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2019-2020 Season

February 11, 2020: Matt Browne’s First Symphony Highlights a Stellar Turn by the Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Steve Osborn, February 11, 2020 - San Francisco Classical Voice

Sunday’s performance by the Santa Rosa Symphony offered a healthy dose of 21st-century music firmly rooted in the 19th. Matt Browne’s first symphony, “The Course of Empire,” is inspired by The Course of Empire series of five paintings by Thomas Cole, the artist who founded the Hudson River School of American painting in the 1820s. The orchestral work employs a diverse collection of 19th-century melodic snippets to recount the familiar narrative of an empire’s rise and fall.
Browne’s method is uncannily similar to that of Charles Ives, who interspersed his symphonies with direct quotations from folk songs, popular melodies, and military marches. But, as in the case of Ives, there is much more to Browne’s patchwork quilt than musical quotations.
Browne’s own contributions to “The Course of Empire” include his compelling musical narrative, his dazzling orchestration, and his incessant invention. The narrative begins in the first painting/movement, titled “The Savage State” by Cole, but “Ascension” by Browne. The story, which centers on a deer hunt by ancient ancestors, begins at sunrise with the pianissimo caressing of a bass drum, soon joined by equally quiet strings in the upper registers. A horn uses four widely spaced intervals to evoke a distant crag, leading into an increasingly dense texture that congeals into a strong motive from the lower strings. The chase is on as the motive gives way to a propulsive beat. A brass fanfare marks the successful end of the hunt, punctuated by another widely spaced interval from the horns.
This kind of narrative pervades the next four movements, with Cole’s title in quotes and Browne’s in parentheses: “The Pastoral or Arcadian State” (Pastoral), “The Consummation of Empire” (Apotheosis), “Destruction” (Hubris), and “Desolation” (Ephemera). The musical content hews so closely to the original paintings that it’s hard to understand why Browne chose new titles.
Titular quibbles aside, the music is consistently rewarding, and the Symphony’s performance thereof was superb. The lilting peasant dance in the “Pastoral” movement serves as a foil for increasingly dense and skillful orchestration that intertwines several musical ideas. The dramatic contrasts of “Apotheosis” artfully depict the many forces at work in a consummated empire. Here the Ivesian influence is most evident, with a snippet from a fife-and-drum corps, for example, leading to an impassioned Welsh hymn. Ominous sounds of brewing war dominate the ending, with the snare drum suggesting machine guns and the low brass a surging army.
The ensuing “Hubris” (Destruction) movement begins with a tremendous crash, followed by rapid figuration in the strings. The forward motion is palpable, accented by occasional glissandi and increasingly desperate tempi. The sound moves through the orchestra like fire. Only in the final “Ephemera” (Desolation) movement does the pace let up, replaced by a glittering sheen of sound. A lonely air from the violas sets the desolate mood, which slowly transforms into a hint of optimism, buoyed by folk songs and an apparent rebirth of nature that one surmises will lead to the savage state of the opening movement. It’s quite a journey.
Not content with one masterwork, conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong opened the program with a sparkling rendition of Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3. The tension of the first few bars, with their sustained notes and descending lines, resolved seamlessly into the main theme. The tempo was brisk, and the dynamics carefully controlled. Lecce-Chong’s insistence on precise articulation allowed Beethoven’s compelling structure to shine through. None of that, however, prepared one for the distant trumpet solo from behind the balcony, a truly operatic gesture.
More operatic gestures unfolded in the second half of the concert, devoted entirely to Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto under the agile fingers of Natasha Paremski. Much ink and celluloid has been devoted to the Romantic glories of this titanic clash between piano and orchestra, but it never ceases to amaze. Paremski, clad in an Oscar-worthy dress, high heels, and with waist-length blond hair, added glamour simply by walking onstage.

Once seated, Paremski peered straight ahead and plugged her fingers directly into the Fazioli piano. She projected well, and connected the notes: Her phrasing was seamless. Even more striking was the amount of power she exerted on the lower notes, which resounded throughout the hall. She was in total control.
The first movement’s lengthy cadenza turned into an astounding display of prestidigitation. Just when you think Paremski’s fingers can’t move any faster, she turns up the wattage. Paremski proved equally soothing in the languid Adagio movement, cultivating a graceful and undulant sound. More dynamic contrast would have helped her cause, but the effect was nonetheless transcendent. The sudden transition to the “alla breve” (cut time) finale sent Paremski into swaying motion. She was by turns a pixie weaving dainty filigrees of notes in the upper keyboard, then a blazing meteor headed straight from the outer reaches to an earth-shattering crash on the lowest keys of the piano. For that Newtonian action, the reaction was equal and immediate: The audience leaped to its feet with a roar.

