour-long Shostakovich, you have to say “This is what you need to know,” and do a symposium ahead of time.

Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
What I’m good at is running things. I enjoy guest conducting, but I enjoy being part of an organization and working with people. Although I have conducted orchestras, I have never been a music director of a symphony orchestra.

I would hope I would continue the work that Jeffrey Kahane did. I would certainly have a part-time residence there ... you’ve got to get to know the community, get involved with the student groups and talk to board members.

I think it’s important that I continue my European career as well. But what I adore about America — what is still great — is that if you say to a group of people, “Come on, we need to do this,” they will back you, and there’s still an extraordinary enthusiasm about ‘Go West, young man,’ and let’s achieve something.

What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as conductor?
I kicked off on the piano, harpsichord and organ ... and I also played the double bass and did timpani, so I have a rudimentary knowledge of strings, then timpani and percussion. Once I got into Cambridge, I was a choral scholar, and I sang Evensong (evening prayer) every night of the week. That taught me how to sight read, and I know how to accompany the voice. You try to create an orchestral sound with the piano when you accompany people, so you really learn how to make it sound like an orchestra.

Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
I adore salmon fishing in the rivers. (In August) I was recording Verdi in Glasgow for Decca, and then I had a week fishing on the east coast of Scotland. I’m very new to this, but I’ve had casting lessons and now I get my fly into the river. No Internet. No noise. Incredibly beautiful scenery ... it’s really important, in this stressful world, that one can go completely away from things.

Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
I chose an extraordinary symphony (No. 100) that was premiered in London by Haydn ... Music is so often telling a story, and in Haydn’s “Military” Symphony, there’s a story in the second movement; perhaps Mozart’s best piano concerto (No. 21, to be performed by pianist Orli Shaham); and an extraordinary piece by Bartok (Concerto for Orchestra) written in New York City during an unhappy and difficult time of his life. He was thinking of his homeland and wonderful times back in Hungary. On the West Coast of America, that music will speak for myself.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

November 26, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Andrew Grams a multitasker at heart

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, November 26, 2017

Baltimore native Andrew Grams started multitasking at an early age. While studying conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, for example, the Juilliard-trained violinist was also hopping on trains to perform with the New York City Ballet Orchestra.

So the diverse challenges of directing a modern symphony orchestra — equal parts baton technique, public speaking and community outreach — do not daunt the 40-year-old conductor, who currently serves as the fourth music director of the 67-year-old Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Elgin, Illinois, just 35 miles northwest of Chicago. The orchestra is roughly the size of the Santa Rosa Symphony and draws upon musicians from all over the region.

Grams will lead the Santa Rosa Symphony this Saturday through Dec. 4 at Weill Hall during a program of Berlioz, Ravel and Rachmaninoff entitled “A Luscious Euro Sound.” The conductor is the third of five finalists trying out this season to succeed Music Director Bruno Ferrandis (other interviews and reviews so far can be viewed at

In addition to his in-depth string knowledge, Grams is known for creating a close relationship with the community, which has translated into a successful run so far with the Elgin Symphony.

“As time goes on, I have found more and more of my time being used in community development and relationship building rather than sitting in one’s cave, poring over scores and searching them for the deepest meaning,” Grams said in a phone interview. “I’ve dedicated myself to that in Elgin … and I am happy to say that over the course of my four-year tenure, we have grown both audience and revenue every single year.”

The Elgin Symphony Orchestra sold the highest average number of classical concert tickets in its history during the 2016-17 season, according to the Chicago Tribune. Grams believes the success of the orchestra is in part because of his personal accessibility.

“One of the things that I like to do is to get rid of the idea, the stigma, that exists in most people’s minds about what going to a symphony is,” he said. “I strive in my communication ... to make everyone know that music is for everyone. All should feel welcome.”

Grams, who served as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra for three years, guest conducts all over the world, from the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra London to the Oslo Philharmonic. His conducting style is elegant and animated, ranging from power punches to smooth balletic sways.

Here is our edited interview with Grams, who was named the 2015 Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras:

What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I create a working atmosphere that is positive and encouraging. The most important thing, and the thing that translates into an exciting performance, is when everybody strives for something that lies just beyond their easy grasp. It’s about trying to find that expressive region, where people are doing everything correctly …but striving for higher levels of the particular qualities required by the music, whether it be clarity, atmosphere or sustained intensity.

What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
Since I’ve only had one orchestra, my experience is limited … but I am a person who is encouraging and inviting and warm and welcoming. I strive in my communication, whether it be in print or one-on-one conversations or speaking to the audience from the stage, to make everyone know that the music is for everyone … and if you come, you can come as you are and the only thing we ask is to come with open ears. Everybody has permission to not like what they’ve heard and to feel as if they can express that.

One of the things I’ve tried to do is to make sure I and the community establish trust. I am going to make sure they hear what they really like to hear, and also, that if I give them things that they don’t recognize, that they trust me that I’m not going to throw them into the deep end of the pool without some sort of floaties on the arm … And I always try to give the audience a framework for understanding.

What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
This goes hand and hand with community relations and with me being who I am. I like to program stuff that I think is cool … a lot of the stuff that I think is cool, everybody else thinks is cool as well. So I’m not introducing wildly new, crazy, off-the-wall things.

I’m not saying we won’t go to places that will stretch people’s ears. But my programming starts off with, “Let’s all get to know one another.” And that goes for me and the orchestra. How an orchestra plays together is a very intimate thing, and it’s easier to understand one another when you are on familiar ground.

Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
I see the future being very bright, because many of the generations younger than mine have grown up with access to the widest gamut of music and information. And I think that a lot of the young people, those we generally call millennials, have grown up with a curiosity about the world.

The struggle comes because that curiosity does not always come with longtime loyalty. And so, we’re going to have to spend a lot of time learning about each other, and we are going to have to be flexible with our offerings, looking at it from a perspective that is not backward-looking. Tradition does have its place, and it’s important, but it cannot be adhered to without regard to new trends.

Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
There are many things I find attractive. One is being wanted and considered, which is a great honor and privilege. It’s an affirmation of the quality of my work.

Another thing is the Green Music Center, since it is modeled on Ozawa Hall out of Tanglewood, which was one of the first truly special halls that I ever had the privilege of performing in when I was a Tanglewood fellow. I thought it was one of the greatest places to work ever.

California is a state that I have spent some time in, but the West Coast has a very different feel to me as a person who has spent a number of years in the Midwest and is originally from the East. It would be very, very exciting to get to know people who are there and who inhabit such a beautiful area, who live and work and craft things …whether it be wines or artisanal this, that and the other. All these things you really only find in California, with abundance.

Frankly, I really like working with the musicians of the Sacramento Philharmonic, and a lot of them play in Santa Rosa, so this will also be very nice.

I would spend a significant amount of time outside of concerts getting to know the community, from the City Council to all of the people who are in charge of a community. That’s extremely important. It’s time well spent. An orchestra should have relevant offerings for its community that support the community … you can’t know that until you know the community, and you can’t know the community by standing on the stage.

What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as a conductor?
I play the violin, and I can get around on a French horn and trombone, albeit somewhat badly … one of the most terrifying experiences of my life was playing second horn for Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. The trio is for the first row of woodwinds and second horn, which functions as a third bassoonist. You feel extremely naked.

Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
As I’ve gotten older, I cherish the opportunities to be still and do nothing. It’s difficult to do because there are so many distractions, but one of the things I like about flying … is that it is time that I don’t have to do anything. I don’t watch movies, I don’t listen to music and I don’t read. I sit still and enjoy the sounds of air rushing over the skin of an aluminum tube flying at 3,000 feet.

Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
This program offers a lot of expression. All three pieces have just a tinge of sadness and a little bit of tragedy.

The “King Lear” Overture (by Berlioz) is wildly exuberant and manic — hey, it’s King Lear — but there’s a bit of tragedy, too.

In the Ravel Piano Concerto (No. 2), the second movement is absolutely beautiful, a quasi-sarabande, with lovely expression, but it doesn’t make you smile. It’s not a smiley E major, which is just amazing that he was able to do that.

Rachmaninoff is never a smiley composer — there’s the “Dies Irae” (a leitmotif for fate and death) — and it really is a culmination of a lot of drive and thrust and intensely held feelings, but it’s never completely exuberant and bright and sunny.

The program has a sadness in the smallest possible dose — it colors everything just a little bit.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

October 18, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony to welcome conductor candidate Mei-Ann Chen

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, October 18, 2017

Conductor Mei-Ann Chen is no stranger to the Bay Area classical music scene.
For the past four or five years, Chen has led the San Francisco Symphony in its annual Lunar New Year concert, relying on her extensive knowledge of the Asian repertoire.
In January 2016, she served as a guest conductor for the Santa Rosa Symphony, where she led An-Lun Huang’s festive “Saibei Dance” along with works by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.
That concert made a positive impression on symphony musicians and subscribers alike. So it was not surprising when the symphony announced last fall that Chen had been chosen as one of five conductor finalists to audition for a chance to succeed Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.
After her first orchestra rehearsal as a violinist at age 10, Chen said she ran home to tell her parents she wanted to be a conductor. Since then, she has single-mindedly pursued her “impossible dream,” teaching herself conducting when she could not find a teacher.
“I was a stubborn little girl,” she said. “I wanted to play the largest instrument in the room … so I memorized all my parts and fixed my eyes on the conductor.”
Born in Taiwan, Chen studied music in Taipei and was ready to enter college when she was granted an audition with well-known British conductor Benjamin Zander, who was leading the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic on a tour of Asia. After hearing her play, Zander offered her a scholarship to the New England Conservatory. She received a double master’s degree in conducting and violin from the conservatory, then went on to get a doctor of music arts in conducting from the University of Michigan.
From 2002 to 2007, Chen served as the Music Director of the Portland Youth Philharmonic in Oregon, then was appointed assistant conductor of the Atlanta and Baltimore symphonies. From 2010 to 2016, she served as music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Since 2011, she has led the Chicago Sinfonietta and spends half the year guest conducting all over the world.
First responders
This weekend, Nov. 4-6, all eyes will be on Chen as she returns to the Santa Rosa Symphony podium to lead Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture,” Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, Jennifer’s Higdon’s “blue cathedral” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, “Italian.” The symphony has dedicated its 90th season to the first responders and those who have lost homes in the wildfires and will provide free tickets for the remaining concerts to both groups.
Here is the edited version of our interview with Chen, who was named one of Musical America’s 2015 Top 30 Influencers.
What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?
I like to think of the symphony orchestra as an enlarged chamber group. I grew up as a violinist ... so I really view the musicians as my fellow musicians who are making chamber music with me. I hope that they feel inspired. It is daunting to have a unified interpretation between 60 to 80 musicians ... They are not just there to follow my directions. We make the music together.
What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?
What we have learned in Chicago is that sometimes the audience may not know they enjoy certain things. So you have to build that trust. If you talk about fate, you’ve got Beethoven No. 5, Tchaikovsky No. 4, but there may be other works they may not know and love and enjoy. So I try to build in audience engagement with the concert theme.
We did a really out-side-the-box program in Chicago, collaborating with a wonderful marching band called Mucca Pazza (Mad Cow), and we created a battle of the bands program. In addition, before and during intermission and post-concert, we created a battle of the beers to tie into something that’s very specific to the region. It might get people really curious about what the symphony is doing.
Everybody knows Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which was inspired by ... spiritual, gospels and Native American music.
The world premiere was 1893 in Carnegie Hall. After the slow movement, the whole audience in Carnegie applauded nonstop for several minutes. So I brought in a youth choir and gospel choir to sing spirituals between the movements, before and after the slow movement ... It is a risk to interrupt the music. But in both Memphis and Chicago, the audience had four standing ovations, because the spirituals were so moving, and it gives you a deeper appreciation of those melodies. I think what the audience informed me is that it’s very educational for them to put things in context.
Grow audience
In symphonic engagement, if you don’t grow your audience, you are decreasing your audience ... the Chicago Sinfonietta is one of the few orchestras in the country that is growing. When we did Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé,” it was with a video suite by an astronomer, José Francisco Salgado. Recently, we did a 10-year-anniversary program with his work, and it included a movement from Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique,” where he showcased a video he made called “Around the Earth in 90 Minutes.” And he created a video for Holst’s “Planets.” That was one of our most attended concerts, because the whole family came, with kids ranging from very young to high school and college.
What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?
I would listen to your community. I don’t want to assume I know Santa Rosa ... Can we commission a piece that is quintessential to Sonoma County and capture that in a multi-media way that other orchestras could play?
Programming is very much like designing a menu. It has to be balanced. It has to be visual as well as tasteful. And it has to work with each other. We have what we call the meat-and-potato portion of our repertoire — some of the old masters that stand the time of time — those are absolutely core not only to the health of our musicians’ artistry, but as an important part of drawing in audience who grew up hearing this repertoire.
Dvorak’s New World Symphony is an old work, but how can we shine a new light on it? We can also create a narrative and a connection. You’ve got to make it digestible but enjoyable and in some way thought-provoking.
Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?
The important word is relevance. When it doesn’t reflect our community, it’s going to lose its appeal. And
relevance depends on what is relevant to Santa Rosa. Not every program has to have more educational components, but every program has to be a discovery of something. It’s about how to attract people who are curious and want to talk about the symphony. That has a very direct impact on your ticket sales and on how well the orchestra is going to thrive.
Three performances
You already have an incredible community, in terms of support for the symphony ... you have really amazing support, coming in for three performances, with all three almost packed. Keep cultivating it and make sure it’s an accessible art form for as many people and age groups as possible.
Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?
Of course I had heard about the county and the wine before my first visit. But it was nothing compared to when I was actually there ... It was shocking how good everything was, not just the food but the quality of life there. I would move there in a heartbeat. I love Chicago, but I started my career in the Pacific Northwest, and I miss that part of the country in terms of getting close to nature, and protecting nature and the environment.
I would be based out of your area because there’s another side ... it’s so much closer to Asia. I could take a direct flight to Taiwan, and it’s only 11 or 12 hours, vs. 16 or more from Chicago.
You are a violinist. What other instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as a conductor?
If you look at the orchestra, the number of string musicians is likely to be over half, so being able to speak string language is very helpful ... they know I can push for string colors that may be very unique.
That’s not to say I didn’t take up other instruments. I knew I wanted to be a conductor at age 10, so I took classes with the wind, percussion and brass instruments. I grew up in the orchestra and feel very much at home.
When I see myself disappear, in the sense that we are all onstage, moving and making music, smiling at each other, that’s really beautiful ... I call it the circle of energy. For me, it is about being the music. We are trying to be that music, whether it’s sad or joyful or shocking or telling a story. We are the embodiment of the sound.
Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?
No question. It’s detective novels ... there’s a lot of parallels between studying a score and solving a crime. The composers left clues for us to figure out their piece. It’s solving the puzzle and the mystery.
Artistic voice
Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?
I wanted to create a very interesting, four-piece program that is a journey. In the first half, both composers (Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky) are trying to find their artistic voice. The Shostakovich was a commission for the October revolution, and it was modelled after Glinka’s Overture to “Ludmilla,” which was important. I just loved this piece.
In the second half, Jennifer’s “blue cathedral” is one of the most performed contemporary works ... I have championed her works, and this one has never been done in Santa Rosa.
And then there’s Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphony ... It’s really interesting for me to see this cross-cultural German capturing the Italian spirit. He had a very short life and was fortunate to travel in his early 20s, and that’s where a lot of his inspiration came from ... he has a special place in my repertoire.

October 2, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony begins its public 'auditions' with conductor candidate Francesco Lecce-Chong

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, October 2, 2017

As the Santa Rosa Symphony rehearses for their 90th anniversary season opener this coming weekend, the musicians, management and subscribers are also preparing for a unqiue twist on the season: a speed-dating marathon with the five music director finalists who will publicly “try out” on the podium over the next five months. One of them will be chosen to replace outgoing Maestro Bruno Ferrandis, who resigned earlier this year to live in Paris fulltime and pursue guest conducting opportunities throughout the world.

Think of “The Dating Game” meets “The Bachelorette,” with a few surprising twists from Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” thrown in for fun. The process is a bit nerve-wracking for everyone, as first dates tend to be, but it holds the promise of fresh, exciting energy hitting the concert stage this season and beyond.
Take Francesco Lecce-Chong, who will conduct a program of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mason Bates during the Santa Rosa Symphony’s opening concert set this coming weekend. Just 30 years old, the graduate of New York’s Mannes College of Music got his start as associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and has already earned critical acclaim for leading dynamic, forceful performances. After being chosen as one of five finalists for the Santa Rosa post, he was snatched up by the Eugene Symphony in April as its new music director.

Lecce-Chong plans to finish up his current commitments in Pittsburgh within a year (he’s assistant conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra) and has already moved to Oregon.

Although it may not be rocket science, music directors today need to know their way around a wide range of skillsets, both on the podium and o. Some may stand out for their beautiful conducting style and efficient rehearsal techniques. Others may shine brightest as a public speaker, touching the audience and the community at large with their passionate oratory.

Then there is the charisma factor, similar to “sex appeal,” and equally hard to dene. This kind of leader can lift an organization to a new level with electrifying concerts worthy of buzz, engaging education and outreach projects that keep new audiences coming back and fundraising efforts that help oat all of those boats.

To give you a preview of the five finalists, we interviewed each candidate over the phone, asking each of them the same questions in an effort to reveal their unique personalities and musical approaches. We will publish their responses before each of their appearances and collect all the interviews on our website, so you can check back before a final decision is made in March.

Here is an edited version of our interview with Lecce-Chong, who has worked with orchestras around the world, from the San Diego Symphony to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

Q. What will the symphony musicians enjoy about working with you?

A. I think I take a very collaborative approach to what I do. Obviously, the conductor has to make decisions. But there is a way of working that encourages people to be themselves and bring out their own character in the music, and to work together to create something bigger. I’m not trying to convince the orchestra of my vision. I’m trying to help us come together about what this piece is about. To be able to harness that and make sure you are still creating a cohesive sound and journey in the piece is very important as well.

Q. What ideas do you have to engage and grow the audience here, and can you give an example of what you’ve already done with other orchestras?

A. It’s such a tough issue ... and there has not been a golden bullet solution found. Every community is individual and has its own mix of people and partnerships and economy. I think there was a time where orchestras all tried to do the same thing and come up with the same solution. I think that is not the case now, which is wonderful, and orchestras realize they need to create unique programming for their community and to connect with it.

Most of my work has been on the education and community side of things ... There is something spectacular about bringing music to people who might not be able to find it on their own, and on the education side, bringing it to people who are hearing it for the first time.

A classical subscription concert is not going to be the same as a youth orchestra concert, but there’s no reason why it can’t be as connected ... and why not have interaction with the audience?

But the most important thing for me is that you have to know your community ... All the fancy stuff we’re doing — Is there enough diversity? Are we reaching out? — all those are important, but we need everyone to buy in. So the job of the music director is to galvanize that, and the really successful ones have done that.

Q. What is your programming philosophy and how do you plan to keep concerts exciting for everyone?

A. What’s unique about being a music director is that you are responsible for curating 300 years of music ... and sometimes if we get caught up in our vision, we end up missing out on some of that amazing repertoire.

Initially, my strength was Beethoven and Brahms and Schumann and Mahler, all the core repertoire ... but I was an undergraduate composition major. So I have an interest in new music and what is happening in the music world today ... and it doesn’t all sound the same. There’s a lot of great music being written now, and we should be exploring all that’s happening.

The most recent thing I studied was play conducting (conducting from the harpsichord.) All music through Haydn was led by someone on an instrument. That repertoire changed for me once I stopped trying to conduct it ... and it’s a passion of mine to have this spontaneity in the music.
Every performance is different, and it’s amazing and so enlivening. So it’s been great to throw that into the mix.

At the end of the day, I want to create a concert environment that is fun, exciting and encourages dialogue, where people feel free to not like something on the program .. . just like we go to movies we don’t like, and we complain about it, but we don’t stop going to the movies.

Q. Where do you see classical music going in the future, and how would you take this orchestra in that direction?

A. I’m not worried about the orchestra world. I know there’s a lot of bad news about orchestras, that we are struggling, and it’s part of us being a little late to the change. We got comfortable, and now we realize we are a service organization. We provide arts and culture to everyone, not just those who have the money or time to afford it. That was a tough switch to make. I’ve come full circle on that. Things are a little difficult now, but we’re poised to move forward, and the Santa Rosa Symphony is in a fantastic position, with all these multi-tiered youth orchestras under them, and these in-school music programs that are incredibly important.

The more I learn about the Santa Rosa Symphony, the more I see it as doing all the right things and really poised to be on the forefront of classical music. They have a wonderful concert hall, an orchestra that is performing triples (three concerts in a set), which is incredibly unusual even among large orchestras ... but doing something like that is how an orchestra grows and improves, and it also leaves a lot of room for growth.

At the end of the day, the future of orchestras is going to rely on their community. Hopefully, we will continue to have these big angel donors, but we can’t only rely on that. We have to remember our purpose, in today’s world, is to inspire and enrich people’s lives, and to bring people together and connect.

Q. Why do you want to come to Sonoma County, and how much time can you spend here?

A. I was born in San Francisco, and my parents just moved back to the Bay Area. I have so much family there. A lot of them will have the chance to see me conduct in October ... that also makes it easy for me to say that I will have a residence in Santa Rosa.

Obviously I had a long talk with Alan Silow to make sure I could still be a candidate after I got the job with the Eugene Symphony ... We’re long past the days where the conductor can just y in. I want to fulfil a vision of being a leader in the community and be able to make things happen outside of rehearsals and concerts.