Steve Osborn, a children's writer by day, moonlights as a violist and music critic.

February 10, 2020: Matt Browne's Priceless Subtlety

By: Paul Hertelendy, February 10, 2020 - ARTSSF

Composer Matt Browne will hate me for this, but I’m lavishing all my superlatives on his “Ephemera” finale of his new Symphony No. 1.

His deft segment portraying the aftermath and total abandonment of a collapsed empire is a testament of total tranquility, tickling the ear tantalizingly with pearly droplets: a strum on a harp, a discreet lozenge from the piano, select notes on a vibraphone, and the viola section (so often taken for granted) waxing from the heart, all by itself. The subtlety inexorably absorbs the listener.

This iridescent beauty in “Ephemera” is as rare as it is unique, a priceless instrumental porcelain that whispers softly to be displayed and preserved in velvet. Yes indeed, pearls can be falling from the sky. Many composers can produce great cadences or thunderous finales, but who ever dares to understate his musical poetry with footnote-sized sonic droplets?

“Yes, (this) is much harder to play,” Browne conceded. “But they really nailed it,” referring to the Santa Rosa Symphony at the world premiere. Meriting citation for “Ephemera” were the principals on harp (Dan Levitan), piano (Kymry Esainko) and vibraphone (Allen Biggs), and certainly Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong, taking his audience into this stunning glowworm cave.

The rest of Browne’s 39-minute, five-movement world premiere was more predictable, many of its textures somewhere between 20th-century music of Morton Gould and Ferde Grofé, with some quotes of early American tunes and fife-and-drum corps in the manner of Charles Ives. Browne starts with a scene of early hunter-gatherers, ascends with ardor to the glorious height of the empire, then comes crashing down chaotically with choice dissonances. All in all, it’s a grand but very inconsistent musical statement.

The didactic model for the symphony was a set of paintings: Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire,” created two centuries ago. One would hope that it depicted the rise and fall of past nation-states like Rome, and not foreshadowing the ultimate decline of any country we’re familiar with nowadays!

Kudos to the Santa Rosans and to Lecce-Chong for this demanding set of commissions pairing with other orchestras, in which Vermonter Browne, 31, is but the first of four “unknowns” being tapped to produce their First Symphonies. Browne attended and took bows.

The co-attraction heard Feb. 8 was what is often cited as the most difficult piano concerto in all the repertoire: Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, familiarly referred to as “Rach 3.” This brought on the indefatigable Russian-American artist Natasha Paremski, who despite a slender frame managed all the power and velocity to carry off this heavily chordal tour de force (and no wrong notes at all discernible). What challenge is still unfulfilled——her pulling the grand piano off the stage alone, using only fingertips? Especially impressive was her 1st-movement cadenza, a lengthy solo with sonic lightning strikes.

Could be the toughest concerto, but it’s not the most original. The opening theme on piano octaves is a quotation of an old Russian orthodox hymn.

The orchestra has come into its own with the new Weill Hall a few miles from home and with the new self-effacing leader Lecce-Chong, who has brought new dimensions and stimulating visions to this group.

The concert had opened with Beethoven’s skillful condensation of an entire opera, the “Leonore Overture No. 3,” where the trumpet calls for the hero’s salvation from the dungeon were perfectly made by Scott Macomber, stationed in the far-off hall of the upper balcony.

Santa Rosa Symphony with world premiere of Matt Browne’s Symphony No. 1, “The Course of Empire,” Francesco Lecce-Chong music director. Weill Hall, Sonoma State Univ., Rohnert Park, CA, Feb. 8-10. For SRS info, call (707) 546-8742 or go online:

January 14, 2020: Violinist Simone Porter aspires to stardom with Santa Rosa Symphony

By: , January 14, 2020 - Steve Osborn, San Francisco Classical Voice

The Sibelius Violin Concerto in D Minor is one of several mountains that violin soloists need to ascend before they can lay claim to stardom. Hundreds make the attempt every year, but only a few reach the top. Simone Porter, who played the concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Sunday afternoon, got close, but didn’t quite summit.

Porter wore a red jumpsuit that complemented her athleticism and musicality. She was often in motion, whether bending at the knees to gather strength or bolting upright to reach the highest notes on her instrument. Her movements often paralleled her phrasing, with forward surges or backward steps marking phrase beginnings and endings.

The main story, however, was Porter’s gorgeous sound, particularly on the lower strings. Her low notes at the beginning of the concerto’s first movement were simply stupendous. She could have stayed down there for the entire concerto, so awesome was the sound.

Nonetheless, Porter moved on to the upper strings, complementing her basso profundo with exquisite phrasing somewhere north of high C. It was a visceral performance aided and abetted by flawless bowing and vibrato. Her bow arm was a marvel of fluidity.

The highlight of the first movement was a passage near the end that Porter played entirely on the G string while effortlessly shifting up and down the fingerboard. The closing presto was nearly as riveting, and the audience, including me, burst into indecorous applause at the end.

Sadly, the slow second movement didn’t live up to the sprightly first. The horn entries were sometimes ragged, and the orchestra was often too loud, covering Porter to a certain degree. Worse still, the tempo began to plod in the middle, but both Porter and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong made a full recovery in time for the emotional ending.

The third movement was a mixed bag. Porter played the main theme beautifully, really digging in to the repeated downbows that punctuate the movement. But her many upper-register runs were sometimes rough, with dubious intonation on the highest notes and a lack of clarity in the fastest passages. The beauty and urgency of her playing, however, brought her close to the top. Stardom for Porter is a definite possibility, but she needs some fine tuning.

Sticking with the tried and true, Lecce-Chong conducted Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 after intermission. Attention shifted to the orchestra, where full participation is needed to unveil Brahms’s intricate and monumental construction. The strings began with assurance, producing a lush but crisp sound in the opening bars. Lecce-Chong’s gestures on the podium were compact and exact, displaying a lapidary polish and precision. You could close your eyes and imagine a bucolic alpine meadow, surrounded by imposing mountains.

The cellos opened the second movement with an expansive line that warmly embraced a limpid solo by horn principal Meredith Brown. Suddenly, everything was moving at once, with each line distinct and easily heard. Lecce-Chong achieved clarity amid Brahms’s density, allowing each section its moment in the sun. A wonderful pause near the end actually increased the dramatic intensity.

The exactitude and precision continued in the remaining movements. In the third, the dynamics were superb, the melodies playful and lilting. In contrast, the fourth was rollicking and tumultuous, with a staggering level of artistic invention on display. Lecce-Chong captured just the right spirit by eschewing overly dramatic gestures and keeping to the task at hand. It’s hard to imagine a better performance.

Unfortunately, I was a few minutes late to the concert because of a forgotten ticket, so I had to watch the opening piece — Missy Mazzoli’s Sinfonia — on a closed-circuit TV in the lobby. It sounded interesting, but that’s as far as I can go.

Steve Osborn, a children's writer by day, moonlights as a violist and music critic

December 10, 2019: Everlasting Light at Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Steve Osborn, December 10, 2019 - San Francisco Classical Voice

The Mozart Requiem includes four intermittent vocal soloists, but the real star is the choir, which is featured in almost every movement. That stardom shone bright at the Santa Rosa Symphony’s memorable Requiem performance on Monday night, Dec. 9. The soloists were good, but the choir — Sonoma State University Symphonic Chorus — was superb. Located within the orchestra instead of in the choir loft, the choristers were fully integrated into the sonic texture, aided in no small part by their excellent diction and well-controlled dynamics.
Instead of the standard Sussmayer version of Mozart’s unfinished masterpiece, maestro Francesco Lecce-Chong chose a contemporary version by musicologist Robert Levin. The differences are mostly subtle, but Levin adds a fully embellished “Amen” fugue at the end of the “Lacrimosa” section and tinkers with the “Sanctus.” The tinkering works, but the new fugue sounds more Baroque than Mozartean.
Those quibbles aside, the performance was nearly transcendent, displaying Mozart’s genius and humanity at its most profound. Conducting without a score, Lecce-Chong displayed complete command of every measure, eliciting a crisp sound from the orchestra and expressive singing from the choir. The articulation from both players and singers was knife-edged, with every note and syllable distinct. The tempos were brisk and steady.
Standout moments included the “Dies Irae,” which took off like a rocket. The choir’s eyes were glued to Lecce-Chong rather than buried in their scores, and they reacted swiftly to his graceful cues. The subsequent “Tuba Mirum” moved at a similarly brisk pace and featured strong solos from bass Philip Skinner and trombonist Amy Bowers. The vocal quartet in the “Recordare” was fine, but the top three singers’ limits became evident over the course of the movement. Soprano Shawnette Sulker had too much vibrato and seemed preoccupied with her score; alto Laura Krumm had good tone but was drowned out; tenor Benjamin Brecher had a sweet sound, but his voice was often constricted. As in the “Tuba Mirum,” bass Philip Skinner proved the most consistent.
Lecce-Chong took a long pause at the end of the new “Amen” section, perhaps to gather his forces for the majestic “Domine Jesu” and “Hostias,” which really cooked. Everyone on stage was swept up by the conductor’s relentless energy, as each gorgeous phrase flowed into the next. The momentum carried into the “Sanctus,” whose “Hosanna in excelsis” lines were downright rollicking. In the “Agnus Dei,” the choir showed off its precise articulation, enunciating “qui tollis peccata mundi” with clarion fervor. The final words of the Requiem — “et lux perpetua luceat eis” (let everlasting light shine upon them) — lived up to their double meaning, referring not only to the light of heaven, but also to Mozart’s eternal genius.
Genius of another kind inhabited the first half of the concert, which opened with a sparkling performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 39. Lecce-Chong conducted the reduced ensemble (strings, four horns, two oboes, and bassoon) while standing before an elevated fortepiano, on which he interpolated occasional unscored continuo parts. The fortepiano was mostly inaudible, but it did rise to the occasion when the strings played pianissimo.
Haydn’s symphony is a real gem, as deserving of respect as his later efforts. The orchestra opens very quietly, with pregnant, jokey rests between phrases. Despite the quietude, the ensemble bristled with energy that carried over into the later, louder sections. The Andante second movement was spare, elegant and courtly, with bows in perfect sync. A unified, reverberant sound from the strings dominated the Minuet and continued in the dramatic Allegro di molto finale, where the players spun off a series of exemplary runs at a furious pace.
Furious pacing was nowhere in evidence in the next work, Records from a Vanishing City, by contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery. In his introduction, Lecce-Chong said the piece “creates a sense of place” by recreating the “white noise” the composer heard while growing up in the lower east side of Manhattan. Lecce-Chong’s description turned out to be accurate, but unfortunately the piece never went beyond atmospherics.
Montgomery is clearly skilled at orchestration, and the density of her sound is remarkable. Nonetheless, her basic modus operandi is to place solos atop a constantly shifting cloud of sound. The results were often beautiful, but the piece never went anywhere, and development was hard to detect.  