Q. What instruments do you play and how does that experience serve you in your role as a conductor?

A. As a pianist, it allows me to work with vocalists and play chamber music, and anytime I do 17th- and early 18th-century repertoire, I get to be part of the music-making. My background as a composer makes a big difference in how I look at new music, and how passionate I am about making sure we bring out music that is good and connects with our audience.

I played violin, viola and clarinet all through high school. The benefit of knowing you want to be a conductor that young is that you realize that you need to be proficient at a couple of instruments.

Q. Conducting is your favorite thing. What is your second favorite thing?

A. My life has escalated so fast over the past couple of years that it’s been difficult becoming well-rounded. The one thing I haven’t had to let go is that I love reading. I’m an avid reader of early modern literature .... any big, thorny novel is a great way to kill a couple of hours at an airport.

Q. Can you talk about the program you’ll be leading?

A. I’m really excited to bring the Mason Bates piece ( “Garages of the Valley”) since he’s from the Bay Area ... and I was there when it was being written. (Pianist) Joyce Yang (who will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3) was one of my rst soloists in Milwaukee, so I’ve known her very well. And the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4 is a great way for me to work with the orchestra, to get to know them and let them get to know me.

If you plan to attend this concert, please feel free to share your thoughts with us through an e-mail.

francesco lecce-chong
Age: 30. Born April 20, 1987
Home base: Eugene, Oregon.
Partner: His girlfriend is a harpist with the New World Symphony in Miami
Current positions: Assistant Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Eugene Symphony.

Performance dates: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Oct. 8 and 8 p.m. Oct. 9. Lecce-Chong will give a free, pre-concert interview one hour before each performance. To view a video of the conductor, go to

Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park

Tickets: From $29

Reservations: 707-546-8742 or

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56. 

June 23, 2017: Santa Rosa High trumpet player David Green wins trip to play Carnegie Hall

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, June 23, 2017

So far, the trumpet has taken Santa Rosa High School sophomore David Green on quite a ride. It started in 2015 with a tour of Asia with the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and its conductor, Richard Loheyde. “I kept going from there,” Green said.

His mother, Cherie Green, described it another way: “He was hooked.”

The musical adventure continued last summer when he was chosen to participate in a three-week, intensive training program in New York for the inaugural National Youth Orchestra 2 (NYO2). As one of four trumpet players and one of the three youngest musicians there, he took workshops and performed with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra while visiting the Met Opera and the Juilliard School in between subway rides and bites of giant New York pizza slices.

“We ate lunch with the Philadelphia orchestra musicians and constantly asked questions,” Green said. “I learned an insane amount … at the end, we spent three days in Philadelphia and performed at Verizon Hall (home of the Philadelphia Orchestra).”

This summer, Green will head back east from June 30 to July 23 for another three-week stint with the 78-member NYO2, where he will once again bond with fellow musicians and participate in private lessons and chamber music, rehearsals and performances under the guidance of members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“This year, we’re going to Philly first and will perform in Verizon,” he said. “Then we’re going back to New York to play in Carnegie.”

Green and his colleagues in the NYO2 will not only get to make their debut at Carnegie Hall, performing side-by-side with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but will accompany special guest vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding, a young, fast-rising star of the jazz world. They will also have an opportunity to interact with some of the local, young musicians.

The NYO2 program, aimed at musicians ages 14 to 17, is an extension of Carnegie Hall’s National Youth Orchestra of the USA, a three-week training residency that provides similar training to young adults ages 16 to 19, who also get to go on a tour of the music capitals of the world. Both Carnegie Hall programs are free and aimed at expanding the pool of young musicians across the country equipped to succeed at the highest level.

Green fits that description to a T. His goal is to study trumpet performance at a university or conservatory, then win a seat as a principal trumpet in a major orchestra. Green started taking trumpet lessons in third grade and has never looked back. He now practices three hours a day in addition to daily rehearsals for the SRHS band, bi-weekly practice sessions for the SRJC Jazz Band and weekly rehearsals of the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra.

“He’s uncommonly focused on a single goal,” said Mark Wardlaw, head of instrumental music at SRHS, who has taught Green since middle school. “He’s unwaveringly committed to the discipline that pursuit requires … his private trumpet teacher, the highly respected Daniel Gianola-Norris, once told me that David ‘makes me realize what it is to be truly talented.’”

Trumpets have been played throughout history for religious and cultural rites and as well as for all kinds of military communication. Eventually, the brilliant color of the instrument made its way into concert and jazz halls, where its piercing power in the high register has been artfully mastered by trumpeters ranging from Wynton Marsalis and Alison Balsom to Dizzy Gillespie and Arturo Sandoval.

“Your lips have to buzz really, really fast to hit a high note,” Green explained. “It takes perfect position and control.”

That’s actually been a challenge for Green, who a few years ago, was told by one of his teachers that he had to change his embouchure — the way he applies his mouth to the mouthpiece of the instrument.

“You want the white flesh to be supporting the rim of the mouthpiece, and the lip should be inside,” he said.
“It’s been really hard. I took a few days o, and it was back to long tones and low notes, and I’m still working on my range.”

Although born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Green and his family moved to Santa Rosa when he was just 1 years old. His father, Don Green, is chief of occupational medicine at Kaiser, and his mother, Cherie Green, is a physician and full-time faculty for the Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency program. He has a 12-year-old sister, Sophie, who plays the oboe.

While attending Matanzas Elementary School, Green started taking private trumpet lessons and participated in the school’s well-regarded band program under music teachers Andy Darrow and Isaac Vanderveer.

“No drums, that was my only restraint,” said his mother, Cherie.

In the fifth grade, he joined the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Preparatory Orchestra and started studying with that ensemble’s brass coach, Daniel Gianola-Norris, who is also a member of the Sonoma State University Faculty Brass Quintet.

After working his way up to the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Repertory Orchestra, where he played principal trumpet, he attended the Cazadero Music Camp in the summers of 2013-2015 and made it into the All-State Junior High School Jazz Band in 7th and 8th grades, where he won a $500 scholarship.

After getting into the SRS Youth Orchestra, he started taking online lessons with David Bigler of the Philadelphia Orchestra in order to prepare for the concert tour of China.

At the NYO2, he will be working with conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, a native of Costa Rica who serves as music director of the Nashville Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra.

“He was really funny and had a lot of good analogies,” Green said. This summer, in addition to NYO2, he plans to go to the Interlochen Trumpet Institute and work with Santa Rosa Symphony Principal Trumpet Doug Morton and David Burkhart of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on upcoming auditions, including one for the San Francisco Youth Orchestra.

Next year, he will be old enough to try out for the National Youth Orchestra of the USA, which will be touring to Asia with San Francisco Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas.

One of the secrets to his success is time management and efficiency.

“I plan out my day and set goals, and I try to get three hours a day of practice,” he said. “Last summer at NYO2, trumpet player David Bilger gave an inspiring master class about being a musician. He said, ‘The better you get, the better the job gets.’”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

2016 - 2017 Season

April 27, 2017: Violin virtuoso Vadim Gluzman to hold free masterclass at Green Music Center

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, April 27, 2017

Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, who will perform with the Santa Rosa Symphony for its seasonal finale on May 6-8, will hold a free masterclass at 4 p.m. Thursday, May 4, at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall. The Stradivari violin virtuoso will give an open lessons to two Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra students: concertmaster Alex Chui and Miranda Ronan, both 14.

The public is invited to the open lessons, during which a participating student performs a solo work and is coached by Gluzman. The audience listens and learns and is able to pose questions.

Born in the Soviet Union, Gluzman studied with Zakhar Bron in Russia, Yai Kless in Israel and Dorothy DeLay at the Juilliard School in New York City and was mentored by the late violinist Isaac Stern.

Gluzman, whose latest CD features Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concertos No. 1 and 2, will perform Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 with the symphony on his 1690 “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivari violin, on loan to him through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.

To reserve a ticket to the free masterclass, call 707-546-8742 or stop by the symphony’s Patron Service Office, 50 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. The Green Music Center is located on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park.

March 23, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony ‘brings on the strings’ with principal string players

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, March 23, 2017

For their concert program this weekend, the Santa Rosa Symphony, under Music Director
Bruno Ferrandis, will ask a few of its principal string players to step in front of the orchestra
as soloists.

Concertmaster Joe Edelberg, a 20-year veteran of the symphony, will be joined by Principal
Violist Elizabeth Prior in Mozart’s timeless gem, the Sinfonia concertate for violin and viola.
Principal Cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns will perform Fauré’s “Elégie,” a delicate work full of

The works written for solo instruments solo vehicles will be sandwiched between a
contemporary work, Alan Hovhaness’s “Meditation on Orpheus,” and two works by Sibelius:
his brooding and rarely heard Symphony No. 4 and his upbeat “Finlandia.”

Kearns and Prior both joined the symphony five years ago and, like Edelberg, play in a wide
range of ensembles all over the Bay Area, from Monterey and San Jose to the San Francisco
ballet and opera.

Prior, a native of South Africa who lives in San Rafael, will play her Giuseppe Tarasconi viola
from Italy for the Mozart work. She initially was attracted to the viola because of its deep,
rich sound.

“It’s a modern, Italian instrument with a very flexible sound,” she said. “It has a big sound,
and it resonates very well, and it also has a warm, sweet sound. It’s not as nasally as some
violas ... it’s got more brightness.”

Although she started out as a violinist, Prior’s heart was not in playing the violin, a stressful
and often difficult instrument to play.

“I was always attracted to what the inner voices were doing rather than playing the tune,”
she said. “So I demoted myself to the second violin, and then I tried the viola.” 

She is looking forward to playing the Mozart Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola
because she considers the piece as “absolute masterpiece,” with a slow movement that is
particularly beguiling.

“The whole things is like a conversation between violin and viola,” she said. “Mozart really
brings out the sonority of the viola ... He gives the viola the response that brings the
conversation to a deeper level.”

Both the violin and viola play the introduction to the work with the orchestra, so Prior does
not expect to be nervous when she dives into the solo part.

Because the two solo parts are written like separate pieces, the main challenge will be
listening to each other and creating a smooth ensemble with the orchestra, she said.

“I probably will have a moment of fluttering, but I am so looking forward to it,” she said. “I
feel so lucky and honored to play this piece.”

Kearns, a native of San Francisco who started studying the violin at a Suzuki school at age 3,
also was put off by the sound of the tiny violin.

“They are squeaky, and I would drop it on the floor,” she said. “Then I saw a video of Yo-Yo
Ma playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto ... and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever.”

In the fifth grade, she brought home a cello from school, and that became her life’s passion.
She went on to study performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Kearns will be playing Fauré’s “Elégie” on her French cello, which is about 100 to 150 years
old. She stumbled upon the cello in Japan when she needed to borrow an instrument to
play a concerto.

“I instantly clicked with it,” she said. “It has a very pretty sound with a lot of different colors
... it’s very responsive and sings really nicely and projects well too.”

The Fauré is a short piece that the French composer originally wrote as a slow movement
for a Cello Sonata, which never came to fruition.

“It’s a piece that I probably studied when I was 12 years old,” she said. “It’s a piece that little
kids can start playing, but it has a lot of emotional depths that you can’t fully understand
until you are older.”

Among cellists, Kearns counts Mstislav Rostropovich as her all-time favorite. She played in a
master class for him during college, accompanied him in an orchestra at Tanglewood and
watched him from the audience many times.

She also has played in an orchestra behind Yo-Yo Ma. Once at a party, she got to play Ma’s
DAvidov Stradivarius, the same instrument that the late Jacquelin Dupré played and the
one he famously left in a taxi.

While violists are known as jovial, easy-going folks, Kearns said cellists tend to be a little
more eccentric.

“There’s a little element of craziness in cellists,” she said. “We’re all kind of drama queens, a
little bit. But some of my closest friends are cellists.”

Kearns said leading the cello section of the Santa Rosa Symphony is a joy because all the
players are all top-notch. She also enjoyed serving on the search committee for a new
music director, even though it meant making extra trips all the way up from San Jose for
regular meetings throughout the season.

“It was really fun to be part of the process,” she said. “And I’m thrilled about the candidates
we chose."

You can reach Staff writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287.

January 5, 2017: Berlin Philharmonic harpist performs with Santa Rosa Symphony

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, January 5, 2017

The concert harp is an incredibly complex instrument, with thousands of moving parts housed within a 6-foot-tall wooden frame that is under so much pressure, it can implode if not played regularly.
In an orchestra, the ancient and much-revered instrument often plays a supporting role, embellishing the melody with its shimmering flourishes but rarely stepping out as the star. This weekend, however, the Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis has invited Marie-Pierre Langlamet, principal harpist with the Berlin Philharmonic, to perform two well-known solo works for harp: Claude Debussy’s “Danses Sacrée et Profane” for Harp and Orchestra, and Alberto Ginastera’s vibrant Concerto for Harp and Orchestra.
“It’s one of our best concertos,” Langlamet said in a phone interview from her home in Berlin. “It shows the many facets of the instrument.”
The program, entitled “Heavenly Harp,” opens with Rossini’s Overture to “The Thieving Magpie,” one of the composer’s best operatic overtures, and culminates with two suites from Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé,” one of the most famous French ballets.
Met at school
Ferrandis first met Langlamet while both were attending the Conservatory of Nice along with Ferrandis’ brother Jean, a professional flutist.
However, they really got to know each in New York, where Ferrandis was studying conducting at Juilliard and Langlamet was working as deputy principal harpist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under James Levine.
“I am bringing the best harpist in the world to play two of the most famous harp pieces,” Ferrandis said proudly of his childhood friend.
Born in Grenoble, Langlamet grew up in Nice in a music-loving family with a sister who played the guitar. She started studying harp when she was 8. Her first choice had been piano, but the piano class was full, so she chose another instrument that could produce many notes at a time.
“It was (important) for me to play all the voices, and I could play it alone,” she said of the harp.
“There are not so many instruments like that .... It really was my dream instrument.”

Langlamet received her first musical training at the Conservatory of Nice with Elisabeth Fontan-Binoche, then went on to win top prizes in two international competitions by the time she was 16. At 17, she was hired as principal harpist in the Nice Opera Orchestra.
“I was very lucky and had an excellent teacher, with many good students with major positions all over the world,” she said of her quick rise to professional musician.
“I was quite fast learning and motivated, and I loved it.”
Studied in Philadelphia
A year after joining the Nice Opera Orchestra, she gave up her position to continue her studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where she was able to learn from other musicians and play chamber music.
“In France, it’s very separated ... We train soloists, at least at that time,” she said. “In France, there’s lots of solfège and theory. At Curtis, it’s whatever works. I was suddenly thrown into another world of other musicians.”
Since 1993, Langlamet has worked as principal harpist at the Berlin Philharmonic, making many recordings with the orchestra while performing worldwide as a soloist with ensembles such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande.
In 2016, Langlamet performed the Ginastera concerto with several orchestras to mark the centenary of the Argentinian composer’s birth.
The virtuoso concerto, commissioned in 1956 and premiered in 1965 by the Philadelphia Orchestra, veers away from pleasing melodies and harmonies of the 19th-century harp repertoire.
“It’s a big piece with a big orchestra behind the harp, and it should be a challenge,” she said.
“It shows the many facets of the instrument ... as a folk instrument and percussion instrument, with lots of rhythm. It’s hot blooded.”
Diffculty completing
The work was supposed to be premiered in 1958, but the composer had diffculty completing it because of the instrument’s limitations. It can only play seven of the 12 pitches in a chromatic scale at a time.
“It was postponed again and again,” she said. “And fortunately, the Spanish player, Nicanor Zabaleta, heard the story and flew to Buenos Aires and sat with the composer to help him through the process.”
After intermission, Langlamet will perform “Danses Sacrée et Profane” by Debussy, who helped put the harp on the map with his many works for the instrument. The nine-minute piece will provide a dramatic contrast to the Ginastera piece.
“The harp was well understood by Debussy, and he didn’t try to push it beyond its borders,” she said. “It’s never overpowering.”
To make the piece work, Langlamet said, the harp needs to be amplified.
“It was written for the chromatic harp, not the pedal harp I will be playing,” she said.
“It was a commission by Michel Pleyel, who was trying to commission for this new instrument, with white and black key strings, with no pedals. It’s very intimate.”

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

January 5, 2017: Orchestra to play at memorial service for Eugene Shepherd

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, January 5, 2017

A full orchestra, led by Cindy Weichel and Bob Williams, will perform at the memorial service for veteran violinist Eugene Shepherd at noon Saturday, Jan. 7, at Santa Rosa Bible Church.

Shepherd, an influential teacher and conductor, died Dec. 15 at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Rosa at 96 after suffering complications from surgery after a fall.

Shepherd served as concertmaster of the Santa Rosa Symphony for 33 years and founded what became the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Youth Orchestra. During 21 years of teaching instrumental music at Cook Junior High, he mentored many of the leading music teachers working in Sonoma County today, including Sonoma State University’s Director of Bands Andy Collingsworth.

A string quartet will perform at 11 a.m. for the visitation at the church, 4575 Badger Road. The noon memorial service will feature classical and big band music performed by current musicians and alumni of the Santa Rosa Symphony, the Baroque Sinfonia and the Sonoma County Junior Symphony.

Two of Shepherd’s most successful students also will perform at his memorial service. Violinist Gary Pozzi, who played with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks and who changed his name to  Sid Page, will play Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road.” Violinist Anthony Martin, who performs with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco, will perform with the orchestra assembled for the service.

The orchestral program will include Elgar’s “Elegy” for strings and the third movement of Brahms’ Third Symphony, plus a few big band tunes.

During his basic training in the Air Force, Shepherd was invited by bandleader Glenn Miller to join the Air Force show, “Winged Victory,” on Broadway. The violinist later toured the country with the show and won a speaking role in the movie version.

In honor of Shepherd’s military service, bagpiper Martha Yates will play “Amazing Grace” and trumpeter Dan Norris will play “Taps” at the memorial service.

A reception will follow at the church.

Donations in Shepherd’s memory may be made to Lawrence Cook Middle School, 2480 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa 95407, Attention: Jessica Santana.

December 15, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony names a development director

by North Bay Business Journal, December 15, 2016

The Santa Rosa Symphony has announced the return of Ben Taylor, now as development director. Taylor previously worked in the symphony’s education department for 12 years, lastly as director of education.

Taylor has more than 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, with a focus on program design and building community relationships. He has been music director for the Albany Community Chorus and the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Santa Rosa.

Also a composer, Taylor’s works have been performed across North America and China by ensembles such as the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra, Festival Choir of Madison, Wis., and the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra, according to the symphony. He has also sung tenor in Philharmonia Baroque, Berkeley Symphony, Sonoma Bach and the Folger Consort.

“It feels like coming home to family,” Taylor said in the announcement. “It’s very comfortable.”

Currently in its 89th season, the symphony’s performance schedule includes 21 Classical Series concerts (seven sets), seven Discovery Dress Rehearsal concerts, a three-concert Family Series and a four-concert Pops Series, as well as special concerts.

December 1, 2016: New Santa Rosa Symphony choral director tackles ambitious program

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, December 1, 2016

Most everyone is familiar with Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Bells,” which opens with a holiday scene: “Hear the sledges with the bells — Silver bells! What a world of merriment their melody foretells!”

However, Rachmaninoff's setting of the intensely onomatopoetic work — a choral symphony written in
1913 for choir, vocal soloists and symphonic accompaniment — may be a new discovery for many
attending the Santa Rosa Symphony’s concerts this weekend.

“It is not a piece that I have performed before, but I’ve heard it before,” said Jenny Bent, who was named this year as the new Santa Rosa Symphony choral director, taking over the reins from Robert Worth in February. “It’s vocally demanding, and it requires an advanced level of musicianship. These also make it musically satisfying.”

For the past five years, Bent has served as the full-time Director of Choral Activities at Sonoma State, a post she also inherited from Worth. For the 40-minute, four-movement work, she has been rehearsing with about 75 singers drawn from the SSU Symphony Chorus and the SSU Chamber Singers. Bent will also direct an additional 40 singers from the Santa Rosa Junior College Choir, who are rehearsing with their SRJC Choral Director Jody Beinecke.

“We have had some combined rehearsals,” she said. “I’ve been going to the SRJC rehearsals to make sure we are doing all the same phrasing and articulation.”

Although Rachmaninoff originally wrote “The Bells” from a Russian translation of the poem, the choirs and soloists will sing the words in English, which makes it easier to remember but carries its own diction challenges.

“Musically, you have to add voice to certain consonants like D,” Bent said. “You have to say duh. Especially in a hall that size, that can be challenging.”

The piece, like the poem, follows the circle of life, from birth and childhood to old age and death. Oddly enough, the sounds of sleigh bells, wedding bells, alarm bells and mournful iron bells are all made with horns, woodwinds, harp and strings, but not one percussive bell.

“Each movement conveys a different emotion,” Bent said. “They are totally different, with different colors, feelings and so many different ways that the choir and orchestra can musically express themselves.”

The first movement, “The Silver Sleigh Bells,” recreates the excitement and joy of childhood, while the
second movement, “The Mellow Wedding Bells,” offers the guarded optimism of newlyweds.

“The first movement is very playful, with the sleigh bells,” Bent said. “Although the second movement about wedding bells evokes an overall sense of reserved joy and hope, I hear a hint of mourning.”

That mourning may be due to Rachmaninoྫྷ’s incorporation of the ancient melody, “Dies Irae,” traditionally used by composers to convey the doom of Judgment Day. It was one of his favorite compositions.