Steve Osborn, a children's writer by day, moonlights as a violist and music critic.

November 4, 2019: Musical Extravagance in unique SRS concert in Weill Hall

By: Terry McNeill, November 4, 2019 - Classical Sonoma

Once again, widespread disruptions threw a monkey wrench into the Santa Rosa Symphony concerts, this time from the Kincade Fire.
Once again, evacuations (for 180,000) and power outages forced losing rehearsals, with one of the play-ins, believe it or not, held in a casino out of necessity.

But, as in 2017, the plucky SRS sucked it up, bounced back, and gamely played a slightly curtailed program. The musical reprise toward restoring normal life, full-speed-ahead, proved both moving and inspiring.

“Let our music be the beacon of light,” declared SRS President Alan Silow, telling of the recent buffetings that “touch the common chord in all of us.”
An ovation ensued when he said that complimentary concert tickets would go to all the first responders, to “express the feelings and understanding in our hearts.”

The performances, played under duress, have had a therapeutic effect on a battered community subjected to glancing blows, uncertainty and partial evacuations. Musicians were suddenly like tow-truck operators, waiting by their phones to learn where their next rehearsal would occur. The players and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong rose to the occasion, adding a touching audience singalong “God Bless America” as prelude to the concert we heard Nov. 3.

The SRS capped the concert with a rousing Mussorgsky-Ravel “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This is one of the most colorful-pictorial orchestrations ever created, with Ravel the master colorist featuring piccolo at the top, contrabassoon at the bottom, and in between many solos and rarities including saxophone and euphonium (which is brass, much like baritone horn and Wagner tuba). After Ravel, the multi-hued orchestral spectrum was no longer just red-yellow-blue.

The festive program had begun with the spirited cowboy-western “Hoe Down” from Copland’s “Rodeo” ballet.

New Yorker Béla Fleck is a veteran banjo virtuoso named after the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, best known for his solo appearances at clubs and recital venues. His long and upbeat career has been tied to the instrument which, while short on feelings and reflection, is masterful in rapid runs by a nimble and accurate player like him—no laid-back strumming here! Fleck is a much better soloist than a composer, as demonstrated in Fleck’s three-movement, 30-minute “Juno Concerto for Banjo,” where the expected jazz inflections were few. His orchestral writing is meager and too reminiscent of Copland’s.

But as a player, Fleck’s fingers can fly like a supersonic jet, providing melodic lines and accompaniment simultaneously, as if in duet. The agility in runs is quite breath-taking, particularly in his cadenza. Perpetuum mobile effects added contrast.

The performances were not without blemish; even the medley encore by banjo virtuosos Béla Fleck misfired when his strings refused to stay in tune.

In his first full season here, Music Director Lecce-Chong demonstrated professional assurance, poise, and baton technique, leading an enlarged orchestra though the thickets of nature in revolt. And, for a parched Northern California that is bone-dry since spring, recurrences are possible until the first rains of the fall, not yet on the horizon. The next concert set awaits on Dec. 7-9 with the Mozart Requiem—accompanied by incessant drumming of rain on the roof, one would hope.

November 4, 2019: Symphony Restoring Vitality

By: Paul Hertelendy, November 4, 2019 - ARTSSF

Once again, widespread disruptions threw a monkey wrench into the Santa Rosa Symphony concerts, this time from the Kincade Fire.

Once again, evacuations (for 180,000) and power outages forced losing rehearsals, with one of the play-ins, believe it or not, held in a casino out of necessity.
But, as in 2017, the plucky SRS sucked it up, bounced back, and gamely played a slightly curtailed program. The musical reprise toward restoring normal life, full-speed-ahead, proved both moving and inspiring.
“Let our music be the beacon of light,” declared SRS President Alan Silow, telling of the recent buffetings that “touch the common chord in all of us.”
An ovation ensued when he said that complimentary concert tickets would go to all the first responders, to “express the feelings and understanding in our hearts.”
The performances, played under duress, have had a therapeutic effect on a battered community subjected to glancing blows, uncertainty and partial evacuations. Musicians were suddenly like tow-truck operators, waiting by their phones to learn where their next rehearsal would occur. The players and conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong rose to the occasion, adding a touching audience singalong “God Bless America” as prelude to the concert we heard Nov. 3.
The SRS capped the concert with a rousing Mussorgsky-Ravel “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This is one of the most colorful-pictorial orchestrations ever created, with Ravel the master colorist featuring piccolo at the top, contrabassoon at the bottom, and in between many solos and rarities including saxophone and euphonium (which is brass, much like baritone horn and Wagner tuba). After Ravel, the multi-hued orchestral spectrum was no longer just red-yellow-blue.
The festive program had begun with the spirited cowboy-western “Hoe Down” from Copland’s “Rodeo” ballet.
New Yorker Béla Fleck is a veteran banjo virtuoso named after the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, best known for his solo appearances at clubs and recital venues. His long and upbeat career has been tied to the instrument which, while short on feelings and reflection, is masterful in rapid runs by a nimble and accurate player like him—no laid-back strumming here! Fleck is a much better soloist than a composer, as demonstrated in Fleck’s three-movement, 30-minute “Juno Concerto for Banjo,” where the expected jazz inflections were few. His orchestral writing is meager and too reminiscent of Copland’s.
But as a player, Fleck’s fingers can fly like a supersonic jet, providing melodic lines and accompaniment simultaneously, as if in duet. The agility in runs is quite breath-taking, particularly in his cadenza. Perpetuum mobile effects added contrast.
The performances were not without blemish; even the medley encore by banjo virtuosos Béla Fleck misfired when his strings refused to stay in tune.
In his first full season here, Music Director Lecce-Chong demonstrated professional assurance, poise, and baton technique, leading an enlarged orchestra though the thickets of nature in revolt. And, for a parched Northern California that is bone-dry since spring, recurrences are possible until the first rains of the fall, not yet on the horizon. The next concert set awaits on Dec. 7-9 with the Mozart Requiem—accompanied by incessant drumming of rain on the roof, one would hope.

October 9, 2019: Orchestral virtuosity in SR Symphony's 92nd season opener

By: Terry McNeill, October 9, 2019 - Classical Sonoma

Season-beginning orchestra concerts usually feature a splashy mix of overture/fanfare, a sonorous symphony and a virtuosic concerto. Santa Rosa Symphony’s Oct. 6 opener in Weill Hall had a contrary design with two new works and a Richard Strauss symphonic showpiece tone poem. Sunday’s afternoon’s concert in the set of three is reviewed here.

Somehow a Beethoven Concerto slipped into the mix, with San Francisco based virtuoso pianist Garrick Ohlsson the soloist with resident conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong on the podium. Mr. Ohlsson’s chaste opening phrase in the G Major (Op. 58) Concerto led to an ethereal orchestral start and judicious tempos throughout the allegro moderato. Everything was in balance and themes were limpid and clear to my balcony seat. Several years ago in recital Mr. Olhsson played with the largest piano sonority I have yet heard in Weill, with Liszt’s great “Weinen, Klagen” Variations. Horowitz and Hofmann sonority. But this afternoon he aimed at a refined and balanced interpretation, occasionally surprisingly breaking a chord but eschewing inner voices or harmonic pointing.

In the midst of gentile orchestral support the pianist displayed in the first movement many examples of his stellar art with expressive trills and deft control of pianissimo, but also much that was conventional. Outside of routine, Mr. Ohlsson’s pedal technique missed the opportunity for resonance (full pedal) and taking advantage of the potent orchestral tutti before restating the opening theme fortissimo in the middle of the movement, but he did hold the pedal through the final three chords, a nod perhaps to virtuoso tradition.