“The third movement (‘The Loud Alarm Bells’) is a little more bellicose and brash, and it’s by far the most difficult movement,” Bent said. “The fourth movement (‘The Mournful Iron Bells’) explores the many dark and terrifying emotions one can experience as death approaches. However, it closes in a manner that sounds ... like a comforting lullaby.”

In the program, Ferrandis wove “The Bells” together with three other works to create quite a bit of literary resonance.

The concerts open with American composer Augusta Read Thomas’ “Prayer Bells,” written in 2001, and Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” written in 1899 as character sketches of the composer, his wife and 12 of their friends.

“Enigma is also the title of one of the most famous poems by Poe,” Ferrandis said. “And Augusta Reed
Thomas has written an entire opera, ‘Ligeia,’ from a Poe story. So she has a strong love for Edgar Allan Poe.”

The concert will close with Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” a song without words for soprano composed and published in 1915 as the last of his “Fourteen Songs.” It is sung using any vowel of the singer’s choosing.

“That’s a very well known piece,” Ferrandis said. “So that’s the bonbon at the end.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

November 25, 2016: SR Symphony Expands the "It’s Elementary!" Program

by Sonoma County Gazette, November 25, 2016

Santa Rosa Symphony’s It’s Elementary! music enrichment program for youth has expanded to include a sixth Sonoma County elementary school. The program is offered to qualifying Sonoma County schools for a term of two years each. During those two years, the teachers and students in the school are enrolled free of charge in the five main educational programs offered by SRS to schools throughout Sonoma County. The following programs are provided without cost to the students in the It’s Elementary! program.

The Elementary School Listening Program provides a 5-minute daily listening piece and scripts to go with each day. The children hear the same piece of music each day for 5 days, with scripts that vary slightly from day to day. For instance, the name of the composer is repeated during the week. By Friday, the script asks the students if they remember the name of the composer. This program is available to all schools in Sonoma County on a fee basis, and is free of charge to the schools in the It’s Elementary! program.

“The kids and teachers love the Listening Program! I was surprised to discover how much they look forward to it each day. Students will remind their teachers to play the music if they don’t start at the appointed time. The listening program gives students time to center and focus, which supports the development of mindfulness. Mindfulness practices cultivate emotional resilience, self-awareness and empathy, which are essential life skills and traits we all need,” commented Betha MacClain, Principal at Jack London Elementary School and a member of the Santa Rosa Symphony Board of Directors.

The Meet Our Families Assemblies bring in four chamber groups representing the four orchestra families (strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion) to perform in each It’s Elementary! school over the course of the two years. The programs are interactive and lively. For example, the percussion trio actually brings bucket percussion for the students to try. At the end of the second year, one of the three youth orchestras of the Symphony performs in each school. This final concert is a great way for the students to see kids approximately their own age performing. This program is provided free of charge to the It’s Elementary! schools, and is available to other schools for a fee.

Kaesa Enemark, former Steele Lane Elementary Principal, said of the program, “Steele Lane students and staff loved the personalized concert. It was adorable to see the students in awe of the music and musicians. [It] warmed my heart as I sat on the cafeteria floor amongst my wiggly first graders and kindergartners. I almost wept with happiness.” 

Youth Discovery Cards provide a free ticket for each child and one adult companion to attend dress rehearsals of the Santa Rosa Symphony classical series concerts at the Green Music Center throughout the year. These complimentary tickets give children an opportunity to see the orchestra at work! Youth Discovery Cards are made available free of charge to ALL elementary schools in Sonoma County. 

The Free Concerts For Youth program brings students to the Green Music Center during the school day for a concert by the SRS Youth Orchestra, Repertory Orchestra or the Santa Rosa Symphony. The Symphony underwrites the cost of transportation to the concerts for schools in the It’s Elementary! program; other schools provide their own transportation to these free events.

Each year the final Free Concerts For Youth includes a segment called IGNITE! Teachers learn how to teach fundamental music concepts to their students using a curriculum provided by the Santa Rosa Symphony with support from SRS Education staff. The curriculum prepares students to play recorder or sing along with the orchestra. The cost of this program, including the loan of recorders for the students to play, is free for the schools in the It’s Elementary! program. Other elementary schools in Sonoma County can also participate in the IGNITE! program through the SRS.

It’s Elementary! partner schools are chosen based on criteria set by the SRS, which take into account the kind of music education already available to the students and the percentage of the students considered to be disadvantaged. As a result of increased understanding of the importance of the arts in the core curriculum being shown at the both state and district level within California, the SRS has seen a leap in interest in the It’s Elementary! program here in Sonoma County. In 2015, the Symphony decided to increase the number of schools in the program to a total of six per year; nine schools applied for the three new spots. Steele Lane Elementary, Helen Lehman Elementary and Jack London Elementary are in their second year. Bellevue Elementary, Olivet Elementary Charter School and Woodland Star Charter School joined the program this year. With the addition of Woodland Star, the It’s Elementary! program has expanded geographically to include Sonoma.

November 3, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony names finalists for new music director

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, November 3, 2016

The Santa Rosa Symphony announced the names of its five music director finalists Thursday evening during a private event held at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, where the symphony serves as the orchestra in residence.

The five finalists, who were chosen from a wide field of applicants and represent three different nationalities, will be introduced to the audience during the 2017-2018 Santa Rosa Symphony Season as guest conductors and potential successors to outgoing Maestro Bruno Ferrandis.

“This music director search has been an amazing, world-wide endeavor, with 60 well-quality applicants, whom we researched and vetted extensively,” said Jim Hinton, Music Director Search Committee Chair.

The search committee, made up of five board members, four orchestra members and Santa Rosa Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow, have spent months pouring over resumes, viewing videos, conducting phone interviews and even flying across the country to view some of the candidates
in action.

The finalists will try out during the first, five concert sets of the 2017-2018 season, and the selection will be announced by March 2018. Each candidate will spend about eight days in Santa Rosa, conducting all rehearsals and performances and meeting with community leaders, media, board members, staff and musicians.

The new music director’s tenure will begin with the 2018-2019 season. Outgoing Music Director Bruno Ferrandis will conduct the final two concert sets of the 2017-2018 season.

This weekend at the symphony’s performances in Weill Hall Nov. 5-7, the audience will be able to watch a video showcasing each finalist screening 90 minutes before each of the three concerts.

Here are the five finalists, in the order in which they are scheduled to conduct:

Francesco Lecce-Chong — Oct. 7, 8 and 9, 2017
A native of Boulder, Colorado, Lecce-Chong began conducting at the age of 16 and graduated from the Mannes College of Music in New York with a B.A. with honors in piano and orchestral conducting. He also holds a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied as a fellow with Otto-Werner Mueller.

He is based in Pittsburgh and currently holds the positions of Assistant Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra.

As a guest conductor, he has worked with orchestras around the world, including the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C., and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

As a composer, Lecce-Chong embraces innovative programming and supports arts education. As a conductor, he has earned a reputation for dynamic, forceful performances that have earned him the Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award and The Presser Foundation Music Award.

Mei-Ann Chen — Nov. 4, 5 and 7, 2017
Born in Taiwan, Mei-Ann Chen is considered one of America’s most dynamic guest conductors, with a reputation as a compelling communicator and educator who has redefined the orchestra experience with her innovation and imagination.

Since 2011, she has served as music director of the 2016 MacArthur Awardwinning Chicago Sinfonietta in Chicago, where she is based. She also serves as Artistic Director and Conductor of the 2016 National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra Summer Orchestra Festival.

A sought-after guest conductor around the world, she was named one of Musical America’s 2015 Top 30 Influencers and won the 2012 Helen M. Thompson Award from the League of American Orchestras. Chen served as guest conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony in January 2016, where she
made a positive impression on both audience members and musicians.

Chen has served as assistant conductor of the Atlanta Symphony and Baltimore Symphony under the aegis of the League of American Orchestras, and with the Oregon Symphony.

Andrew Grams — Dec. 2, 3 and 7, 2017
A native of Severn, Maryland, Grams began playing violin age 8 in the public school system, Grams attended the Baltimore School for the Arts and won a position in the violin section of the New York City Ballet while enrolled at the Juilliard School in New York.

He pursued conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with Otto-Werner Mueller, and served as assistant conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra from 2004-2007, where he worked under the guidance of Franz Welser-Most.

Grams is currently music director of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra in Illinois, where he has built a reputation for long-term orchestra-building and community outreach. His tenure there was recently extended through 2022. He lives outside Cleveland.

Known for his combination of intensity, enthusiasm and technical clarity, Grams has led orchestras throughout the U.S. and the world, from the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony to the Orchestre National de France and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.

Graeme Jenkins— Jan. 13, 14 and 15, 2018
English conductor Graeme Jenkins is an opera, choral and orchestral conductor who is known for the breadth of his repertoire and interpretations of Mozart and Richard Strauss as well as for conducting major choral works.

After studying at the Royal College of Music in London, he was appointed Music Director of the Glyndebourne Touring Opera from 1986 to 1991, where he assisted Bernard Haitink and Sir Simon Rattle. He also served as music director of the Dallas Opera from 1994 to 2013. He was Principal Guest
Conductor of the Koln Opera from 1997 to 2002.

Jenkins has conducted for major UK orchestras such as g the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as for European orchestras such as the Lyon Symphony. Last year, he conducted two productions at the Vienna State Opera, marking his 184th opera production of 117 different titles worldwide.
He lives in Dorset County in southern England.

In the U.S., he has worked with the symphony orchestras of Dallas, Houston, St. Louis, Minnesota, Utah and San Antonio. He has collaborated with the University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University in Texas on a 10-year project of Handel oratorios.

Michael Christie — Jan. 10, 11 and 12, 2018
A graduate of Oberlin College Conservatory of Music in Ohio with a B.A. in trumpet performance, Christie currently lives in Minneapolis with his wife Alexis, a physician, and their two children.

Equally at home in the symphonic and opera worlds, Christie first came to international attention in 1995, when he was awarded a special prize for “Outstanding Potential” at the First International Sibelius Conductors’ Competition in Helsinki, Finland. Following that competition, he was invited to
become an apprentice conductor with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin State Opera.

Since 2012-2013, he has served as music director of the Minnesota Opera, where he has shown a deep commitment to bringing new works to life, such as the 2011 premiere of Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer-Prize winning “Silent Night.” In August 2012, he was named by Opera News as one of 25 people believed to
“break out and become major forces in the field in the coming decade.”

Christie is known as a thoughtfully innovative conductor who is focused on making the audience experience entertaining and enlightening. According to the New York Times, “Michael Christie is a music director open to adventure and challenge.”

Christie served as guest conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony in January 2015, where he led a performance of fiddler Mark O’Connor’s own “Fiddle Concerto.” A licensed pilot for more than 15 years, he often flies his Mooney Airplane Company single-engine aircraft to conducting engagements across the U.S.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56

October 28, 2016: Weaving music with myth at Santa Rosa Symphony talks

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, October 28, 2016

This season, fans of the Santa Rosa Symphony will get a close-up view of the psychological and mythic underpinnings of classical music during a handful of preconcert lectures presented by Kayleen Asbo. The cultural historian has two masters degrees — in psychology and piano performance — and a Ph.D. in Mythological Studies.

For the past decade, Asbo has lectured at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes all over the Bay Area, weaving together myth, psychology, poetry and history with her own intense passion for classical music.

“I give a glimpse into the minds of the composers and the choices they make and what it symbolizes to them,” said Asbo, 48. “That brings the music to life. Without that, it’s like going to a movie in a foreign language without subtitles.”

Last December, Asbo gave a stirring, preconcert lecture for the Santa Rosa Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony. This season, she will give four preconcert lectures, starting with the upcoming concert set on Nov. 5-7, featuring pianist Orion Weiss.

This season she plans to analyze composers within the framework of two Greek gods: Apollo, the god of music and mathematics, represented by Classical composers such as Haydn and Mozart; and Dionysius, the god of ritual madness and religious ecstasy, represented by Romantic composers like Lizst and Schumann.

“It’s Sting vs. the Rolling Stones, elegant vs. unbridled,” Asbo said. “In the (Nov. 5-7) concert, they are all crazy Dionysians ... Liszt became a monk and an exorcist. The Bartok piece has been known to drive people insane; Schumann was mentally ill. It will be a very juicy program.”

Here’s a look at Asbo’s journey, from her childhood as a budding pianist to her ultimate career as professor of music at the San Francisco Conservatory, workshop leader and lecturer around the country and the world.

Q: How did you get started in music?
A: I began asking for piano lessons when I was 3, and I finally got my heart’s desire for my seventh Christmas. We didn’t have money for an instrument, so I’d ride my bike to my grandmother’s home after school to practice.

At 12, I performed the Mozart Concerto in A Major with the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra. At 16, I performed the Third Beethoven Concerto with the Santa Barbara Symphony. I was on track to becoming a serious pianist. Then, at 18, I suffered a very serious hand injury from overuse.

I have harpsichord hands, very small. I was told I would never play again. I lost my full scholarship to UC Santa Barbara and lost the use of my hands to tendinitis.

Instead, I went to Smith College and studied English literature and women’s studies and finished my degree in development psychology at Mills. I wanted to work with children.

When I was finishing my bachelor’s degree, I went to the Mendocino Music Festival and listened to an open rehearsal of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a piece I have an intense visceral connection with, and I remembered how much joy I had known as a soloist myself. I bought an upright piano and did physical therapy. Then I got accepted at the San Francisco Conservatory and studied piano performance with Paul Hersh.

Q: How did you transition into teaching and lecturing?
A: I’ve taught preschool, done research in child development, and I was teaching 30 to 40 piano lessons a week. There were fabulous musicians who also were trying to make a go of it and not making it. It was so sad to see a gap between students who wanted to learn and teachers who didn’t know how to bridge the gap. So for the past 18 years, I’ve taught a course at the San Francisco Conservatory on the Psychology of Teaching Music.

Q: How did you connect with the Santa Rosa Symphony?
A: I started teaching nine years ago for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC Berkeley, Dominican University and at SSU’s Oakmont campus. There are several symphony board members who live in Oakmont, and it developed into a nice working relationship.

Q: What is your goal for the symphony lectures this year?
A: The talks are designed to give a deeper look. We’ve almost lost the reference points for what composers are doing. We’ve lost a lot of cultural references. If you don’t know the myth of Orpheus, you won’t know what’s going on with (Alan) Hovhaness’ “Meditation on Orpheus” (in the sixth concert set).

For the future, it’s important that classical music is not a bust. It’s a music for the deepest passions within and gives us a way to touch the depths of the human experience. My hope is that people will fall in love with the music and composers but will also discover something about themselves.

Q: How do you prepare for your lectures?
A: I never speak with notes. I memorize the material so that I can be in the moment. I try to make people fall in love, and I do that by finding what I’m passionate about.

Q: Are you working on anything else for the Santa Rosa Symphony?
A: I love what the symphony is doing for youth. The developmental window for music closes at age 9, according to neurological studies on the plasticity of the brain. Like a foreign language, you won’t have the same comfort and naturalness after that. If we lay down the basics of those pathways in children’s minds, they will be there.

The symphony’s Simply Strings program takes a cue from El Sistema (Venezuela’s string program for underprivileged youth). I’m doing a music history series at the Petaluma History Museum, and 20 percent of the proceeds will go to Simply Strings.

Q: Do you still perform?
A: I will do benefit concerts for a cause I believe in, but it can’t be only a concert. I have to weave the story into it or it’s not satisfying. For me, music is a sacred thing, so it needs to allow people to have a transcendent experience or be in the service of humanity.

Q: Why do you regard music as sacred?
A: Music is meant to benefit the world. It’s about human depth. I want people to connect to the essence of their humanity, not just enjoy and appreciate its aesthetic qualities. It’s not just entertainment. It helps us remember what is beautiful, true and good.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

October 5, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony presents new and familiar faces, repertoire

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, October 5, 2016

When Music Director Bruno Ferrandis strides to the podium to kick off his final full season with the Santa Rosa Symphony this weekend, the 56-year-old conductor will be pulling out a familiar bag of tricks designed to dazzle and delight.

During the symphony’s 89th season, famous friends will be joining him as soloists; programs will have radical contrasts in styles; colorful works will draw from theater, opera and dance; and a few contemporary works will balance out familiar warhorses by Brahms and Beethoven.

“The most important to me are the allusions to opera, theater and ballet,” Ferrandis said in a phone interview from his home in Paris. “I like to mingle the arts — I like that mix of the world — and not to be in an Ivory Tower.”

New faces this season include Jenny Bent, who directs the SSU Symphonic Chorus and has been named the new Santa Rosa Symphony choral director; and music historian Kayleen Asbo, who will give four out of the seven pre-concert lectures.

“It’s nice to change traditions and to evolve,” said Ferrandis, who will host the first pre-concert lecture in October with his brother, flutist Jean Ferrandis; with harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet in January; and with violinist Vadim Gluzman in May.

This year marks the 11th season for Ferrandis, who shepherded the orchestra through its tricky transition into Weill Hall in the Green Music Center five years ago while overseeing the hiring of a new generation of young players.

“I’m so proud because we built it up, brick by brick,” he said of the orchestra. “There was a renewal and an increasing improvement and popularity of the orchestra.”

This November, the symphony’s 10-member search committee is expected to announce names of the five finalists as Ferrandis’ successor.

After the finalists try out during the 2017-2018 season, Ferrandis will return for the final two concerts to bid adieu to the orchestra, the staff and the people of Sonoma County at the end of 2018.

“I will terribly miss Northern California, the wines, the people, the scenery and the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “I have a strong relationship as an artist with the public. In Europe, you don’t have that unless you stay 30 years in the same place.”

A final decision on Ferrandis’ successor will be announced in February 2018, said Alan Silow, executive director of the Santa Rosa Symphony.

“The audience will give their feedback through an online survey,” Silow said, “and the board makes the final decision.”

Meanwhile, here’s what to expect during this season’s Classical Series:

“The Magic of the Flute,” Oct. 8-10

Ferrandis’ younger brother, flutist Jean Ferrandis, returns to perform two works with the orchestra for the season opener: the Mozart Flute Concerto No.1 and Bernstein’s haunting “Halil,” a work for flute and chamber orchestra written in 1981 to commemorate a young Israeli flutist who was killed in 1973.

“Jean said, ‘We have to do “Halil,” ... because we both had ties with Bernstein at the time,” Ferrandis said. “It’s very melodic, but then you can feel the explosions of war.”

The flutist last performed with the symphony in 2012, during the orchestra’s final concert at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Since that time, he has become a tenured professor of music at CSU Fullerton.

“He’s more seasoned and adapted to California now,” Ferrandis said of his brother.

Rounding out the program will be Beethoven’s light-hearted but not lightweight Symphony No. 8 and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from “Peter Grimes,” an appealing piece that gives a nod to Ferrandis’ love of opera.

“Keyboard Brilliance,” Nov. 5-7

One of the world’s most virtuosic pianists — 35-year-old Orion Weiss — will perform the Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2, a thorny challenge for soloist and orchestra alike. The Hungarian, who also played the piano, is considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.

Opening the concert will be a work by another Hungarian pianist, Lizst’s symphonic poem, “Les Préludes.” The symphony will close the concert with Schumann’s “Symphony No. 2,” one of Ferrandis’ favorite works, also written by a pianist.

“I’m a Gemini, and he’s the epitome of a Gemini — very mercurial, impetuous and hard to predict,” he said. “The first theme is solemn, but the finale is bursting with joy.”

“Poetic Bells,” Dec. 3-5

There is a hidden, literary theme in this vocal concert — American poet and short story writer Edgar Allen Poe.

The concert includes Edward Elgar’s beloved “Enigma Variations,” which is also the name of one of Poe’s most famous poems, “An Enigma.” Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony, “The Bells,” features the SSU Symphonic Chorus directed by Jenny Bent and is based on a poem by Poe.

“We are going to sing it in English, for practical reasons,” Ferrandis said. “To memorize it in Russian is more complex.”

The concert opens with “Prayer Bells” by contemporary composer Augusta Reed Thomas and concludes with a tasty bonbon: Rachmaninoff’s beloved “Vocalise” for soprano and orchestra, featuring soprano Jenni Samuelson.

“Heavenly Harp,” Jan. 7-9

Ferrandis invited Berlin Philharmonic Principal Harpist Marie-Pierre Langlamet, an old childhood friend who attended conservatory with him, to perform two contrasting concertos: the Ginastera Harp Concerto and the Debussy’s “Dances Sacred and Profane.”

“The Ginastera is very technical and percussive and dance-like and Argentinean,” he said. “On the contrary, the Debussy is very mellifluous and lyrical.”

And to add to the French flavor, he added two suites from one of the most famous French ballets, Ravel’s “Daphnis and Chloé,” and an operatic curtain-opener, Rossini’s Overture to “The Thieving Magpie.”

“Tales of Lovce,” Feb. 11-13

As a love letter to Shakespeare, the symphony will present two works inspired by his most famous tragedy, written by two of the best orchestrators in the world. As the curtain-opener, Ferrandis chose Berlioz’s Introduction to “Roméo et Juliette,” and as a closer, he will conduct Prokofiev’s Selections from “Romeo and Juliet.”

“That’s my theatrical touch,” Ferrandis said. “The Berlioz piece is quite famous but not played that often.”

The centerpiece of the concert will be Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, a mighty masterpiece performed by Italian pianist Alessio Bax. In October 2014, Bax came to Santa Rosa to accompany violinist Joshua Bell in a gala recital hosted by the symphony.