Playing in the andante was elegant throughout with deft pauses in the unfolding soft drama, leading inexorably to a lively rondo with Mr. Lecce-Chong in steady control. Again Mr. Ohlsson took a restrained interpretative approach, but it’s that kind of piece with ample subdued drama. He played the Beethoven cadenzas in the first and third movements, the latter with marching left-hand phrases and much half pedal. Though dozens of innovative cadenza alternatives exist, the composer’s own seem alas to be the rule these days.

There was a standing ovation, followed by a lengthy intermission, and the second half began with composer-in-residence Matt Browne’s How The Solar System Was Won. Lasting just eight minutes the work is steeped in contrasts, opening with an eerie shimmering voice in the strings and moving to expertly played instrumental solos from the flute, piccolo, brass brilliance (three each trumpets and trombones), Andrew Lewis’ tympani and distinct wood block and xylophone sound from three percussionists. There is some cacophony in this music, leavened by lyrical playing from the first violin section.

The composer made charming explanatory remarks from the stage prior to the tour de force performance, and appeared at the end to loud applause.

Over 60 musicians were on stage for the concert’s finale, Strauss’ 1896 Also Sprach Zarathustra tone poem. The famous brass and organ opening was suitably powerful, and the conductor perfectly shaped the sound and the eight subsequent parts that are at times meandering but also replete with splendid individual playing. Some of the highlights were Scott Macomber’s trumpet work, chirpy flute and piccolo playing and rich sound from Andy Butler’s five contrabass musicians.

The performance was packed with imposing juxtapositions – long sections of lugubrious sensuality and then explosive outpourings of sound, even in the short fugue that had accelerated speed. Clarity of texture came with Mr. Lecce-Chong’s attention to section detail, to the point that even the two harp, tuba and organ parts were lucid.

This work demands impeccable playing from the first violins, and it was so in this performance, reminiscent of the Strauss Ein Heldenleben on the Weill stage three years ago from the Mariinsky Orchestra and conductor Valery Gergiev. The concertmaster then played like an angel in the many solos, and his counterpart here, Joseph Edelberg and his exemplary violin colleagues, did likewise, often in fetching lyricism over the flutes and clarinets.

The audience of nearly 1,300 clapped vigorously, and the Mr. Lecce-Chong motioned for many of his musicians to stand to acknowledge the applause.

The concert began with Anna Clyne’s Masquerade, a short piece with obligatory noisy percussion effects and hoary banal melodies, and passed with little notice.

2018-2019 Season

June 7, 2019: Santa Rosa’s new conductor comes south for a thrilling SF Symphony debut

By: , June 7, 2019 - Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle - Datebook

Like the Bluebird of Happiness, conducting talent can sometimes be nesting right in your own backyard. Take, for example, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the young American conductor who made a first-rate debut with the San Francisco Symphony on Thursday, June 6.

This was his first appearance in Davies Symphony Hall, but Lecce-Chong just completed his inaugural season as music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony – which means that his gifts have been in plain view for a while now to anyone willing to take a quickish jaunt up Highway 101 (or, obviously, to anyone who already lives in that neighborhood).

What Lecce-Chong may yet be able to achieve with that orchestra over the long term remains to be seen, but there was no mistaking the vitality and brilliance of the music-making he drew from members of the San Francisco Symphony. He’s got a firm but flexible rhythmic control that allows him to shepherd an orchestra at top speed without losing a bit of precision, and he can shape big instrumental textures with a robustness and grace that is inspiring to behold.

Perhaps best of all, Lecce-Chong seems to be a resourceful and imaginative programmer. Thursday’s lineup did include one standard offering, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, which got a capable but flavorless reading from soloist David Fray.

But other than that, Lecce-Chong went for the offbeat and slightly unusual — and made the choices pay off time and again.

He led off, for instance, with the ballet music from Mozart’s opera “Idomeneo” — music the Symphony hasn’t played in concert since 1977 — and rendered it with such vigor and clarity that a listener could only think, “Why don’t we hear this more often?” He returned to the operatic world after intermission with a glowing, ominous account of the overture to Verdi’s opera “I Vespri Siciliani.”

Finally, and most stirringly, there was “In the South (Alassio),” Elgar’s strangely exuberant musical postcard from an Italian vacation in which nothing quite went according to plan. The composer and his family seem to have landed amid a stretch of cold, rainy weather, prompting him to send a series of characteristically gloomy letters home — and yet much of the music is as sunny and celebratory as that of other Northern composers who crossed the Alps for a little R&R.

Throughout it all, Lecce-Chong and the orchestra found a musical vein that combined buoyant, potentially overcaffeinated tempos with the clarity of purpose to pull it off. The opening movement of the Mozart ballet music sounded superbly peppy and propulsive (one could imagine dancers raising a complaint if they had to keep time at this speed, but for a concert audience it was wonderful). Playing the opera’s five ballet movements together in an unbroken stream created the possibility of awkward hairpin curves in the transitions, but Lecce-Chong maneuvered those shifts without breaking a sweat.