“Bring on the Strings,” March 25-27

A showcase for a few of the principal string players in the symphony, this concert highlights Concertmaster Joe Edelberg and Principal Violist Elizabeth Prior in Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante and Principal Cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns in Fauré’s “Elégie” for Cello.

After intermission, Ferrandis chose to perform two works by Sibelius: His audacious Symphony No. 4, written during a dark time of his life before World War I; and his sparkling “Finlandia,” a popular tone poem that evokes the natural splendor of the composer’s native country.

As a mirror of the symphony’s meditative quality, the concert will open with Alan Hovhaness’ “Meditation on Orpheus.”

“Orpheus is the god of mysteries, rituals and magic,” Ferrandis said. “And the Sibelius symphony is extremely mysterious as well.”

“Vadim Returns!,” May 6-8

Russian-Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman, who opened the symphony season in 2008 with the Beethoven Violin Concerto, returns for this all-Russian program, tackling the athletic heights of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2.

The program opens with Khachaturian’s Suite from “Masquerade,” a piece written for a stage play by Russian playwright Mikhail Lermontov. The season finale will be Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905,” written in 1957 about the insurrection against the Tsar.

“All three composers knew each other very well,” Ferrandis said. “It was a small circle of famous Russian composers.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

August 10, 2016: St. Vincent Violinist Jin Headed to Brown University

by Argus Courier, August 10, 2016

One of the most talented young musicians in the North Bay is headed for Brown University in Rhode Island — to study international relations.

Calvin Jin, a St. Vincent de Paul High School graduate, has won honors for his violin virtuosity from Oakland to Santa Rosa, but he doesn’t plan on making music a career.

“I’m certainly going to keep playing, but I don’t think music will be my profession,” he says. “I’m looking at taking a business approach to my international relations study.”

Entering college, Jin takes with him an array of academic and music awards.

In his four years at St. Vincent he was a National Honors Society Member and a member of the California Scholarship Federation. He performed many hours of volunteer services, most, but not all, music related. Outside the realm of music he provided tech support for the Korean Presbyterian church in San Rafael and was an administrative intern for the Petaluma Historical Museum.

He used his musical talents to serve as an administrative intern for the Santa Rosa Symphony, organized and performed in “The Young Soloists’ Night in Sebastopol.


There is more — much more.

Jin won the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition in 2015 and 2016; took second in the Music in the Vineyards Solo Instrumental Competition; was third in the United States Open Music Competition Instrumental Ensemble Senior Division; won the Senior String Division in the Etude Competition; won the Music in the Vineyards Solo Instrumental Competition; and was the winner of the Napa Valley Youth Symphony Concerto Competition.

He was concertmaster for the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra, concertmaster for the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra; co-concertmaster for the Napa Valley Youth Symphony; first violin for the Napa Valley Youth Symphony’s Chamber Ensemble; and concertmaster for the Sinfonia String Orchesta.

He found time to serve as president of the St. Vincent French club and was a key member of the nationally recognized St. Vincent debate team, earning a National Forensic League Degree of Excellence Award.

Did we mention that he was Valedictorian of the St. Vincent de Paul High School graduating class of 2016?

That Jin is a violinist at all is something of a compromise. His mother, Ji-Young Jin, started him playing the piano at about age 6. 

“My mom found out it wasn’t easy teaching her own son,” Jin explained. “We found a friend who was a violin teacher, so we decided to try that.

“Initially it was quite hard. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I do now.”

That has changed. Jin now enjoys his part in playing the music he loves.

“My musical taste has always been classical music,” he explains. “I find joy in playing music I enjoy. It is an honor to play the works of great composers.”

He acknowledges that he practices “quite a lot,” but is quick to note it is not a sacrifice.

“I love music and I want to play the great works,” he said. “If I am going to play them, I might as well give it my all.”

His church, the Korean Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, has been a big part of Jin’s life, not only spiritually, but musically. He plays at the church, sometimes accompanying by his mother as she plays the piano, and also gives free private lessons to children in the church who cannot afford private teachers.

Jin is technically not a native Petaluman, but he is about as close as you can get, moving with his parents from San Diego before he had reached his second birthday.

His elementary education was at a Montessori school and later Harvest Christian School. Given that background, it was only natural that he continue his education at a small private high school, and Jin said he enjoyed his time at St. Vincent, where everyone knows everyone else.

Now, it is on to the next big step in his life — Brown University — where music will remain part of his life, but education will sit in the first chair.

July 25, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony brings music appreciation to underserved

by North Bay Business Journal, July 25, 2016

By Alan Silow, North Bay Business Journal

In the middle of a 2014 school day, a group of second grade Shepard Elementary students from the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Simply Strings ensemble confidently walked onto the stage of the new Weill Hall and readied their violins and bows to play a Beethoven composition.

On stage with them were some of the Bay Area’s most seasoned classical musicians of the Santa Rosa Symphony (SRS).

Nearly 1,000 of their peers in the audience joined Simply Strings in their performance, playing recorders and singing a joyous rendition of Beethoven’s infamous theme “Ode to Joy” at the Symphony’s Free Concerts for Youth.

This may be an unusual scene in the 21st century for children — even adults — to be exposed to and embrace classical music.

But for the Santa Rosa Symphony, our goal is to inspire a lifelong love and appreciation for music and moreover bring about positive social change.

Since its founding in 1928, the Santa Rosa Symphony has helped keep the musical arts alive in Sonoma County. Now the Resident Orchestra of the Green Music Center, the symphony is the third-oldest such professional group in California and the largest California regional symphony north of Los Angeles, growing through the years from a community ensemble to a nationally-known,award-winning orchestra.

But beyond the concert hall, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s reach is seen — and heard — far throughout Sonoma County.

The symphony’s mission is to serve the community we reside in through far-reaching music education and community engagement programs in the North Bay. In that role, it has been a key provider of free or low-cost music education and instrument training programs for more than 70 years, currently serving 20,000 children and youth across the North Bay including Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.

The Sonoma County Economic Development Board reported that arts education in the county’s 40 school districts has declined in recent years and access to arts education is uneven from school to school. According to the report,“Arts education in Sonoma County is an equity issue.”

Through our numerous free or low-cost music education programs, the symphony works hard to offer solutions to Sonoma County’s arts education equity gap. Our Training Young Musicians program provides youth with intensive music training coupled with exciting performance opportunities through instrument training classes and four youth ensembles, and our growing Music in Our Schools programs, are bringing music education back into the county’s underserved schools.

The symphony strives not only to provide our youth with quality music training but to help them develop crucial life skills for a successful future. Our newest music education program, Simply Strings, provides free, intensive music training for Santa Rosa’s underserved elementary school students. Inspired by Venezuela’s free music immersion program El Sistema, it has dual ambitions of serving as both a music training and a social development program, using music to help students achieve academic success, emotional health, and positive social skills.

“This is a very special kind of program that is not offered anywhere,” a Simply Strings parent said. “Not only do I like the program but I also like all the results that music brings to an individual, like how she can develop capacities, can start to see the world from different points of view, and can grow and have good self-esteem and value herself.”

In addition to providing music education for our youth, the symphony aspires to make classical music accessible to our entire community, reaching out to populations that might not otherwise be able to attend.

Each season we give away hundreds of tickets to local schools, young musicians and, through our new Social Impact program, to recipients of local, youth-oriented social service agencies.

Through a fruitful partnership with the Sonoma County Library System, the symphony has developed a free performances series begun in 2015 of informal and educational concerts by our musicians. Hundreds of people have attended these library performances, enjoying hour-long programs designed for children and adults.

The symphony opened its doors to the community for a free concert in July 2014 at Weill Hall as a gift to the community in appreciation for 87 years of support. The free concert featured SRS with special guest artists Mariachi Sol de México, considered one the nation’s premier mariachi ensembles. This jubilant event drew more than 5,000 people from the community including new audiences from the Latino community. Given the overwhelming popularity of the event, the symphony now offers a free summer concert for the community annually in partnership with the Green Music Center.

In sum, our music matters. In this day and age of discord and division, we serve as a fundamentally important unifying force. Through the transformative power of our music, we change lives for the better and provide renewed hope that the next generation can build a better world.

2015 - 2016 Season

May 5, 2016: Pianist Gabriela Martinez ends Santa Rosa Symphony season on jazzy note

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, May 5, 2016

Pianist Gabriela Martinez ends Santa Rosa Symphony season on jazzy note

Pianist Gabriela Martinez was born in Caracas, Venezuela, into a family boasting five generations of female pianists who trace their roots back to Spain. Learning to play piano was as natural to her as learning to tie her shoes.

“I started studying with my mom at her school,” she said in a phone interview from her temporary home in Portland, Ore. “Learning music was very interactive, and I was also learning about composers and history and theory.”

In Caracas, Martinez grew up surrounded by nonstop orchestras and classical music concerts. She played her first piano concerto when she was 6 and made her debut with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra when she was 10.

“I’m always so in awe when I go home and play with them,” she said of the orchestra named after her country’s national hero. “There is always a concert there, and it’s always sold out. Everyone wants to listen to classical music.”

Now 32 with a 1-year-old daughter of her own, Martinez will make her debut with the Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis this weekend in a program that features Gershwin’s beloved Piano Concerto in F, along with two works inspired by Spain: Debussy’s “Ibéria” and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole.” Three dance episodes from Bernstein’s “On the Town” musical open the “Jazzy Impressions” program, the final concert series of the 2015-’16 season.

Gershwin’s 1925 concerto, which was premiered with the composer himself at the piano keys, stirred up a bit of controversy when it was premiered by the New York Philharmonic.

“Stravinsky loved that piece, and he thought it was genius,” Ferrandis said. “But Prokofiev detested it.”
The work somehow manages to straddle two worlds, synthesizing the structure of a classical concerto with the improvisational feeling of jazz.

“This (the concerto) was commissioned in 1924 when Gershwin had no training on how to orchestrate,” Martinez said. “So he bought books on theory and became self-taught in everything that he needed to write this piece.”

Although Gershwin wrote his ground-breaking “Rhapsody in Blue” a year earlier, that work was more rooted in jazz and the orchestration was done by Ferde Grofé, composer of the “Grand Canyon Suite.”
In the Gershwin concerto, the orchestra has a very important part to play. Martinez compared the collaborative effort between soloist and accompaniment to the give-and-take of chamber music.
“It has a very special, unique freshness and poetry to it,” Martinez said. “It’s halfway between classical music and jazz ... It maintains a feeling of rubato (flexible tempo), but always has a constant blues beat and pulse to it.”

The brash first movement offers a study in contrasts, with a noisy opening that dissolves into a lyrical, delicate theme. But the heart of the work is the bluesy second movement, featuring a string of beautiful cadenzas and intricate solos for the winds and brass.

“Every instrument really gets to explore the melodies,” she said. “It’s really interesting to hear the back and forth between the orchestra and the piano.”

For the finale, Gershwin weaves themes from the first two movements together with new material to create a driving, rhythmic showpiece for both piano and orchestra.

“It’s just this energetic, huge movement,” she said. “It has lots of references to ragtime.”
The challenge for Martinez is to make sure she stays true to what the composer wrote and the spirit of the work.

“A lot of Gershwin’s music has the improvisational feeling ... but he’s very specific and writes in everything that he wants,” she said. “So it has a lot of freedom, yet all the cadenzas are written out, with tempo changes, dynamics and timing.”

Martinez and her family left Venezuela when she was 12 so that she could study piano at Juilliard in New York City.

“I did the pre-college program ... then stayed for undergrad and a master’s in musical performance,” she said. “I’m still working on a doctorate in performance from Halle, Germany. I just love learning, and I never want to stop.”

Martinez is married to an attorney and normally lives on the Upper West Side of New York, but she moved to Portland for a year so that her husband could clerk for a judge.

“It’s been a fun year of adventure,” she said. “And the food carts are amazing.”

When she arrives in Sonoma County for the first time, Martinez said she wants to explore the region’s renowned red wines and artisan cheeses.

“I’m a cheese person, but I don’t discriminate, and I love food in general,” she said. “I recently discovered Cowgirl Creamery. I love their Mt. Tam ... It’s delicious.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

April 14, 2016: SR Symphony unveils 2016-’17 Family series

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, April 14, 2016

The Santa Rosa Symphony Family Concert Series will celebrate its fifth anniversary in 2016-2017 with three concerts held from October through April at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.

The three-concert series has been newly named in honor of opera singer Peggy Anne Covington, who left her entire estate worth more than $1 million to the symphony in 2015. Covington began her career with the San Francisco Opera in 1959. After she retired, she and her husband moved to Windsor and attended the Santa Rosa Symphony concerts for several years.

The Peggy Anne Covington Family Concert Series launches on October 16 with “Land of Make Believe,” a program based on musical works created to tell stories, from “Mother Goose” to “Harry Potter.” Roustabout Theater will help bring the program to life, and children are invited to dress up as a character from their favorite story.

The series continues of Jan. 22, 2017 with “The Listener,” which explores the relationship between audience and musicians through a comic tale about a conductor and two, rambunctious audience members. The Magic Circle Mime Company will help bring the tale to life.

The series concludes on April 30, 2017 with “Presto, Mambo!”, an interactive concert that explores Latin rhythms through the tale of Max, a boy who explores the lands of Latin American with his new friend, Mambo the dog. The Platypus Theater will show the audience how to dance to the lively music.

All concerts take place at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. Pre-concert activities include an Instrument Petting Zoo, where members of the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Ensembles help introduce children and adults to their instruments.

Subscriptions are $45 adults, $30 for children 12 and under. To subscribe, call 546-8742. Single tickets will go on sale on Aug. 8.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

April 9, 2016: Chris Smith: Take time to applaud the Santa Rosa Symphony

by Chris Smith, The Press Democrat, April 9, 2016

 My late friend Tom Barnett of Healdsburg was a foodie and a musician with special insight into two types of people.

As a former restaurateur and a real-estate broker focused on restaurant sales, Tom appreciated how terribly hard most restaurant owners work. And as a violinist, he valued to the point of reverence the daunting training, practice and talent that goes into a performance by a symphony orchestra.

Once at the Green Music Center he mentioned that he’d never head out of the hall until the Santa Rosa Symphony was fully applauded and cheered and acknowledged. He figured that it would short-change the orchestra were he to start for the door before the conductor left the stage.

I can’t help but think of Tom when I see symphony patrons bolt from their seats with a program’s final note. And I certainly thought of him as I read a note from Nancy Gross:
“For 60 years I have been enjoying the Santa Rosa Symphony, even during the last year of Mr. (George) Trombley’s reign, 1956-1957. Now it is amazing sitting in Weill Hall watching Bruno Ferrandis and our superb orchestra.”

Then Gross cited “one huge complaint.”

“Even before Bruno is off the podium after the last piece people start traipsing out of the auditorium in a rude advance to the exit doors.” She has no quarrel with folks with disabilities heading out before the mass exodus, but thinks it shows “a lack of courtesy and civility” by everyone else who dashes before “the Maestro glides off stage after the last bow.”

Bravo! Tom would say.

March 30, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony announces 2016-2017 Pops Series lineup

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 30, 2016

 The Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and the Santa Rosa Symphony announced the lineup for their 2016-2017 Symphony Pops Series this week, comprising four concerts led by Principal Pops Conductor Michael Berkowitz.

 The new season, which marks the 12th year of the collaborative pops series, runs on four Sundays from October 2016 through April 2017 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road.

“We’ve got another fantastic lineup of concerts and renowned guest artists set for next year,” Berkowitz said in a press release. “I’m particularly looking forward to opening my personal music library to curate the first concert of the season, which will feature a range of popular hits.”

The season begins on Oct. 23 with “Maestro’s Greatest Hits,” including works from Broadway and Hollywood to Leonard Bernstein and Henry Mancini. Berkowitz will play drums on Buddy Rich’s “West Side Story Suite,” which features vocalist Jonathan Poretz.

A special holiday program on Dec. 11, “A Charlie Brown Christmas Concert,” will reprise songs from the 1965 classic “Peanuts” animated special as well as other traditional Christmas chestnuts. Pianist Jim Martinez and his quartet will join the symphony in paying tribute to the famous songs written or arranged by Vince Guaraldi.

Cabaret star Ann Hampton joins the symphony on Feb. 19 to present “Ann Hampton Callaway Sings The Great American Songbook.” The Tony-nominated star will sing the timeless classics of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter and others.

To close out the series, the series will present “Country Legends,” featuring the songs of country music icons such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood and others. Nashville vocalists Patrick Thomas and Rachel Potter will join in the tribute.

Concerts are held at 3 pm. Sundays. Season ticket packages, which include all four concerts and pre-concert talks, are available now. Single tickets will go on sale in August. For ticket information, go to or call 546-3600.

March 2, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony announces 2016-17 season

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 2, 2016

The Santa Rosa Symphony has announced the orchestra works and soloists of its 89th performance season in 2016-2017, the final full season with Bruno Ferrandis as music director.

The season, which marks the symphony’s fifth year as resident orchestra at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, will be bracketed by the return of flutist Jean Ferrandis during the opening concert in October and the return of Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman during the final concert in May.

For the seven Classical Series concerts, Ferrandis has programmed a blend of both familiar and unusual works drawn from a variety of musical genres, including nine that are new to the orchestra.

“I have focused on programs that bring familiar masterpieces together with my own favorites from the classical repertoire, many of which have not yet been performed by the Santa Rosa Symphony,” Ferrandis said in a press release. “My goal is to bring together music from a variety of musical forms in each program. The works presented this season include opera overtures, ballet suites, beloved concertos, symphonic masterworks and brilliant vocal works.”

The symphony’s popular Family Concert Series has been renamed the Peggy Anne Covington Family Concert Series in honor of the late opera singer and philanthropist, who left her entire estate to the Santa Rosa Symphony.

The Symphony Pops Series led by Michael Berkowitz will continue on four Sundays from October through April at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.

Here is the line-up for the symphony’s Classical Series for 2016-2017. Each concert is performed at 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Monday at Weill Hall in the Green Music Center at the Sonoma State University Campus.

Oct. 8 to 10: “The Magic of the Flute” features flutist Jean Ferrandis in Bernstein’s “Halil” nocturne for flute and orchestra and Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 1. The concert opens with Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from his opera, “Peter Grimes,” and concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8.

Nov. 5-7: “Keyboard Brilliance” features young pianist Orion Weiss in Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The program opens with Liszt’s symphonic tone-poem, “Les Préludes,” and ends with Schumann’s Romantic masterpiece, his Symphony No. 2.

Dec. 5-7: “Poetic Bells” showcases the Santa Rosa Symphony Choir led by Jenny Bent and vocal soloists in Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony, “The Bells,” and Jenni Samuelson in his “Vocalise” for soprano and orchestra. August Read Thomas’ “Prayer Bells” and Elgar’s beloved “Enigma Variations” round out the program.

Jan. 7-9: “Heavenly Harp” showcases harp virtuoso Marie-Pierre Langlamet in Ginastera’s Harp Concerto and Debussy’s “Dances Sacred and Profane.” The program opens with Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” and concludes with the orchestral suites from Ravel’s ballet, “Daphnis and Chloé.”

Feb. 11-13: “Tales of Love,” a Valentine’s Day program, showcases pianist Alessio Bax in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, plus Berlioz’s overture to his opera “Roméo et Juliette,” contrasted with selections from Prokofiev’s 20th century ballet, “Romeo and Juliet.”

March 25-27: “Bring on the Strings” celebrates the talents within the symphony, including Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg and Principal Violist Elizabeth Prior in Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola. Principal Cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns will perform the solo in Faure’s “Elegie” for cello. The evening concludes with two works by Sibelius, his mysterious Symphony No. 4 and beloved “Finlandia.”

May 6-8: “Vadim Returns!” celebrates the sound of violinist Vadim Gluzman as he performs Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 on his 1690 “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivarius. The concert opens with Khachaturian’s Ballet Suite from “Masquerade” and concludes with Shostakovich’s dramatic Symphony No. 11.

Subscriptions will go on sale on March 7. Individual tickets go on sale Aug. 8. For more information on the various subscription options and the Family Concert Series, go to or call 546-8742.

For information on the Symphony Pops Series, go to or call 546-3600.


February 19, 2016: Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine gives delicacy to Beethoven

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, February 19, 2016

 When Rachel Barton Pine performs a violin concerto, she not only writes her own cadenzas but avidly researches everything about it so she can play it as the composer originally intended.Take Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, written during the composer’s middle period in 1806, when the Classical era of Mozart was fading away and the Romantic period of Mendelssohn was on the rise. Rather than use the heavier style of the Romantics, Pine prefers to take the lighter, understated approach of the Classical era.

“This concerto was written for Franz Clement, who was a delicate, refined player,” the 41-year-old violinist said in a phone interview from her home in Chicago. “Because this more muscular style was taking over, the Beethoven concerto never found its footing and wasn’t embraced by the violinists of its time.”

However, 40 years after it was written, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim realized the concerto’s worth and brought it back into the spotlight after it had languished in relative obscurity.
Pine, who has recorded the Beethoven with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, will join the Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis this weekend to perform the beloved violin concerto during a program entitled “Strokes of Genius.” Anton Brucker’s unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor will close the concert with a passionate flourish.

Those who are accustomed to hearing a more Romantic interpretation of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto — featuring more vibrato, stretched tempos and what is affectionately referred to as “schmaltz” — may be surprised to hear Pine’s lighter, breezier interpretation.

“In the Classical period, the tempi are a little bit more flowing, not broad and stretched out and weighty like in Bruckner and Mahler,” she said. “I won’t have a wide, gushy romantic vibrato, but it will be there, because I have to give warmth and projection to the sound. But in the use of bowing, I try to create the Classical period touch.”

Pine first heard the concerto when she was 6 and already studying the Haydn Violin Concerto in G Major.

“My introduction to its ‘big sibling’ was a revelation,” she said. “I instinctively sensed that the Beethoven was the pinnacle of violin concertos.”

Pine grew up in a working-class neighborhood of Chicago with a father who remained unemployed for most of her childhood, so her family constantly struggled with finances. Her mother home-schooled her starting in the third grade so she could practice during school hours and spend time with her friends after school.

“It was a very stressful and tenuous existence,” she said. “That made it really hard on my mom because of the sacrifices she was making to help me pursue my dream.”

Later, when she was on the brink of a major career at 21, Pine was caught in the doors of a Chicago commuter train, which closed on the straps of her violin case as she was getting off. The train dragged her 200 feet, severing her left leg and mangling her right foot.

After two years of recuperation, she learned to walk again with a prosthetic leg.

Her early challenges served her well, however, giving her the strength to greet that accident with a steadfast optimism that things would work out.

“Maybe for somebody else it would have been transformative,” she said, “but for me, it was just, ‘Here is another obstacle.’”

While Pine was growing up, she often won scholarships for lessons, but there were always extra costs — piano accompaniment fees, sheet music, strings — that required additional funds from supporters. So she enjoys giving back to others through her own foundation.

“We’re unique in that we pinpoint young musicians who are talented but struggling, and we pay for all that extra stuff,” she said.

“We’ve helped more than 70 young artists.”

Accompanied by her husband and 4-year-old daughter, Pine tours the world with her violin, performing from Finland to Alaska, and always tries to do some community outreach. Sometimes she goes into schools and talks about how to listen to music, other times she gives master classes for young people learning how to play.

“I’m really up for anything,” she said. “I’ve had orchestras send me to the local watering hole where the business people go for lunch, to get them excited about the concert. Others send me to hospitals.”
She also regards concert hall performances as a continuation of her outreach work and her main mission, which is to nurture people’s souls.

“It’s not just about a show and being on stage in a fancy dress,” she said. “The meaning of being a musician is to uplift people’s spirits with the power of music.”

Along the way, Pine has also made it her mission to champion the cause of obscure musicians such as Maud Powell, who she describes as “America’s first internationally acclaimed violin soloist.”

“She had a real trail-blazing career and social values, which are so inspiring,” Pine said. “She was still a forgotten figure when her biographer sent me a copy of her biography.”

Pine has also championed African-American composers and musicians from all over the world who have been playing classical music for centuries. She credits the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago for raising her consciousness.

“This not somebody else’s music,” she said. “It’s so important for the future of classical music to have diversity so that we can have many voices enriching our art form, and keep it alive and evolving.
In addition to performing as a soloist, Pine plays Baroque violin and viola d’amore with her own, period-instrument ensemble, Trio Settecento.

“When I was 14, I sought out a specialist and got up and running on the phrasing and the Baroque bow,” she said. “It was a really creative outlet, and I’ve also done folk and rock music.”
In fact, Pine is a passionate fan of Heavy Metal rock music, especially of the “Thrash” and “Doom” sub-genres exemplified by bands such as Megadeath and Anthrax.

“I love to spread the word that I am a rock music fan,” she said. “You don’t have to choose between the genres ... I’ve met many of my favorite bands, and they listen to classical music.”

For the Beethoven concerto, Pine will soar in the upper register with the instrument on loan to her for life: the Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu (Cremona 1742) violin, known as the “ex-Soldat” because it was chosen by Brahms for his prodigy, Marie Soldat.

Even more rare than the Stradivari violins, the violins made by the Guarneri family are known for their rich, deep tone, especially on the low G string. That may not help the violinist much in the Beethoven concerto, however, since most of the work is written in the upper register.

“There’s a purity that it demands, because it’s so exposed,” she said of the concerto.

“Everything has to be beautifully shaped, pristine and sparkling, but also gorgeous. You can only aspire to come close.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.



January 14, 2016: Conductor Mei-Ann Chen wows in Green Music Center performance

by Chris Smith, The Press Democrat, January 14, 2016

Conductor Mei-Ann Chen wows in Green Music Center performance

Had Taiwan-born conductor Mei-Ann Chen made any bigger a splash in her guest appearance with the Santa Rosa Symphony, vacuum trucks would have been summoned to Weill Hall.
Terrifically animated, precise, joyful — Chen delighted the audiences and captured the hearts of orchestra members already bracing for the departure in 2018 of Bruno Ferrandis, their celebrated French music director since ‘06.

“More than a few players implored her to throw her hat in the ring,” said clarinetist Mark Wardlaw.

Chen mentioned to some at the Green Music Center that she has some impending career options, as she’ll leave her post as music director of the Memphis Symphony in May.

Hey, anything could happen. Chen is a seriously rising star much in demand.

But Tim Beswick, the symphony’s director of artistic operations, allowed that Sonoma County’s enthralled response to Chen “did not go unnoticed by the search committee.”

AS A TEEN, the former Mary Orsborn, now Mary Beseda, earned work-experience credit by acting as a teller at Exchange Bank.

Seconds after she graduated from Santa Rosa High, the bank hired her on. That was in 1974.
Mary met and came to work closely with Dona Vercelli-Godwin, who’s been with Exchange Bank since 1969. They’re the dynamic duo and institutional memory in the Electronic Banking department.
When they retire this month, Mary and Dona will have put in a total of 89 years with the bank.

Their manager, Byron Webb, a bit emotionally tender just now, praised Mary as a force for good in the community who always put the customer first and who possesses a personality “that grabs you and pulls you in.”

Dona, he said, “is an old-school worker; she comes to work and she works.” But also, said Webb, she makes work more fun for everyone around her.

Exchange Bank, which last year turned 125, will continue on, somehow.
LOSING HIS TRUCK was bad enough for Ken Risling. But in the back of the white Ford pickup stolen Friday in downtown Petaluma was the electrician’s livelihood — all of his tools and gear.
He dutifully reported the theft to police, but then he did something that proved far more effective. He wrote about his lost work truck on Facebook.

There followed, he said, “a remarkable phenomenon that I was totally stunned by.”
Risling’s Facebook friends shared his post with people who shared it, and on and on. He soon was notified of several sightings of his truck.

And on Monday his phone rang: A school bus driver in Vallejo was standing in front of the stripped Ford. She’d learned of the theft from a Facebook post in where? Montana.

All of his tools are gone, but the thief left Risling, who’s also quite a musician, “a raincoat, a couple of CDs and my glasses case. I was glad about that.”

He was pretty much bursting with gratitude for all the help and concern when others offered to loan him a truck and tools, then opened a GoFundMe appeal that so far has brought him more than $4,200.

“I gotta tell you,” Risling said. “I can’t stop myself from crying, just talking about it. It’s the most amazing thing.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and

January 10, 2016: Polly Holbrook, former SRS concertmaster, dies at 79

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, January 10, 2016

Polly Holbrook, longtime symphony violinist, dies at 79
Polly Holbrook, a longtime violinist with the Santa Rosa Symphony who served as concertmaster from 1983 to 1996, died at her Santa Rosa home on Jan. 2 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 79.
Holbrook was treated for breast cancer three years ago and learned last month that it had metastasized, her family said. Knowing she didn’t have long to live, she signed up for hospice and quickly planned a party to gather family and friends around her on Jan. 1 and 2.

“She said, ‘The hell with a funeral and a wake; I want to be at my own party,’ ” said her sister-in-law, Ena Estes of Las Vegas, who had been taking care of her for many months. “We had a celebration of life and invited everybody.”

Holbrook playfully called the gathering a “Pity Polly Party,” greeting death in the same playful manner she had lived her life.

“She was so much fun to be around,” Estes said. “We traveled everywhere together, laughing and giggling. Everybody loved Aunt Polly.”

Born in 1936 in Santa Rosa, she had a single-minded passion for the violin, even as a little child. Her musical aspirations were supported by her mother, Elizabeth Estes, a pianist and church organist, and her father, Orville Estes, who played the trombone.

Holbrook started taking violin lessons around the age of 5 from Helen Payne Sloat, a longtime Santa Rosa Symphony violinist and teacher.

“Some little girls wanted a doll,” Holbrook told the Press Democrat in 1996. “I wanted a violin.”
When she was 7, Holbrook’s father changed jobs and her family moved to San Francisco, where she continued her musical education.

At age 12, Holbrook was chosen to be a guest soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, led by conductor Rudolph Ganz. She played a Bach concerto. At age 14, she played the Bruch Violin Concerto with the San Jose Symphony, led by conductor Gason Usigli.

While attending Washington High School in San Francisco, she sang in the a cappella choir. At age 15, she had what she later described as a life-changing opportunity to tour for two weeks playing music at convents, schools and mental health institutions.

 She studied choral music at San Francisco State, intending to go into teaching as a career, but halted her education after meeting her husband, Don Holbrook, who was in the Navy at the time. The couple met at church and married in 1955, raising two sons.

When Don got a job as a court reporter for Sonoma County Superior Court, the family moved to Santa Rosa and Holbrook started playing violin again, joining the Santa Rosa Symphony in the fall of 1964. The couple built a home in the Larkfield area that same year.

Under Santa Rosa Symphony conductor Corrick Brown, Holbrook served as principal second violin from 1967 to 1970, assistant concertmaster from 1970 to 1983 and concertmaster from 1983 to 1996, helping the orchestra transition from Brown to its new music director, Jeffrey Kahane. She also served as the symphony librarian from 1974 to 1984.

“I can remember looking at her at all the rehearsals and concerts, and she had a beatific look,” said Polly Fisher, former manager of the Santa Rosa Symphony. “She had a wonderful relationship with the Browns. The Browns mentored her, and they brought her to a different level.”
Holbrook started helping with auditions in 1970. As concertmaster, she spent hours working on the bowings before each concert series. She retired from the symphony in 2000 after 36 years.

“Building a symphony orchestra requires developing a great string section,” Brown said. “When Polly Holbrook came to Santa Rosa, it was a godsend. The success of the orchestra owes a great deal to her.”
Holbrook also taught violin, played weddings and was an active chamber music player, performing with the Santa Rosa Chamber Players, the Boyd Piano Quintet and with her dear friends, pianist Norma Brown and cellist Shirley Chilcott.

She also spent many summers boating on the Russian River with her family.

“Amazingly, she found time to drive a water-ski boat with her sons behind and her blonde hair blowing,” said Chilcott. “She and Don were also avid supporters of their sons’ sports activities.”
She is preceded in death by her husband, her brother John Estes and granddaughter Jennifer Holbrook.
In addition to her sister-in-law Ena Estes, she is survived by her sister, Betsy Ludwig of Penn Valley; her sons Brad Holbrook of Greenbrier, Ark., and Mark Holbrook of Sacramento; nine grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.

No memorial service is planned. Donation in her memory may be made to North County Hospice, 205 East St., in Healdsburg or to the Santa Rosa Symphony, 50 Santa Rosa Ave.

January 7, 2016: Stradivarius player Caroline Goulding to perform with Santa Rosa Symphony

by by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, January 7, 2016

Though she is only 23 years old, violinist Caroline Goulding has played a nearly 300-year-old Stradivarius for the past five years.

Known as the General Kyd Stradivarius, the circa 1720 instrument made in Cremona, Italy, produces a beautiful sound that, in its utter perfection, reminds her of a god or a goddess.

“Every string glows with beauty,” she said in a phone interview from her parents’ home in Florida. “It’s more of a Fred Astaire than a Gene Kelly. Fred Astaire is almost a magician, he’s so smooth and effortless and charming. Gene Kelly has more of a visceral quality.”

Over time, however, the instrument seems to have evolved under her fingers, integrating some of dancer Kelly’s athletic earthiness into the ethereal spirit of Astaire.

“Maybe it’s all a reflection of what I’m putting into it,” she said. “I would love to dance with Fred, but I’m captivated by both in very different ways.”

Goulding and her mercurial violin will join the Santa Rosa Symphony this weekend, Jan. 9 to 11, to perform a Kelly-esque, athletic work, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Led by guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen, the “Pastoral Pleasures” concert opens with An-Lun Huang’s festive “Saibei Dance” and closes with Dvorak’s folksy Symphony No. 8.

For Goulding, at least, the challenge of the Tchaikovsky is to carefully monitor the energy she puts into the work.

“That piece is all about endurance, because basically, it’s like running a marathon,” she said. “It’s about how you utilize your energy in the piece so it makes sense physically, musically and technically … and so you don’t wear out.”

The composer originally dedicated his concerto to renowned violinist Leopold Auer, who politely demurred the honor, declaring it unplayable. During the work’s premiere, critic Eduard Hanslick wrote that “the violin was not played but beaten black and blue.”

The work kicks off with a tender introduction by the orchestra that sets up a dramatic entrance for the soloist, who starts off in a leisurely fashion with the lyrical first theme. The solo part soon accelerates, however, gaining steam through a series of daunting double-stops, trills and arpeggios, plus a bone-crushing cadenza, that light a fire under the solo part as well as the orchestral accompaniment.

Even the gentle second movement, featuring minor-key melody aching with melancholy, leaps impulsively into the finale, a dancing rondo that requires more finger-aching pyrotechnics.

“I love all of Tchaikovsky,” said Goulding, who currently lives in New York City. “I was just listening to ‘Swan Lake’ today. The Tchaikovsky concerto is very dance-like, in a ballet way.“

As a child growing up in Port Huron, Mich., Goulding listened to her older brothers playing trumpet and saxophone and was so inspired that she demanded an instrument of her own when she was a little over 3 years old.

“At that age, the options were limited,” she said. “It was either the violin or the piano.”

When Goulding was 11, her family relocated to Cleveland so she could continue her violin studies with Paul Kantor, who had taken a post with the Cleveland Institute of Music.

As a young student, she also trained at summer festivals, from Marlboro and Yellow Barn in Vermont to the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, where she won first prize in the concerto competition at age 13.

The following year, she made her first appearance on the TV program, “From the Top: Live from Carnegie Hall,” hosted by pianist Christopher O’Riley. At age 16, after a 2007 appearance with the Cleveland Pops, she was offered a three-album recording deal with Telarc.

“It was a natural progression,” she said of her career. “I’ve always known that I wanted to do it, so it was following the flow of life.”

Her first album, recorded with pianist O’Riley, is a collection of beloved violin works by Fritz Kreisler, John Corigliano, Vieuxtemps and others. Simply entitled “Caroline Goulding,” the album garnered a Grammy nomination and made the top 15 in Billboard Magazine.

A second Telarc album, “From the Top at the Pops,” came out in 2009, featuring Goulding in a performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 as well as the Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings, both with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

In 2009, Goulding was awarded first prize at the Young Concert Artists International Auditions and received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2011.

Also in 2011, she started studying with famed violin teacher Donald Weilerstein at the New England Conservatory. Then she went on to take lessons from violinist Christian Tetzlaff at the Kronberg Academy in Germany, an international cultural institution for highly gifted young string players.

“I graduated from the Kronberg Academy in June, but I still take lessons from Mr. Weilerstein and Christian Tetzlaff,” said Goulding, who spends about half of her year performing in Europe and the other half in the U.S.

Tetzlaff, in particular, has influenced her because of the unique way in which he approaches each piece.

“What I really respect is his artistic openness and creativity, but also his commitment to what is there in the score,” she said. “He attempts to take all of the influences out and start from scratch.”

Since she is still very young, Goulding said she is open to trying all kinds of classical works, from the baroque period to the contemporary era.

“You don’t know what you like until you try everything,” she said. “I’m taking what comes, and I’m open to it.”

In her spare time, she enjoys reading, walking, eating with friends and enjoying a good cup of coffee at a cafe, where she likes to people-watch. But she hasn’t quite gotten around to learning how to cook.

“I like to go out and spend money on good food,” she said. “I like to live the epicurean lifestyle, without the work.”

But the rising young star still continues to work hard on her Stradivarius violin. Though it produces a perfect sound, the maturing artist is beginning to understand that even perfection has its flaws.

“That’s a weakness in itself, because life is messy, and music is messy,” she said. “Yes, art reflects beauty, but maybe art reflects life, and the beauty is that life is not always beautiful.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

January 4, 2016: San Francisco North Bay business briefs: SRS NEA Grant

by North Bay Business Journal, January 4, 2016

San Francisco North Bay business briefs: 
Santa Rosa Symphony recently received a Challenge America Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in the amount of $10,000. The symphony will use this award to support performances, a workshop and related outreach activities featuring Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Martinez during the symphony’s 88th season finale in May 2016.

Healdsburg Center for the Arts has a variety of opportunities for visual artists to exhibit their art in the gallery. Along with our six to eight juried exhibitions, it offers opportunities for artists to rent display space. Starting in January, it is taking applications for gallery artists.

The city of Santa Rosa announced a series of community meetings to be hosted by its Community Advisory Board (CAB) in an effort to obtain public input on the city’s Capital Improvement Project (CIP) budget for 2016–2017. Community meetings will be held 5:30–7:30 p.m. Jan. 4, Bennett Valley Senior Center, 704 Bennett Valley Rd.; Jan. 7, Finley Community Center, Willow Room, 2060 West College Ave.; Jan. 11, Oakmont East Community Center, 7902 Oakmont Dr.; January 14, Steele Lane Community Center, De Meo Room, 415 Steele Ln.; Jan. 21, Roseland Elementary School Library, 950 Sebastopol Rd.

Napa County has become the 33rd county to join VOTECAL, the new statewide voter registration system. As all 58 counties move to the system by spring 2016, VOTECAL will treat voters as state voters rather than county voters. That means those who move from one county to another in California can remain eligible to vote without having to re-register. VOTECAL also will allow eligible driver license and state ID card first-time applicants, and those renewing their licenses or changing their address, to be registered to vote automatically at the DMV unless they choose not to register.

The city of Novato has a new online business license renewal system to facilitate the renewal process. Owners can now renew their business license online by visiting and select the option to renew online. Just use your business license number and security code that is printed on your renewal notice to log in and pay your renewal fee by credit card via its new secure payment system. Cash or check payment options are still available in-person or by mail.

In December, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a Living Wage Ordinance. Sonoma County is the seventh county in California to adopt local legislation raising wages for county employees and contractors. Effective July 1, all county employees and individuals working for private sector employers who contract with the county will be required to earn a base minimum pay rate of $15.00 an hour when conducting work for the county. Non-profit service contractors will be phased into the ordinance, beginning at $13.00 starting July 1, 2017, and reaching $15.00 per hour on July 1, 2019.
Health Care

Marin Cancer Care, co-manager of the Cancer Institute at Marin General Hospital, was one of 10 health care institutions across the country included in a recent study published by the Harvard Business Review. The article described the impact of high-emotion services in cancer care delivery, and explored non-clinical practices positively influencing the quality and effect of patient care. Researched by Dr. Leonard Berry, Ph.D., professor at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, the study selected cancer centers known for their clinical quality and high-emotion services, which address the compassionate and sensitive delivery of diagnosis and treatment.

Kaiser Permanente announced plans to open the Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine as part of the organization’s ongoing effort to lead in meeting America’s demands for 21st century health care. The school will redesign physician education around strategic pillars that include providing high-quality care beyond traditional medical settings, acknowledging the central importance of collaboration and teamwork to inform treatment decisions, and addressing disparities in health. The school is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 and will be located in Southern California, where physicians-in-training will be immersed in an environment of cultural and economic diversity.

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration has awarded more than $4.4 million in federal funds to four health centers in Huffman’s Second District for 2016. With these federal grants, health centers in Humboldt, Marin, Mendocino and Sonoma counties will be able to continue providing primary care to populations in need.

OpenTable, a leading provider of online restaurant reservations and part of The Priceline Group, unveiled the 100 Best Restaurants in America for 2015. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states. Included in the top 10 is St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa. Other North Bay restaurants include: Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford; Farmhouse Inn & Restaurant, Forestville; The French Laundry, Yountville.

Nonprofit organizations interested in applying for grant funds from the Napa County Arts and Culture Advisory Committee can begin submitting their proposals Jan. 5. Applicants will be able to apply for funds under the visitor management guidelines for tourism promotion activities as well as the capacity building program guidelines. Completed applications must be received no later than March 1. Only registered 501(c)3 organizations working in Napa County’s arts and culture sector are eligible.

Mend Programmatics Inc. of Novato recently closed its software and application creation partnership with mobile engagement platform company Fanfare Entertainment’s Apollo Health division in Burlingame. The deal will provide software and applications for Mend and its endeavors to create technology for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Family-owned Cline Family Cellars in Sonoma launched a new multichannel national brand campaign called Are You Inclined. Rolled out in December in national print advertising, retail promotions as well as on-line, Are You Inclined will include a new social media contest that rewards participants for sharing their experiences with Cline Family Cellars wines. Running through March, participants can use Instagram to post photos of themselves in situations where they are enjoying one of Cline Family Cellars’ wines. The most creative and original entry will receive a $250 gift certificate from Cline Family Cellars and a gift basket from The Olive Press.

Napa’s Crimson Wine Group (OTCBB: CWGL) opened The Estates Wine Room, an urban tasting room located in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.

Consumer Products
Indoor Climate Control launched as an informational portal that features educational resources on subjects such as property value benefits from air conditioning repairs, heating repairs and emergency service and many other helpful tips that can save money and provide the best results for property improvement projects at any budget.

Quality Counts, Sonoma County’s quality improvement rating system as led by First 5 Sonoma County, designated 4Cs programs as high quality, with 4Cs preschools rated in the top tier. It is a five-tier rating system that rates the quality of early education programs. Preschools and child care centers were rated on early learning environment and teacher/child interactions, which research show is the strongest indicator for child’s school readiness. 4Cs was awarded $160,000 in recognition of the high ratings, which it will invest in professional development programs for preschool staff.