Operatic overtures don’t always sit comfortably out of context — especially Verdi’s, which are so intimately tied to the dramas they’re meant to set up — but the “Vespri” music held the stage without compromise or apology. And Elgar’s rich musical tapestry, with its echoes of Wagner and Strauss, created a vibrant series of pictorial effects topped by an exquisite solo by principal violist Jonathan Vinocour.

Lecce-Chong’s energetic leadership, which made room as well for interludes of tender lyricism, was a constant source of excitement. Fortunately, we don’t even have to rely on the San Francisco Symphony to experience it again.

San Francisco Symphony:  8 p.m. Friday, June 7, and Saturday, June 8. $50-$225. Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F. 415-864-6000.

March 19, 2019: American Classics Sparkle Under Kahane’s Baton

By: Steve Osborn, March 19, 2019 - San Francisco Classical Voice

Jeffrey Kahane, the Santa Rosa Symphony’s former conductor, returned to the podium on Saturday night, and the results were expectedly wonderful. The concert of American classics was by turns playful (Gershwin’s An American in Paris), emotional (Barber’s Violin Concerto) and triumphant (Copland’s Third Symphony). The players were in top form, and the soloist, Elena Urioste, was a marvel to behold. The only flaws were in the music itself, not in the performance.

Before raising his baton for the Gershwin, Kahane explained that An American in Paris was heavily edited for the movie version, which is the same version that audiences have heard for the past 70 years. That’s beginning to change because of a revised edition published in 2017 that restores Gershwin’s original score, including dissonant taxi horns and a trio for soprano saxophones.

The original score proved far more intriguing than its Hollywooden imitation. The orchestration is more inventive, the dissonances more pronounced, and the orchestral timbre more expansive, thanks in large part to the plethora of saxophones (six in all) and a bristling arsenal of percussion instruments.

Kahane set a brisk tempo, coaxing light and transparent playing from his colleagues, along with considerable rhythmic flexibility. He steered clear of dramatic gestures, preferring a subtler approach. The violin, trumpet, and trombone solos were excellent, backed by the orchestra’s lush and confident sound. The “new” soprano sax trio was startling, made all the more memorable by the players’ donning of dark glasses.

What impressed most during the performance was the variety of musical material and the intricacy of the orchestration. The contrast between the languid and the energetic was profound, and the buildup to the clamorous ending, beginning with a wonderful tuba solo, was palpably exciting. Raucous applause and an immediate standing ovation followed.

The mood changed considerably when soloist Elena Urioste appeared on stage in a garish red pantsuit, inhabiting an opposite sartorial universe from the black-clad musicians. The distraction of Urioste’s outfit faded as soon as she began to play the Barber Violin Concerto, but she still remained apart from her fellow musicians.

She began the concerto somewhat timidly, barely projecting above the orchestra. Her warm tone and flawless technique didn’t become evident until well into the opening movement. She shone brightly in the solo passages, but the balance problems persisted, particularly when she was drowned out by the horns in an otherwise beautiful passage.

The slow second movement proved to be Urioste’s salvation. She entered with a beguiling pianissimo, followed by a dramatic crescendo. Her vibrato was warm and convincing, and her tone, particularly on the lower strings, was sumptuous. She sustained the intensity through seamless bowing and a sincere expression of feeling.

Urioste displayed a different kind of intensity in the Presto third movement, marked “in moto perpetuo” (in perpetual movement). She tore out of the gate at breakneck speed, and her arms and fingers were a blur for the next few minutes until she crossed the finish line with an even faster burst of energy. The performance was dazzling.

The fourth movement of Copland’s Third Symphony reprises the composer’s well-known Fanfare for the Common Man, but the others are original, and all are marked by Copland’s distinctive open sound.

In contrast to Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Copland’s other program music, the third symphony is classically formal and mostly devoid of exterior references. Structure is paramount and inescapable. Certain devices — such as wide melodic intervals, syncopation, and fugal entries — are used throughout.

The reliance on form animates the first and second movements, but it becomes oppressive by the third, where one begins to long for a little relief. Despite the formal constrictions, the performance itself was sparkling.

Kahane conducted without a baton and used both hands equally to corral the relentless energy and give each orchestral section its due. The second movement was notable for its militaristic march, punctuated by occasional percussive gunshots.

The prime dynamic for all four movements was fortissimo, especially the fourth movement. The most telling image of the night came in that movement, when a momentarily tacit trumpeter covered his ears firmly during the first brass fanfare. Moments later, he threw caution to the wind and joined the piercing blast.