Terra Firma Global Partners entered into a three-year agreement of financial support with Prestwood Elementary School in Sonoma. Terra Firma is sponsoring “Prestwood Direct,” the funding mechanism to enable a host of school programs that the school would otherwise be unable to afford.


December 15, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony Receives Prestigious NEA Grant

by Sonoma County Gazette, December 15, 2015

Santa Rosa Symphony Receives Prestigious NEA Grant

Challenge America Award will support community outreach activities related to the “Jazzy Impressions” Classical Series season finale concert set featuring pianist Gabriela Martinez in May 2016

The Santa Rosa Symphony (SRS) recently received a Challenge America Award from The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the amount of $10,000.  The SRS will use this award to support performances, a workshop and related outreach activities featuring Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Martinezduring the Santa Rosa Symphony’s 88th season finale in May, 2016.

This outreach project is intended to share classical music with the Sonoma County Latino community. Martinez, a music education advocate, will conduct a free bilingual “musical career day” workshop for elementary school violinists, participate in an open rehearsal for the community, and participate in 3 pre-concert talks before each Classical Concert performance. Organizations such Big Brothers Big Sisters of the North Bay, the YWCA Sonoma CountyCalifornia Parenting Institute, the Boys and Girls Club Central Santa Rosa, and Hanna Boys Center – selected for their ties to local, underserved communities – and local elementary schools will assist with targeted outreach and free ticket distribution for the main stage performance at the Green Music Center.

In its first 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded more than $5 billion in grants to recipients in every state and U.S. jurisdiction, the only arts funder in the nation to do so. For its first funding round for fiscal year 2016, the NEA has announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million, including this Challenge America award to the Santa Rosa Symphony.

The Challenge America category supports projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability. Challenge America grants are comparatively small investments that have a big impact in their communities.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “The arts are part of our everyday lives – no matter who you are or where you live – they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society. Supporting projects like the one from the Santa Rosa Symphony offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

About this Challenge America grant to the SRS, Executive Director Alan Silow said: “This grant from the NEA expresses national confirmation of the importance of the work the Santa Rosa Symphony is doing in Sonoma County to inspire and engage people with the highest-quality musical performances and to develop compelling educational programs focused on the local community.”

INFO: National Endowment for the Arts

About the Santa Rosa Symphony
Santa Rosa Symphony, the Resident Orchestra of the Green Music Center, is the third-oldest professional orchestra in California, and the largest regional symphony north of Los Angeles. Bruno Ferrandis, who began his tenure in 2006, is the fourth Music Director in the organization’s history. The Santa Rosa Symphony (SRS) is committed to core values of artistic excellence, innovative programming and community service. This year the SRS contributed over $4 million into the local economy.

Currently in its 88th season, the Symphony’s performance schedule includes 21 Classical Series concerts (7 sets), 7 Discovery Dress Rehearsal concerts, a 3-concert Family Series and a 4-concert Pops Series, as well as special concerts. The Symphony is also recognized for having one of the most comprehensive music education programs in California, serving nearly 23,000 youth annually.
Collaborations with schools and organizations across Sonoma County have gained SRS national attention and support. Awards include an American Symphony Orchestra League MetLife Award for Community Engagement and a first place award for adventurous programming in the 2012-13 season from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

December 3, 2015: Holiday choral music to look forward to in Sonoma County

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, December 3, 2015

 There’s an informal choral music season every year around the holidays, and the singers of the North Bay have been warming up to perform the best of the holiday lot.

The Santa Rosa Symphony kicks off the annual choralpalooza this weekend with three performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony conducted by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis, alongside four vocal soloists and the Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir.

“It ends incredibly joyfully, so it’s very uplifting,” said Choral Director Robert Worth, who is rehearsing his own Sonoma Bach Choir as well as the Santa Rosa High School Concert Choir and the Sonoma State Symphonic Chorus for the concert. “They only sing in the fourth movement, but it’s the focal point of the piece.”

Worth is celebrating his 20th and final year conducting the Santa Rosa Symphonic Honor Choir during the annual Santa Rosa Symphony choral concert before the holidays. He has helped prepare the symphonic choir since 1995, when the symphony’s then-conductor Jeffrey Kahane first asked for a high-level choir to help perform Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.”

“It’s been a great collaboration, and we’ve done a lot of great productions,” said Worth, who plans to focus now on early music with his Sonoma Bach Choir. “I felt like this would be a good thing to go out on.”

Beethoven’s 9th has been compared to a mirror, reflecting a different meaning for each of its admirers, from Protestant hymn-writers to Marxists and Nazis.

In his book, “The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824,” Harvey Sachs argues that Beethoven’s 9th is a quest for freedom from the repression of the European government and a broad “declaration in favor of universal brotherhood.”

Here are the details of the symphony concert, along with a smorgasbord of other choral concerts that celebrate the season:

The Santa Rosa Symphony presents Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, 6, and 7, at Weill Hall. The concert opens with a folk song cycle by Luciano Berio. $25-$85. 546-8742 or
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

November 26, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony Is in the Pink, Financially

by Mark MacNamara , SF Classical Voice, November 26, 2015

For the 88-year-old Santa Rosa Symphony these days everything is in the black, it’s all coming up roses, although it’s true that the acclaimed music director Bruno Ferrandis has just announced that after 12 seasons he has decided to move on following the 2017-2018 season.

Why leave now? “I feel it is important in the modern era for both directors and symphonies to experience the influence of many different musical personalities,” he has been quoted to say, and added that he wants to collaborate more with living composers. In sum, Ferrandis, originally an Algerian émigré, now living in Paris, intends to get back on the road and resume his role as a guest conductor, which has lead him to concert halls from Tel Aviv to Tokyo.

“I love the guy,” Alan Silow told us. Silow is the symphony’s executive director. “Bruno has been enormously collegial. He has brought a special sensibility, with music from ballet, film, dance, opera, and has also introduced our audience to a number of new works. He’s really raised the profile of this orchestra, both regionally and nationally.”

Still, it won’t be hard to find a replacement in what has become one of the more successful regional orchestras in the country and recently added three musicians to its lineup. And that’s due to Silow, who takes great pride in the fact. His strategy, over the last 12 years, has been to establish financial protocols to better escape the winds of recession. One move, for example, was to subsidize the core of classical programming with family concerts, pops, and the like, which, as Silow put it, absolutely must break even, at the very least.

Another change was in negotiating guest artist contracts. “I enjoy and to some degree excel at negotiation,” Silow told us, “and so we took a much stronger tack and brought those costs back to a more reasonable range.” Silow says that the art of negotiation has been simply to represent the symphony accurately, always careful to explain that while the symphony doesn’t have the budget of the San Francisco Symphony, it is graced with Weill Hall in the Green Music Center and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience.

A third change was to propose, for the first time, a board responsibility statement, in writing, in effect a one-page list of responsibilities. One of those responsibilities was to solicit or contribute $10,000 annually to the symphony. The 38-member board approved and the results have been dramatic, and somewhat unexpected. The move drew in prominent community leaders and helped to professionalize the organization. But more to the point, in 2001-02 total board giving amounted to $70,000. In 2014, the amount was $450,000.

In addition, the board authorized restrictions on how endowments could be used. A cap was applied in 2003, which reflected the view that “to really grow the endowment, we’re not taking any more than five percent a year based on a three-year rolling average of the stock market evaluation.” A recent three-year campaign was completed in just two years, and raised $4 million. In 2002, the symphony’s endowment was worth $1.5 million; now it’s worth more than $10 million.

As for programming, Silow points out that his close relationship with the artistic director has allowed the organization to steer between the shoals of programming that’s too expensive and programming that has little appeal to the community. Indeed, the art of programming for Silow is “community engagement, and the ability to be relevant.”

To that end, the symphony has in the last year orchestrated a series of three outreach concerts, under the rubric of Festival of Remembrance. One was a day of the dead concert last fall; another, in February, honored Japanese-Americans who had been interned during World War II. That included Japanese composer and a local Taiko drumming ensemble. A third concert last April featured Jewish composers who perished in the Holocaust. That concert included a film, with interviews with survivors as well as a Klezmer band.

Another community outreach program involved chamber music ensembles performing at local libraries and then, finally, a free community concert at Weill Hall which was directed toward the local Latino community and drew 5,000 people. It was a record attendance.

“I think the reason we’ve been successful,” says Silow, is because the board understands the notion of ‘no pain, no gain’.  Because of the recession in 2002 there were a lot of financial challenges and when the board understood what those were they were very amendable to making the needed changes to bring us back to sustainability.”

Mark MacNamara ( is a San Francisco-based journalist who has written for such publications as, Vanity Fair, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Nautilus. In recent months in SFCV, among other pieces, he has written about a music director accused of embezzlement; a profile of conductor Alondra de la Parra; an essay about the controversy over ‘trigger warnings’ for college courses; a report on a strike at the Metropolitan Opera; and a feature about the housing problem for artists in San Francisco.

November 25, 2015: Bruno Ferrandis to Depart from Santa Rosa Symphony

by, posted by charlie, November 25, 2015

Santa Rosa Symphony board president Sara Woodfield recently announced that music director and conductor Bruno Ferrandis will end his tenure with the Symphony when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-2018 season.

Ferrandis, only the fourth musical director in the Symphony’s 88-year history, plans to pursue an international role as a guest conductor.

Of the decision, Ferrandis said he hopes to conduct more opera, collaborate with contemporary composers and travel the world. He also thanked the community in Sonoma County for their “fabulous faith and support for the Santa Rosa Symphony over so many years.”

Highlights of Ferrandis’ time with SRS include the Symphony’s move to the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in 2012. Also, in 2013, the Symphony was awarded an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, in recognition of Ferrandis’ balance of traditional classic repertoire with newer works.

Woodfield also announced the Symphony’s board of directors will begin an international search for the next music director, with finalists conducting five of the seven classical concerts in the 2017-2018 season before Ferrandis leads the orchestra for the final two concerts, both of which are sure to be filled with personal favorites and emotional works.

November 19, 2015: Maestro Bruno Ferrandis is leaving the Santa Rosa Symphony

by Geraldine Duncann,, November 19, 2015

The board of directors has just announced that Maestro Bruno Ferrandis is leaving the Santa Rosa Symphony at the end of the 1017-2018 season when his contract runs out. This will end a twelve season relationship between Bruno Ferrandis, the Santa Rosa Symphony and music lovers of the North Bay community. Under Maestro Ferrandis leadership and guidance, the Santa Rosa Symphony has become one of the leading symphonies in the country.

Ferrandis said in an interview from his Paris home that he was leaving the symphony for artistic reasons. “An artist must be challenged. If he’s not challenged, his art is going away,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Paris. “It’s the same for the orchestra. I think an orchestra needs change … it’s good to have somebody fresh, with new ideas.”

With his usual curtesy, he will remain Music Director for two more seasons which will provide the time to conduct an international search to find just the right person to replace him, and once found, allow for a comfortable transition.

When he announced his decision, Maestro Ferrandis said he wished to express his gratitude to the patrons and supporters of the Santa Rosa symphony. In doing so he said, : “I want to thank first the people of Santa Rosa and throughout Sonoma County for their love and fabulous faith and support for the Santa Rosa Symphony over so many years. It was an amazing feeling to be welcomed by you! I also appreciate the enormous opportunity I was given to have been Music Director for the Santa Rosa Symphony during the transition to Weill Hall at the Green Music Center during my seventh season.”

For the 2016-2017 season, the Maestro has, as usual, planned a outstanding series of classical programs, all of which he will of course conduct himself. The 2017-2018 season will be primarily dedicated to interviewing prospective replacements, and when found, easing them into Bruno’s shoes. Five finalists from the search will be chosen and each will conduct a program. Bruno himself will conduct the final two programs of the season.

As the symphony moves through this process there are still many months ahead during which North Bay music lovers may still celebrate Maestro Ferrandis’s artistry and charismatic personality, so take advantage of the remaining time and be sure to make your way to Weill Hall and take in a few of the concerts under his direction while you still have the opportunity.

November 17, 2015: Bruno Ferrandis to leave Santa Rosa Symphony after 2017-’18 season

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, November 17, 2015

The Santa Rosa Symphony announced Tuesday that Bruno Ferrandis, the fourth music director in the 87-year history of the orchestra, will step down when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-2018 season.

Paris resident Ferrandis, 55, said he made the decision that he will end his tenure after a dozen seasons because of artistic reasons.

“An artist must be challenged. If he’s not challenged, his art is going away,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Paris. “It’s the same for the orchestra. I think an orchestra needs change … it’s good to have somebody fresh, with new ideas.”

Ferrandis, who joined the symphony in 2006, helped usher the orchestra from the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts into its new home at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall in 2012. In 2013, the orchestra won an award for its adventurous programming from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP.)

“The transition was a critical process, and it was something that Bruno led very well,” Santa Rosa Symphony Executive Director Alan Silow said. “And I think he has broadened the horizons for the audiences with an integration of contemporary music with beloved repertoire.”

Silow said the 10-member search committee, made up of four orchestra musicians and five board members plus Silow, will hold its first meeting in December. The committee will eventually select five finalists, who will try out with the symphony during the first five concert sets of the 2017-2018 season. Ferrandis will conduct the final two concerts of that season.

During the 2016-2017 season, Ferrandis was granted his request to conduct all seven concert sets, rather than the customary six out of the seven (with one led by a guest conductor).

“It’s my last full season with the orchestra, and I wanted to get the whole season,” Ferrandis said. “It’s a little bit self-gratifying. It’s like someone splurging on a good dessert.”

Silow said Ferrandis’ exit is timed well, with the orchestra playing at a high level, support for the orchestra strong and its finances on sound footing. He credited the conductor’s winning personality for helping elevate the orchestra.

“One can never underestimate Bruno’s charm … and personally, he worked so well with me,” Silow said. “He’s very collegial, and I think that really helped a lot in sharing how well we have done during his tenure.”

Ferrandis said that stepping down from the Santa Rosa post will allow him to do more guest conducting and opera conducting. However, he said it will be difficult to leave the orchestra, as well as the audience.

“The audience loves their music and are curious and patient with me introducing new music,” he said. “But it’s a good time for me to be going.”

Ferrandis succeeded Conductor Laureate Jeffrey Kahane, who served as Music Director for 10 seasons. Before Kahane, Conductor Emeritus Corrick Brown served as Music Director from 1957-1995. George Trombley founded the Santa Rosa Symphony in 1928.

When Kahane announced his departure in 2002, Silow had already joined the symphony as its executive director. He called the announcement of Ferrandis’ departure “a bittersweet deja vu,” and praised both music directors for being respectful and giving sufficient time to find a replacement.

“Back then, we brought in someone based in Paris who had been a conductor for 20 years, and that illustrated that the respect had grown considerably for the organization as a whole,” Silow said. “It worked well then … it should work again.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 On Twitter @dianepete56.


November 5, 2015: Pianist with Santa Rosa Symphony likes to mix old and new

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, November 5, 2015

Pianist Pedja Muzijevic is not content to play music from just one era. Instead, he often juxtaposes modern works by composers like John Cage and George Crumb with the classics by Bach and Haydn.
The Bosnian-born musician also presents staged works with dancers and serves as arts administrator for the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York, which presents innovative, multimedia works in dance, theater and music.

“I love mixing the old and new,” he said in a phone interview from his home in New York. “Otherwise, we’re in an artistic ghetto where people just play either old or new music, and I feel that they both benefit from each other.”

The pianist will demonstrate his multifaceted tastes and talents this weekend when he performs with the Santa Rosa Symphony at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall. The three-concert set opens with a modernistic work by Gyorgy Kurtag for piano and orchestra, then switches to the Romantic era with Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor and Brahms’ monumental Symphony No. 1 after intermission.

The Kurtag work is titled “...quasi una fantasia ...” which may be a tip of the hat to Schumann’s “Fantasie,” one of the composer’s greatest works for solo piano. The second movement also offers a Schumannesque title, “Wie ein Traumeswirren” (“Like the Confusions of a Dream,”) a reference to a piece from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 12.

“I was interested in juxtaposing these worlds,” Muzijivec said of the Kurtag and the Schumann works. “The Kurtag touches on Schumann ... but if it’s there in the music itself, I certainly haven’t noticed it.”
Born in 1926, Kurtag is perhaps the most famous living Hungarian composer. (His compatriot Gyorgy Ligeti died in 2006.) He works in tiny snippets, and his soundscape offers stark contrasts, from the eerie and ethereal to the bombastic and brash.

“He’s a miniaturist ... but he has a great dynamic range,” the 51-year-old pianist said. “There’s one movement that’s almost an act of desperation and in your face, but the fast one is close to being almost inaudible.”

The Hungarian composer is also famous for his spatial experiments with music. In “...quasi una fantasia...,” some members of the orchestra will be placed strategically throughout the hall.
“It’s the opposite of audience participation, because the musicians invade the audience,” Muzijevic said. “It’s a nice thing to explore, and it’s only nine minutes long, so it can’t be too painful.”

While regarded as a standard of the repertory, the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor is not heard as often as more popular concertos by Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.
“Somehow it sort of falls in between,” he said. “It’s not a show-off piece, and it’s very difficult. So you get the work but none of the glory for it.”

One of the challenges for the pianist is that the piano plays almost nonstop throughout the three movements. Also, the notes do not fall easily under the fingers, as Schumann was guided more by expression than ease of execution. Still, it has its allure.

“It’s not restrained, and in the second movement, it’s so intimate, it draws people in,” he said. “It’s very lyrical, and I can’t get enough of it.”

The pianist also admires the originality of the writing, especially the way Schumann opens the first and second movements.

“It’s not in any mold,” he said. “The piano bursts out after the first note of the orchestra, and in the second movement, the piano starts in this tentative way, getting your toes into the water, surging up, and then a question mark.”

Muzijevic was born in Sarajevo but left in 1980 for Zagreb. In 1984, he came to the U.S., where he studied at Juilliard in New York and first met Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Bruno Ferrandis.
“I haven’t seen him since the late ’80s, and I’m so looking forward to seeing him,” he said. “I’m also very excited to see the hall, which looks beautiful in pictures.”

While he hasn’t been back to Bosnia since he was 16, Muzijevic does perform in Croatia from time to time. But the breathtaking beauty of the coast of Bosnia has remained with him.
“The mountains being so close to the shoreline is very specific and not very frequently seen,” he said. “To me, there’s some similarity with Northern California.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 On Twitter @dianepete56.

October 14, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony Adds New String Positions, Fills Vacancy

by Mark MacNamara, San Francisco Classical Voice, October 14, 2015

In a letter to his father in the spring of 1781, Mozart noted a recent performance by the Vienna Symphony, which had “40 violins, the wind instruments all doubled, 10 tenors [violas], 10 double basses, eight violincellos, and six bassoons.”

An embarrassment of riches compared with “the age of cuts,” when American orchestras are shedding union musicians, hiring freelancers, or closing down altogether. Note the Fort Worth Symphony, which drew this entry in August on the blog, Slipped Disc, about how “the musicians are out of contract and the admin is demanding job cuts.”

And so you wonder what’s going on in Santa Rosa. How could that symphony be adding musicians? 

The Santa Rosa Symphony has brought in three new string positions and filled a vacancy, to bring the orchestra to a new total of 81 musicians. The symphony, which opened in 1928, is the third-oldest professional orchestra in California and the largest regional symphony north of Los Angeles. The musicians are members of American Federation of Musicians Union Local 292; many play with other orchestras, including Marin, Berkeley, Monterey, Modesto, and the San Francisco Opera and Ballet.

The new musicians include Aromi Park, first violin, seat 14; Genevieve Micheletti, second violin, seat 12; and Jon Keigwin, contrabass, seat 7. The open position went to Jesse Barrett, playing second oboe and english horn.

Barrett studied at Boston University and the University of the Pacific and plays with the Merced Symphony, the Reno Chamber Orchestra, and Symphony Napa Valley. Park studied at the San Francisco Academy Orchestra, the University of Memphis, the New England Conservatory, and Ewha Womans University and is a former musician with both the Arkansas Symphony and Memphis Symphony Orchestras. Micheletti studied at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Rice University, and plays with the San Francisco Academy Orchestra and the Stockton Symphony. Keigwin studied at the Curtis Institute of Music and plays with the Berkeley Symphony and the Sun Valley Summer Symphony.

Bruno Ferrandis, the symphony's music director and conductor since 2006, can only laugh when you ask him how the symphony is adding musicians at a time when most are cutting positions. “I am only an artist,” he told us last week.”I am not the one to ask. But the reason is simply because we are very healthy financially; we have loyal audiences and we are in a world class concert hall.”

That would be the Green Music Center, on the campus of Sonoma State University. The center includes 240-seat Schroeder hall and the 1,400-seat Weill Hall, which opened in 2012 and was deeply inspired by Vienna’s Musikverein, as well as Symphony Hall in Boston.  The Green Center, which caters to jazz as well as classical music, attracts an audience that far exceeds the national average for attendance at classical concerts.  More than 100,000 people came last year to attend concerts or music education programs.    

“If you don’t take chances,” Ferrandis explained, “the result is a dying, stagnating organization.  It cannot stand. We will continue to focus on a program that mines both old and new.  We have two premiers coming up, which will be challenging but also offer an opportunity to discover something new.”

Mark MacNamara ( is a San Francisco-based journalist who has written for such publications as, Vanity Fair, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Nautilus. In recent months in SFCV, among other pieces, he has written about a music director accused of embezzlement; a profile of conductor Alondra de la Parra; an essay about the controversy over ‘trigger warnings’ for college courses; a report on a strike at the Metropolitan Opera; and a feature about the housing problem for artists in San Francisco.

October 7, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony to open season with twin pianists

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, October 7, 2015

Bruno Ferrandis, music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony, sees many different themes woven into the tapestry of the orchestra’s 2015-’16 season, including exoticism and dance, universality and peace, nature and religion.
There will also be plenty of pianists in the spotlight, during the first and last concert sets in October and May and the second concert set in November. But there’s another theme that trumps those minor themes with its major power.
“This is a season of composers at their height,” Ferrandis said, citing the 9th symphonies of Beethoven and Bruckner, Dvorak’s 8th, and Saint-Saens’ third and last symphony. “This is the essence of the essence of these composers.”
The new season, which opens this weekend, will be the symphony’s fourth as the resident orchestra of the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall and Ferrandis’ 10th anniversary season as music director. Both conductor and orchestra are settling nicely into the new acoustical environment of the hall. Last season, they presented an array of energetic. well-executed programs with high-profile soloists that were well attended.
According to Executive Director Alan Silow, there was a record number of single tickets sold both to the Classical Concert Series and the Symphony Pops Series, presented in collaboration with the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts.
“That (single ticket sales) was related to the quality of the programming and the artists,” Silow said. “And for the Saturday afternoon dress rehearsals, the ticket sales have been through the roof.” As a result, the orchestra has been able to expand this year with three new permanent players - a first violin, second violin and a bass player - bringing its ranks up to a total of 81 musicians. A vacancy for oboe/English horn was also filled.
Here is the essence of each concert set of the symphony’s Classical Concert Series. Each concert will be performed at 8 p.m. Saturdays and Mondays, and 3 p.m. Sundays, at Weill Hall. Pre-concert lectures with Ferrandis start one hour before curtain time.
1) “Twin Stars” on Oct. 10-12: The season kicks off with a world premiere of “Pax Universalis” by Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, one of the most sought-after young composers working in America today. “It’s a 10-minute piece, very colorful, with joy and a pulse,” Ferrandis said. Fairouz, who is currently writing an opera, will attend both the Saturday and Sunday concerts on Oct. 10 and 11.
Twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton will perform two double-piano concertos: Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos, written by Mozart in 1782 to play with his older sister; and Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, a neo-classical work that both revives tradition and revamps it.
Capping the concert will be Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3, an unusual work scored for both organ and four-handed piano. The prolific composer considered it his best work. “I love the spirituality of the slow movement, and the feeling of peace and calm,” Ferrandis said. “This symphony just breathes peace.”
2) “Surround Sound” on Nov. 7-9: Pedja Muzijevic, a Serbian-Bosnian pianist who studied at Juilliard. will tackle two piano works, which are linked together: Schumann’s popular Piano Concerto in A minor; and “Quasi una Fantasia” by Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag, which is named after Schumann’s famous “Fantasie” for piano. “The Kurtag is very sensitive, with a lot of eerie sounds,” Ferrandis said. During the work, orchestral musicians will be placed around the hall, boosting the work’s unusual acoustics.
As a finale, Ferrandis will bring back Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which was written around the time that the composer met Schumann. The work has been referred to as “Beethoven’s 10th.”
3) “Joy to the World” on Dec. 5-7: Peace and universality will reign during the symphony’s annual holiday choral concert, when Ferrandis will once again lead a performance of Beethoven’s beloved Symphony No. 9 with the Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir. (The first time he led it here was in 2009.) To open the concert, he chose Luciano Berio’s “Folk Songs,” which includes vocal songs sun in many different languages. The 20-minute piece is the third, and most famous, work that Ferrandis has performed here by the Italian composer.
4) “Pastoral Pleasures” on Jan. 9 to 11: Guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen, who conducts the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, will lead a global program that pairs “Saibei Dance,” a work by Chinese-America composer Huang Ruo about a harvest celebration, with Dvorak’s folksy Symphony No. 8. Rounding out the program will be Tchaikovsky’s fiery Violin Concerto, performed by Caroline Goulding. a young, award-winning violinist on her way up.
5) “Strokes of Genius” Feb. 20-22: Ferrandis returns to the podium to lead the symphony in two challenging war-horse works. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, performed by violinist Rachel Barton Pine, is “an entire symphony for violin and orchestra,” Ferrandis said. The concert closes with the original three movements of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9, Unfinished. “Bruckner is dying, and he knows it,” Ferrandis said. “At the end of the Adagio he wrote, ‘Farewell to life.’”
6) “Rhythmic Vitality” April 2-4: Dance rhythms punctuate a concert that brings back charismatic cellist Zuill Bailey for a performance of Britten’s Symphony for Cello & Orchestra, written in 1963 and recently recorded by Bailey. The concert opens with a world premiere of Daniel Brewbaker’s “Dances and Dreams of Dionysus,” and closes with the full concert version of de Falla’s ballet, “The Three-Cornered Hat,” based on Andalusian folk songs.
7) “Jazzy Impression” on May 7-9: Dance and jazz rhythms also energize the season finale featuring Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Martinez performing Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, another work written by a composer at the top of his game. Bernstein’s Three Dance Episodes from his musical “On the Town” open the show, and two Spanish works by French composers provide an exotic ending: Debussy’s “Ibéria” (“Images for Orchestra”) and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole.” “You feel Debussy’s really in the street,” Ferrandis said. “It’s a Spanish feast in the night, and there are lot of colors and rhythms.”
Extra concerts
A gala fund-raiser, featuring a private piano recital by Christina and Michelle Naughton, will be held at 6 p.m. Friday at the Green Music Center. The tribute to long-time symphony supporter Henry Trione begins with a reception and concludes with a gourmet dinner in Prelude Restaurant. Tickets are $300.
As part of the Sonoma Paradiso Family Concert Series conducted by Richard Loheyde, the Santa Rosa Symphony will perform three children’s concerts in Weill Hall this season, starting at 3 p.m. Oct. 18 with “Music from Out of this World.” For tickets and more information, go to or call 546-8742.
The Symphony will perform four concerts at the Wells Fargo Center as part of its Symphony Pops Series, starting Oct. 25 with guest vocalist Dee Daniels performing standards from the “Great Ladies of Swing.” For tickets and more information, go to or call 546-3600.
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.
Double your pleasure

What: The Santa Rosa Symphony under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis opens its 88th season with twin pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10; 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11; and 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11, Discovery Open Rehearsal at at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10.

Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park

Tickets: $20 - $80 for concerts; $10 youth under 18, $15 adults, for the open rehearsal.
Reserve: 546-8742 or

2014 - 2015 Season

June 17, 2015: China trip a return for two members of SRS Youth Orchestra

by Eloisa Ruano Gonzalez, Press Democrat, June 17, 2015

Teresa and Mariah Alberigi were only months old when they were adopted from China.
The Santa Rosa girls, now 13 and 16, respectively, will return Wednesday to their birthland for the first time as part of a three-city tour with the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra, where they perform as violinists.

In its second international tour, the orchestra is spending a week in China, performing in concert halls in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai.

“I’m really excited,” said Teresa Alberigi, who has been playing the violin since she was 3. Born in the Jiangxi province, she said she’s not nervous returning to China but rather excited to be able to spend time with her friends sightseeing. The group will be visiting sites such as the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Xi’an. Mariah Alberigi, who was born in the Chinese province of Guangdong, said she is looking forward to performing at different concert halls in the country.

“Not many kids our age get to do that,” said Mariah, who has been playing the violin since she was 5.

Their mother, Kathleen Alberigi, called it a “miracle” that her girls, who are home-schooled, will be able to return to China and share with its citizens their love for music.

“For me, personally, it’s my way of saying thank you for the gift they gave us,” said Alberigi, who will be traveling with the Youth Orchestra as a chaperon.

The 48 young musicians, led by conductor Richard Loheyde, will perform works from Americana to classical, including the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, Morton Gould’s “American Salute,” and “An American in Paris Suite” by George Gershwin. They’ll also be performing the “Torch Festival” by Xilian Wang, a resident composer for the Beijing Philharmonic who will meet and rehearse with the youth group while in China.

“It’s the first time Santa Rosa will be heard, figuratively and literally, in the great concert halls of China,” said Alan Silow, executive director of the Santa Rosa Symphony.

Silow also will be accompanying the group, which was set to board a bus early Wednesday and head to San Francisco for a morning flight. They group will be away until June 25 and plan to post updates and pictures on the Santa Rosa Symphony website.

“To play in these concert halls and see the reaction of these Chinese audiences will be incredibly inspiring for these young musicians,” Silow said.

It’ll also be incredibly nerve-racking, said violinist Adam Dvorak, 15, who will be performing with the orchestra, along with his 14-year-old brother, John, who plays the trombone.“They warned us it’s quite different from audiences from here because the (Chinese) audience tends to talk,” Adam Dvorak said. “It might freak some of us out. Nobody ever talks in our performances.”

The rehearsal with Xilian looks to be another highlight of the trip. “We don’t know if he has a completely different idea on how it should be played,” said Dvorak, who will be a junior this fall at Maria Carrillo High School.

The tour cost a total of $250,000, Silow said. The orchestra was able to cover the expense through fundraising and support from the families, he said.

Kathleen Alberigi said her daughters took part in a summer internship and other programs, setting aside their earnings for the trip. They also played at weddings and other benefits with other members of the orchestra to raise money.

“The community has donated so generously that it’s allowed us to go,” she said. While on the trip, she can’t wait to go with her daughters to the Great Wall, an ancient gateway to China.

“That’s always been one of my dreams — that they play their violins at the Great Wall of China as a thank you,” Kathleen Alberigi said.

“It was the gateway to our daughters,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or On Twitter @eloisanews.

May 26, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra to tour China

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, May 26, 2015

In its second international tour, the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra will travel to China June 17 to 25 to perform in concert halls in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai.

Accompanied by conductor Richard Loheyde, staff and chaperones, the 50 musicians will also immerse themselves in the Chinese culture through excursions to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Museum and Workshop, West Lake, Yu Garden and more.

The SRS Youth Orchestra, which toured and performed in Eastern Europe in 2009 as part of its 50th anniversary, will perform a “Bon Voyage” concert at 7 p.m. June 6 at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall to support its “Musical Journey Through China.”

The program includes the fourth movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, the first and fourth movements of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 and Morton Gould’s “American Salute.” It also features a world premiere, Toccata for Orchestra, by local composer Benjamin Taylor; and “Torch Festival” by Chinese composer Wang Xilian, who will meet and rehearse with the youth orchestra in Beijing.
Tickets to the June 6 concert are $17 general, $12 for students and seniors. To reserve, call 546-8742 or go to

Currently in its 56th season, the Youth Orchestra is the most advanced of the four SRS Youth Ensembles. In 2013, violinist Lindsay Deutsch and her Classics Alive Foundation named the SRS Youth Orchestra “Youth Orchestra of the Year.”

May 18, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony and Musicians’ Union Sign Multi-Year Contract

by Press Democrat, May 18, 2015

The Santa Rosa Symphony Association and the Musicians’ Union Local 6 of the American Federation of Musicians have come to agreement on a five-year contract, extending from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2019. The agreement includes: the highest minimum guarantee of paid orchestral services among Northern California regional orchestras; total 14% service rate increase over five years; the addition of three string musicians, one each to the first violin, second violin and bass sections beginning in fiscal year 2015-2016; and the Orchestra Librarian position becomes a union position covered by the collective bargaining agreement. 

SRS Executive Director Alan Silow said, “The management and union teams worked diligently and respectfully to produce a new agreement that reflects a long-term commitment to insuring the artistic and financial health of the orchestra.”
About the Santa Rosa Symphony
Santa Rosa Symphony, the Resident Orchestra of the Green Music Center, is the third oldest professional orchestra in California, and the largest regional symphony north of Los Angeles. Bruno Ferrandis, who began his tenure in 2006, is the fourth Music Director in the organization’s history. The Santa Rosa Symphony (SRS) is committed to core values of artistic excellence, innovative programming and community service. This year the SRS contributed over $3.7 million into the local economy.

Currently in its 87th season, the Symphony’s performance schedule includes 21 Classical Series concerts (7 sets), 7 Discovery Dress Rehearsal concerts, a 3-concert Family Series and a 4-concert Pops Series, as well as special concerts. The Symphony is also recognized for having one of the most comprehensive music education programs in California, serving nearly 20,000 youth annually.

Collaborations with schools and organizations across Sonoma County have gained SRS national attention and support. Awards include: an American Symphony Orchestra League MetLife Award for Community Engagement; and a first place award for adventurous programming in the 2013-14 season from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

March 18, 2015: Pianist Olga Kern To Play With Santa Rosa Symphony

by Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat, March 18, 2015

Russian pianist Olga Kern leads a busy life, bouncing around the world from her home base in New York.

This month alone, she played a concert with the Boston Symphony, a recital in Seattle, then returned back to New York to spend time with her 15-year-old son, Vladislav. After appearing this weekend at Weill Hall, she will return to New York, then head off to Europe.

The pianist will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 this weekend with the Santa Rosa Symphony when she returns to the Green Music Center for the “Blaze of Russian Glory” program. Leos Janacek’s Overture to the opera “Kat’a Kabanova” and the 1945 version of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite” complete the all-Russian program.

When she last appeared with the Santa Rosa Symphony in May 2013, Kern tackled a more familiar piece by Rachmaninoff, his beloved Piano Concerto No. 2, arguably the most popular concerto of all time. After she was invited back, she floated the idea of a two-for-one.

“It’s always very exciting to be able to perform more than one concerto in one night,” she said. “It’s interesting for the public but also for a performer.”

By pairing two early concertos, she will be able to reveal the youthful side of both composers, who offer an interesting contrast of musical styles.

“Rachmaninoff’s first is such a masterpiece,” she said. “The melodies are so gorgeous, and the second movement is a piece of art. It’s one of the best melodies in all of Rachmaninoff’s music.”

For Kern, the challenge of the Rachmaninoff will be communicating the composer’s spirit.

“It’s important to capture the beauty and love and happiness and hope in his music,” she said.

With Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 1, a shorter piece, she will be trying to capture the sardonic side of the 20th-century composer, known for his angular melodies, rhythmic drive and satirical inclination.

“In Prokofiev, it’s a more sarcastic kind of laughter, especially in this concerto,” she said. “This is a very young person who is so excited about life... It’s full of great energy and makes you feel good.”

To keep up her own youthful energy, Kern said she tries to get out and walk as much as possible before a concert.

“I spend my free time walking around and trying to see something interesting, such as a museum,” she said. “It’s always very inspiring to see new cultures.”

Born in Moscow to two classical pianists, Kern gave her first concert at age 7 and won her first international competition at age 11. Her career really took off at age 17 after she won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition.

“I was performing everywhere after that, and I was very well known in Russia,” she said. “It was a really great time for me.”

Kern shot to international fame when she became the first woman in more than 30 years to win the gold medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2001.

The pianist was also featured in an award-winning 2002 TV documentary, “Playing on the Edge,” made about the competition.

“It’s really powerful and it shows everything... the different emotions and feelings and all the atmosphere at that time,” she said.

When she is home, Kern spends as much time as possible with her son, Vladislav, a pianist who is studying in Juilliard’s pre-college program. She is looking forward to performing Mozart’s Double Piano with him next season, as well as getting more involved with the Aspiration Foundation she founded in 2012 with her composer/conductor brother, Vladimir Kern.

“We already gave a lot of scholarships to talented musical kids, and we bought some instruments,” she said. “We are also giving special prizes to competitions.”

In 2016, she will serve as the chairman of the jury for the 7th Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition, open to both kids and adults. Her foundation will give a special prize.

In the fall of 2016, she will launch the Olga Kern Piano Competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico, aimed at young pianists on their way up.

“The competition involves the New Mexico Philharmonic in the final round, so this is really exciting,” she said. “They don’t have anything like this in that area, and it’s really beautiful there.”

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or

Original Article:

February 5, 2015: Santa Rosa Symphony to tango with Jofre

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, February 5, 2015

Argentinian musician Juan Pablo Jofre studied many kinds of musical instruments in his youth, including drums and guitar, piano and voice, before dedicating himself in his 20s to the bandoneon, a cousin to the concertina.

Now 31, Jofre balances his handmade, German instrument on his knee and performs it at classical concerts, from New York’s Lincoln Center to the venerable Celebrity Series of Boston, as well as at jazz festivals, where he plays his own form of progressive tango music.

“If you play classical music on it, it sounds like an organ in a church,” Jofre explained in a phone interview from his home in New York City. “It was invented to replace the organ in some of the poor churches.”

This weekend, Jofre will squeeze some brand new music from his bandoneon when he performs a world premiere of Pablo Ortiz’s Concerto for Bandoneon and Orchestra with the Santa Rosa Symphony. Jofre said he is proud and excited to debut a new piece written by his fellow Argentinean, Pablo Ortiz, who teaches composition at UC Davis.

The program led by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis opens with another rhythmic work, Danzon No. 2 for Orchestra, written in 1994 by Arturo Marquez of Mexico. Brahms’ sunny Symphony No. 2 in D major closes the program on a lilting note.

A cousin to the concertina, the bandoneon was brought from Germany to Argentina sometime around the turn of the 20th century and quickly insinuated itself into the tango orchestra. Eventually, it became synonymous with the music itself, which is performed to accompany the Argentine dance of the same name.

“If there’s no bandoneon, people no longer consider it tango,” Jofre said. “This instrument is like the stamp for tango music. It’s the main voice. It has the melody, it does the rhythm, it does everything.”
Considered the premier bandoneonista of the modern age, Jofre grew up in the city of San Juan in the center of Argentina, very close to the Chilean border in an agricultural province known for its wine and olive oil. Tango music was always in his ears.

“I grew up with my grandmother, and she used to listen to tango music from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day,” Jofre said. “It got stuck in my head. I had no choice.”

In the 20th century, Argentinian bandleader, composer and tango performer Anibal Troilo was a leading proponent of the bandoneon. Perhaps the best-known composer and performer was Astor Piazzola, who integrated the tango into many of his classical works.

“Tango is very melancholic and relaxed, it gives you time to think, and it’s very inspiring and sensual, too,” Jofre said. “At the same time, it has a lot of classical music influence, and that’s a great combination. People love it.”

One of the challenges of playing the bandoneon is that each button plays two notes: one when you pull the bellows out, and a different one when you push the bellows in. Since the left and right-hand keyboard layouts are different, that adds up to four different keyboards that must be memorized.
“We have to practice two keyboards opening and two keyboards closing,” Jofre explained. “The buttons can play the chords and the melody, like the piano.”

The instrument, named after German instrument dealer Heinrich Band, is a type of concertina that became particularly popular in Argentina, Uruguay and Lithuania. Though similar to an accordion, it has a sound that is a bit “sweeter,” Jofre said.

Composer Ortiz, who was commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony, consulted closely with Jofre while writing the new concerto.

“It was a beautiful experience to work with Pablo because he’s super open-minded,” Jofre said. “He was curious about how the instrument works... The instrument is very particular, because the keyboard doesn’t make any sense. “

Unlike the piano, the bandoneon buttons are not arranged in alphabetical order.
“In the piano, you have A-B-C, and you’re always moving to your right, as you go higher,” Jofre said. “In the bandoneon, it’s the opposite. You have a D, and the E is four keys ahead facing down, and it’s the opposite of what you are hearing.”

Written in three movements, the concerto opens with a moderately fast movement that provides a nice contrast to an expressive second movement.

“The first movement is beautiful because he creates very different melodies and different textures between the bandoneon and the other instruments of the orchestra,” Jofre said. “The second movement is a beautiful adagio that is very melodic.”

In the relentlessly fast finale, the composer weaves in a few tango melodies with an exciting orchestral accompaniment.

“It’s very upbeat,” Jofre said. “It’s very attractive and satisfying.”
When the bandoneon arrived in Argentina in the arms of either German or Italian sailors - no one knows exactly when it arrived or who brought it - the music of the tango was already being performed by a guitar playing the rhythm and a flute playing the melody. The bandoneon lent ballast to that sound.
“Back in the 1940s, the tango orchestras had six bandoneons,” Jofre said. “And in Buenos Aires in the ‘50s, the bigger music stores had hundreds of bandoneons.”

In these days of crossover music, with classical musicians such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing the tango, Jofre has gotten invitations to play the bandoneon all over the world, from Russia and Asia to Panama and Argentina, where his family owns many wineries.

“All over the world, people want to hear new things, and that’s very good,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are not many young players. I picked it up because I have an old soul.”
Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or

January 7, 2015: Fiddler Mark O’Connor to perform with Santa Rosa Symphony

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, January 7, 2015

Mark O'Connor will perform this weekend with the Santa Rosa Symphony as he and his wife, Maggie O'Connor, and his son, mandolinist Forrest O'Connor, finish their "An Appalachian Christmas" tour. (photo by Jim McGuire).

At age 13, Mark O’Connor was the youngest person to win the Grand Master Fiddler Championships, which snagged the teen-ager a spot on the popular TV series “Hee Haw.” By the age of 31, he had composed “The Fiddle Concerto,” his first full-length score for orchestra, which went on to become the most performed violin concerto composed in the last 40 years. “It’s the first of its kind that is influenced by American fiddling, not only from a thematic point of view, but from a musical language and a technical perspective,” he said. “It was really the immersion of American fiddling into a classical concerto composition.” Through the years, the talented fiddler has continued to straddle different musical genres and professions as a classical, bluegrass, jazz and country violinist, as well as an award-winning composer and music teacher. This weekend, the daring musical explorer will join the Santa Rosa Symphony for the first time, performing his popular “Fiddle Concerto” along with his Grammy-winning 1986 suite, “Strings and Threads,” originally composed for guitarist Sharon Isbin. He will perform the two-violin version with his wife, violinist Maggie O’Connor. “She’s going to play with me as a double violin with strings and orchestra,” O’Conner said by phone from Portland, Ore., where he was finishing up his “An Appalachian Christmas” tour along with Maggie and his son, mandolinist Forrest O’Connor. The three-concert Santa Rosa Symphony set, led by Guest Conductor Michael Christie, underscores the Americana theme of O’Connor’s works, offering up Aaron Copland’s Suite from “Billy the Kid” as the curtainopener and Copland’s endearing “El salon Mexico,” inspired by the percussion of the Latin dance pulse, as the closer. While O’Connor was influenced by Copland’s orchestrations, his starting point for composing was always the fiddle tunes and the fiddle language he first picked up as a young boy in Seattle, learning the musical ropes from American fiddler Benny Thomasson. “Copland used fiddle tunes, but he basically used the thematic content without it influencing the orchestra texture,” he said. “I have the language of a lot of American music under my fingers, so when I compose, I can draw from that and create a whole new piece. It’s different from anyone around me.” O’Connor’s musical journey began with classical violin training, but by the time he was 9 years old, he had branched out into folk music. By 11, he had started playing bluegrass fiddle music, and by 13, he was deep into jazz, which he studied with the famous French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. “I was steeped in all these pillars of musical training, including flamenco and Balkan music,” he said. “As a child, I had these four pillars: classical, world, folk and jazz.” O’Connor’s biggest breakthrough came when he first showed his fiddle-inspired composition, “Appalachian Waltz,” to classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Along with bassist Edgar Meyer, the trio went on to make a wildly popular recording by the same name, then spun off another album, “Appalachian Journey,” which received a Grammy Award in 2001. Together, the albums sold over a million copies, unprecedented in the genre of chamber music. “It changed the landscape of my career, and it changed the direction of how people viewed American string playing in a classical setting,” O’Connor said. “It just took off, like a new American classical music.” After those albums, he said, other musicians became more open to the possibilities of injecting classical music with the styles and inflections of America’s musical language. At that point, O’Connor decided to develop a curriculum that could teach beginner string students through the American music repertoire. This was a gap that he felt needed to be addressed, having held string and fiddle camps all over the country for decades. “The same reverence to Mozart in the conservatory was happening in 1900 as it was in 2000,” he said. “It was the status quo being copied over for generations.” With the O’Connor method, the fiddler has developed a series of five violin books, plus various other books for violists and cellists, as well as a certification program to train teachers of the method. The students learn good posture and intonation, and how to use the bow and move the fingers, all through the lens of the American repertoire. “If you become advanced, then you’ll need further training at anything,” he said. “But for children, the method puts the student in a very good position to have choices — whether to join the youth orchestra or a bluegrass band, or just improvise in jazz.” This summer, O’Conner and his wife will co-direct a new string camp in New York City, along with other string camps in Maine, Massachusetts and South Carolina. “There’s a whole other part of this that’s emerging, and that’s adult beginners,” he said. “They appreciate the instrument, and they love the repertoire. It’s inspiring to see multiple generations interested in learning, so it creates a new community, sharing the love of the instrument.” In his “Strings and Threads” suite, O’Conner will share a bit of his family history. The work incorporates the music of his mother’s side of the family — the Dutch who landed in New York, then went down to the Eastern Seaboard to Memphis, eventually landing in Seattle. It also includes pieces influenced by his dad’s Irish family, who settled in Minnesota in the 1940s, homesteaded in the Dakotas and Montana, then moved west to Seattle. “So Seattle is the merging of the two separate families,” he said. “The violins create a conversation with these pieces, which is quite beautiful.” One of the defining aspects of American music is the dominance of rhythmic energy over thematic content, O’Connor said. “When the Americans got hold of instruments, they were on fire with rhythm,” he said. “It’s really exciting to bring that to the bow, and it creates an incredible pulse and groove that has been missing in Western classical music.” You can reach writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or

November 20, 2014: Roseland elementary schoolers play violin with a master

by Jamie Hansen, Press Democrat, November 20, 2014

After school let out at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School in southwest Santa Rosa on Tuesday afternoon, the sound of 41 violins playing “Ode to Joy” echoed down the empty halls.

Forty of those violins were played by second- and third-graders participating in a program of the Santa Rosa Symphony, called Simply Strings, which kicked off last fall at Sheppard. It teaches elementary school students from disadvantaged backgrounds to play the instrument through hands-on instruction two hours a day, five days a week, for five years.

The 41st violin belonged to world-class musician Lindsay Deutsch, who stood among the students and paused occasionally from playing to correct a child’s grip on a bow.

Deutsch was in town for a five-day residency with the Santa Rosa Symphony’s youth ensembles, which include an orchestra and chamber orchestra. She chose Santa Rosa for her first in a series of residencies with young musicians because the organization she heads, the Classics Alive Foundation, named Santa Rosa’s orchestra Youth Orchestra of the Year.

Her foundation focuses on inspiring a love of classical music in a new generation. 

 “I love playing for kids,” she said. “Classical music is in a bit of an emergency right now. We have to make an effort to connect to another generation.”

Her visit will culminate when she performs as a soloist at a Saturday afternoon youth concert at Weill Hall at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center. In the days leading up to that performance, she rehearsed with the youth orchestra musicians and met with the students at Sheppard.

Deutsch kicked off her two-hour session there by playing a song for them on her 170-year-old violin. The 29-year-old Los Angeles resident, dressed in jeans, heels and a black button-up shirt, began with a flourish called a sforzando tremolo that prompted an involuntary, “What?” from one boy seated cross-legged on the ground. Another breathed, “Ohh.”

Afterward, she asked the kids, “Did you recognize that tune?”
“Yankee Doodle!” a couple children replied.
“Yes! I played it well enough to be recognized,” Deutsch said with a laugh.

She went on to tell them how she got interested in playing the violin: When she was 2, she watched famed violinist Itzhak Perlman perform with characters like Bert and Ernie on Sesame Street. She was hooked. She began playing violin when she was 4, practicing on a proxy instrument made from a tissue box and rubber-bands until then.

After listening to Deutsch, the students performed for her. The second-graders had been playing their instruments just three weeks after graduating from paper versions of the instruments, but nevertheless they lifted their bows and gamely performed some basic rhythms they’d learned, including one called “Pepperoni Pizza,” under the guidance of their teacher, Alex Volonts. Volonts plays viola with the Santa Rosa Symphony. Then, the more experienced third-graders joined in and they played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with Deutsch, filling the small classroom with the sound.

“Beautiful,” Deutsch said at the end.

Yuritizi Guerrero, 8, said she became interested in playing the violin after her class went to listen to the Santa Rosa Symphony last year.

“I heard many people play and I liked the sound,” she said.

Nobody else in her family plays the instrument, she said. She added that learning to play has been hard, but also nice.

She and 19 other second-graders were chosen as part of the second class of Simply Strings this fall. Families are asked to commit to being involved for five years when they join the program, said Ben Taylor, education director for the Santa Rosa Symphony. Each year, they plan to add another class of 20 second-graders until they have 100 participants.

If students complete the program, they will be offered tuition-free membership in one of the symphony’s youth ensembles, Taylor said. Those ensembles are a training program for the adult orchestra.
“We really want them to benefit from the program and we want our program to benefit by bringing another part of the community into the fold,” he said.

Simply Strings is part of a musical movement called El Sistema that began in Venezuela and is now spreading around the United States. It teaches classical music to disadvantaged children as a way to improve their academics and provide more social opportunities.
Christina Penrose, community engagement manager for the symphony, studied the movement in graduate school and helped bring the program, funded by grants and donations, to Santa Rosa. The next closest program is at El Verano Elementary in Sonoma, Taylor said.

His organization chose Sheppard Elementary because it had strong community involvement while also having many socially or economically disadvantaged kids, he said.

“We wanted to start at a place where we felt the program had a good opportunity for success and impact,” he said. To gauge the success of the program, the symphony is tracking students’ progress through family interviews and report card evaluations and comparing the results with those of students who are not participating in Simply Strings.

“We view this really as a social program,” Taylor said. “Learning violin is not the goal, it’s the method. We are dedicated to students becoming outstanding young citizens and contributing to community,” he said.

Staff Writer Jamie Hansen blogs about education at You can reach her at 521-5205 or On Twitter @jamiehansen.

October 22, 2014: Santa Rosa Symphony marks a decade of pops concerts

by Charlie Swanson, North Bay Bohemian, October 22, 2014

Drummer and conductor Michael Berkowitz has amassed a stunning array of credits in his career. From being one of the busiest studio and television drummers in 1970s Los Angeles, to his time performing and conducting on Broadway, Berkowitz has seen it all and worked with legendary stars and musicians.
This week, as the principle pops conductor for the Santa Rosa Symphony, Berkowitz presents a retrospective look at the work of Marvin Hamlisch, one of his closest friends. "The Way They Were: A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch and Barbra Streisand" kicks off the symphony's 10th season of pops concerts, a series that highlights contemporary scores from film and theater. Speaking by phone, Berkowitz shares details of his relationship with the late conductor and composer.

"This is really a tribute to Marvin, and because he had such a great relationship with Barbra Streisand, I wanted to do more than just the music he wrote for Broadway and whatnot," says Berkowitz.
Hamlisch and Streisand first met on the set of Funny Girl, where Hamlisch was the rehearsal pianist and assistant vocal arranger. "I wanted to portray that. So we're doing a number of songs from Funny Girl, and also we're doing things that Marvin conducted for her, such as the overture to her 1994 concert tour."
Berkowitz's relationship with Hamlisch began in 1980, after moving to New York, where Hamlisch gave him his first break at conducting. "I had recently moved and he needed a drummer," recalls Berkowitz. "I was the drummer one week, and two weeks after that I became the conductor because the regular conductor wasn't available and [Hamlisch] said, 'Let's just use Mike.'"

For 10 years, Berkowitz was the musical director, conductor and drummer for Hamlisch, who continued to score with a string of hits for film and stage alike. Hamlisch is one of only a dozen people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award, collectively known as an EGOT. The composer passed away in 2012, at the age of 68.

"He was incredibly brilliant," remembers Berkowitz. "And we were personal friends, which was great."
With this upcoming concert, vocalist Haven Burton will join Berkowitz and the Santa Rosa Symphony, fresh off a starring role in the Broadway production of the Cyndi Lauper musical Kinky Boots. There will be heartfelt tributes, joyful music and plenty of surprises in store for this upcoming performance. Before the show, Berkowitz will host a one-hour talk about the afternoon's concert and share stories from his career.

Symphony Pops: 'The Way They Were: A Tribute to Marvin Hamlisch and Barbra Streisand' is presented by the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. 3pm. $37–$80. 707.546.3600.

October 3, 2014: Santa Rosa Symphony season starts with Richard Strauss homage

by Dan Taylor, Press Democrat, October 3, 2014

When Bruno Ferrandis talks about the new Santa Rosa Symphony season, opening next weekend at Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, the orchestra’s music director and conductor starts to speak faster and louder as he goes along. His enthusiasm is electric.

“It should be a fantastic season,” he said by phone from his home in Paris. “It is a great experience for me to perform in Santa Rosa in that amazing hall. Weill Hall is so acoustically accurate and precise, you hear every instrument.”

The season opens with Russian-born pianist Yevgeny Sudbin’s appearance at Weill Hall, playing Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5, also known as the “Emperor Concerto.”

“Currently it is my project to record all of the Beethoven concertos and play them in concert, so I am quite connected to the music,” Subdin said by phone.

“The fifth concerto is the last one,” Subdin said, “and it is probably Beethoven’s most mature work, although the nickname, ‘Emperor Concerto’ was not actually given by Beethoven but by somebody else, probably his publisher.”

The fifth Beethoven concerto has a colorful history, Ferrandis said.

“The French, under Napoleon, were invading Vienna, while Beethoven was trying to finish composing the concerto, so he took refuge with his brother,” he said. “The legends say that he was in a cellar, trying to protect himself from the cannons.”

The opening program of the season also includes an homage to the 150th anniversary of the birth of the German composer Richard Strauss, best-known to many Americans for “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” used as the theme for the 1968 movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
For the symphony’s opening trio of concerts, running Oct. 11-13, Ferra
ndis has chosen a different Strauss piece, “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks,” named for a German folk hero.
Continuing the theme of the season’s first program, titled “Heroes and Legends,” the orchestra also will play the overture from Richard Wagner’s opera “Tannhauser” and Bela Bartok’s “The Miraculous Mandarin.”

“This program is based on the idea of heroes,” Ferrandis explained. “Even ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’ is an anti-hero, a very important guy who ends up being pathetic, and made fun of. So it’s a mixture of heroes. When I program music, I always want to have contrasts.”

The rest of the symphony season includes:
“Poetic Inspiration,” Nov. 8-10: The program opens with Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” followed by Henri Dutilleux’s Concerto for Cello, “Whole Different World,” played by German cellist Christian Poltera, and ends with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.

“Angelic Voices,” Dec. 6-8: The Augsburg Cathedral Boys Choir from Bavaria performs a cappella, and four operatic solo vocalists also will be featured. The program also includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Mass in C major, “Coronation,” and Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, “Pulcinella.”

“Wild West,” Jan. 10-12: The all-American program, with guest conductor Michael Christie of the Minnesota Opera, includes Aaron Copeland’s “Billy the Kid” and “El Salon Mexico.” Guest jazz, folk and classical violinist Mark O’Connor will play his own compositions, “Fiddle Concerto” and “Strings and Threads.”

“An Exotic Mix,” Feb. 7-9: Juan Pablo Jofre, master of the accordion-like bandoneon, performs in the world premiere of the “Concerto for Bandoneon,” and the Mexican composer’s “Danzon No. 3.”

“Blaze of Russian Glory,” March 21-23: Keyboard virtuoso Olga Kern plays two Russian concertos, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The orchestra will play Leos Janacek’s overture to his opera, “Kat’a Kabvanova”, Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite” and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.

“Monumental Matter,” May 2-4: Gustav Mahler’s long Symphony No. 3, with six movements, will take up the entire program. The concert features mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, the Women’s Chorus of the Santa Rosa Symphony Honor Choir and the Santa Rosa Children’s Chorus.

The Santa Rosa Symphony also will present the Sonoma Paradiso Family Concert series and concerts by the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and Young People’s Chamber Orchestra.

2013 - 2014 Season

May 14, 2014: Kahane to perform with Santa Rosa Symphony

Kahane to perform with Santa Rosa Symphony
May 14, 2014 - Press Democrat

March 21, 2014: World premiere of work for viola

World premiere of work for viola
March 21, 2014 - Press Democrat

March 18, 2014: Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa Symphony Celebate Pops 10th Anniversary

Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, Santa Rosa Symphony Celebate Pops 10th Anniversary
March 18, 2014 - Classical World

February 28, 2014: Power of Music: Midori

Power of Music: Midori
February 28, 2014 - Press Democrat

February 28, 2014: KDFC State of the Arts – Midori

KDFC State of the Arts – Midori
February 28, 2014 - Classical KDFC Radio online blog

January 31, 2014: Kitaro: A New Age Pioneer

Kitaro: A New Age Pioneer
January 31, 2014 - Press Democrat

January 15, 2014: Wu Man presents new Pipa Concerto and Sonoma glows

Wu Man presents new Pipa Concerto and Sonoma glows
January 15, 2014 - Classical Voice North America

January 10, 2014: Pipa Master: Wu Man

Pipa Master: Wu Man
January 10, 2014 - Press Democrat

October 4, 2013: Familiar faces in symphony season: "Encores & Debuts" in 2013-14

Familiar faces in symphony season: "Encores & Debuts" in 2013-14
October 4, 2013 - Press Democrat

2012 - 2013 Season

June 20, 2013: SR Symphony naps top award

SR Symphony naps top award
June 20, 2013 - Community Voice

May 11, 2013: Ferrandis Always Delivers

Ferrandis Always Delivers
May 11, 2013 - The Viking View

November 28, 2012: Congressional Record text: Honoring the Santa Rosa Symphony

Congressional Record text: Honoring the Santa Rosa Symphony
November 28, 2012 - Capitol Words, Sunlight Foundation

November 28, 2012: SR Symphony presents Titans of Opera

SR Symphony presents Titans of Opera
November 28, 2012 - Press Democrat

October 31, 2012: The Green Music Center's Petaluma connection

The Green Music Center's Petaluma connection
October 31, 2012 - Argus-Courier

October 23, 2012: Kids' Concerts at Green Center: 'Snoopy and Friends' kicks off family series at new Weill Hall

Kids' Concerts at Green Center: 'Snoopy and Friends' kicks off family series at new Weill Hall
October 23, 2012 - Press Democrat

October 23, 2012: SR Symphony opens in new venue

SR Symphony opens in new venue
October 23, 2012 - Diane Peterson

October 1, 2012: Califormia Dreaming II

Califormia Dreaming II
October 1, 2012 -

September 30, 2012: California Dreaming

California Dreaming
September 30, 2012 -

2011 - 2012 Season

May 31, 2012: Sandy Weill announces Carnegie Hall partnerships with SSU, Santa Rosa Symphony

Sandy Weill announces Carnegie Hall partnerships with SSU, Santa Rosa Symphony
May 31, 2012 - Press Democrat

February 23, 2012: To the Rafters: Santa Rosa Symphony to kick off 85th season in new concert hall

To the Rafters: Santa Rosa Symphony to kick off 85th season in new concert hall
February 23, 2012 - North Bay Bohemian

February 9, 2012: Darby Hinshaw to play the giddy side of Mozart with Santa Rosa Symphony

Darby Hinshaw to play the giddy side of Mozart with Santa Rosa Symphony
February 9, 2012 - Press Democrat

February 9, 2012: Santa Rosa Symphony announces inaugural season at Green Music Center

Santa Rosa Symphony announces inaugural season at Green Music Center
February 9, 2012 - Press Democrat

January 3, 2012: Lang Lang will be first on Green Center stage

Lang Lang will be first on Green Center stage
January 3, 2012 - Press Democrat

December 9, 2011: A "Jubilant" Voice

A "Jubilant" Voice
December 9, 2011 - Press Democrat

November 9, 2011: Tristan Arnold Rises from the Ranks

Tristan Arnold Rises from the Ranks
November 9, 2011 - San Francisco Classical Voice

2010 - 2011 Season

May 5, 2011: Second Career for Ace Pianist Jon Nakamatsu

Second Career for Ace Pianist Jon Nakamatsu
May 5, 2011 - Press Democrat

March 22, 2011: Sonoma State receives $12 million

Sonoma State receives $12 million
March 22, 2011 - Business Journal

March 22, 2011: SSU gets $12 million for Green Music Center

SSU gets $12 million for Green Music Center
March 22, 2011 - Press Democrat

February 22, 2011: Santa Rosa Symphony tries to drum up music in schools

Santa Rosa Symphony tries to drum up music in schools
February 22, 2011 - Press Democrat

January 20, 2011: Guitarist Sharon Isbin to star with Santa Rosa Symphony

Guitarist Sharon Isbin to star with Santa Rosa Symphony
January 20, 2011 - Press Democrat

January 14, 2011: Violist's passion for early music

Violist's passion for early music
January 14, 2011 - Press Democrat

December 6, 2010: Hitting the right note: Students get chance to sing with the pros

Hitting the right note: Students get chance to sing with the pros
December 6, 2010 - Press Democrat

November 1, 2010: Santa Rosa Symphony's 83rd Season has a distinctively international flavor

Santa Rosa Symphony's 83rd Season has a distinctively international flavor
November 1, 2010 - Press Democrat

November 1, 2010: Linda Ghidossi-Deluca leaves Symphony

Linda Ghidossi-Deluca leaves Symphony
November 1, 2010 - Press Democrat

2009 - 2010 Season

May 6, 2010: Ute Lemper Sings in Santa Rosa

Ute Lemper Sings in Santa Rosa
May 6, 2010 - Press Democrat

May 5, 2010: Sin and Satire: Ute Lemper on Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins

Sin and Satire: Ute Lemper on Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins
May 5, 2010 - Gabe Meline

March 22, 2010: His Own Beat: Allen Biggs

His Own Beat: Allen Biggs
March 22, 2010 - Press Democrat

February 11, 2010: Santa Rosa Symphony Remembers the Past: Music in Remembrance of Japanese American Internment

Santa Rosa Symphony Remembers the Past: Music in Remembrance of Japanese American Internment
February 11, 2010 - Santa Rosa Symphony

February 9, 2010: Persian Myths and A Polish Romantic

Persian Myths and A Polish Romantic
February 9, 2010 - San Francisco Classical Voice

January 20, 2010: Grammy-Winning JoAnn Falletta is Santa Rosa Symphony guest conductor

Grammy-Winning JoAnn Falletta is Santa Rosa Symphony guest conductor
January 20, 2010 - Press Democrat

October 30, 2009: Kahane Returns for Season Opener

Kahane Returns for Season Opener
October 30, 2009 - Press Democrat

Contact Us

Administrative Office:
50 Santa Rosa Ave
Suite 410
Santa Rosa CA 95404
Phone:  (707) 546-7097

Patron Services | Box Office:
Phone: (707) 546-8742


Request A Season Brochure