The skillful playing of the entire ensemble continued unabated through some astoundingly intricate passages, and the concluding brass fanfare ensured a memorable close. The performance was a tour de force, but the music itself could have used some of Gershwin’s flexibility or Barber’s emotion.

Steve Osborn, a children's writer by day, moonlights as a violist and music critic.

January 15, 2019: A Slice of Heaven from the Santa Rosa Symphony

By: , January 15, 2019 - Steve Osborn, San Francisco Classical Voice

Under its vibrant new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, the Santa Rosa Symphony this past Sunday offered a nearly perfect afternoon of Mozart (Symphony No. 40) and Mahler (Symphony No. 4). While the two works share a common digit, the only element uniting them is genius. They made for a dazzling couple.

As if to herald these two masterworks, Lecce-Chong opened the program with two antiphonal brass fanfares by Toru Takemitsu: Signals from Heaven I (Day) and Signals from Heaven II (Night). For the Day Signal, six brass players occupied stage right, while another half-dozen defended stage left, with Lecce-Chong conducting in the middle and nobody else on stage. In the fashion of Gabrielli, the antiphon was slow-moving and filled with echo effects, building steadily to a triumphant chord. For the Night Signal, the players rearranged themselves and intoned a leisurely series of descending figures underneath a trumpet solo, again building to a sustained chord. The playing was excellent throughout.

As the rest of the orchestra filed in for the Mozart, the stage manager removed Lecce-Chong’s music stand. Lecce-Chong conducted the remainder of the concert from memory and, for the Mozart, without a baton.

The lack of a score or a baton allowed Lecce-Chong to engage closely with the orchestra, which responded in kind. They started the Allegro molto first movement at a brisk pace, with solid unisons from the various string sections. Their bows moved as one, and their intonation was superb. Lecce-Chong was a model of restraint, conducting with his head as much as his hands.

The second movement is marked Andante, but Lecce-Chong’s tempo was more like Allegretto, with sharply etched articulations and a playful spirit. Freed of the baton, Lecce-Chong used both arms almost equally, indicating long phrases rather than simply beating time. The Minuet third movement was likewise brisk, with an almost militaristic drive. The Trio section offered a brief respite, but the Minuet returned even more fierce and determined, with the players digging deeply into their strings.

The Allegro finale was a sprint to the finish, with more great unisons from the strings, even on the trickiest passages. Lecce-Chong propelled the orchestra forward with ever-more dramatic movements — spreading his arms wide and punching the air in front of him like a boxer. For all that, the high points were the sudden rests, where the entire orchestra paused before launching back into the fray. The ending was electric.

Lecce-Chong took advantage of the interlude between the Takemitsu and the Mozart to explain the background for Mahler’s Fourth, which he described as “a child’s view of heaven.” The child in this case has passed away, so he or she is staring at the abundance of heaven, which is mostly blue sky with an occasional storm cloud.

Lecce-Chong’s remarks proved quite helpful for approaching the symphony, which offers a dizzying array of themes interspersed with bits of song and sharp-edged solos. Armed with a baton but still scoreless, Lecce-Chong used a light touch to smooth the many transitions in the opening movement. The relationships between the orchestral sections were so complex that the piece sounded like chamber music for, say, 18 voices: an octadecatet. Despite the complexity, each voice was distinctive, nowhere more so than in the wonderful French-horn solo at the end, played beautifully by principal horn Meredith Brown.

Much of the focus in the Scherzo second movement was on concertmaster Joe Edelberg, who alternated his regular violin with another tuned a full step higher. He used the latter to lead a ghostly dance of death, in stark contrast to the otherwise sunny orchestration. His recurring pizzicatos were particularly chilling.

Lecce-Chong waited for full silence before unveiling the transcendent third movement, a quiescent Adagio that begins in the cellos and basses and gradually spreads upward through the orchestra. Despite the slow speed, the forward motion was ineluctable, bringing a hushed expectancy to the audience, which seemed to hang on to every note. Lecce-Chong never lost the thread as the theme and variations increased in urgency and emotion, ultimately exploding into triple-forte and then diminishing back to the opening dynamic. The impression was of floating in interstellar space.

As the Adagio faded out, the soprano Maria Plette entered from stage right to sing the Mahler song that inspired the entire symphony: “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life). Unfortunately, the text of the song wasn’t printed in the program, nor was it projected on a screen, so the audience was left to its own devices to figure out what Plette was singing. I was able to track down the text later, but I regret not having it at the time, because it adds significantly to the experience of the symphony. The key line is, “There is just no music on earth that can compare to ours.”

Setting the text problems aside, Plette sang adequately but not brilliantly. Her diction was good, and she projected well, but her vibrato was often too wide, and her voice could be sharp-edged. She did improve as she went along, however, and the orchestra continued to play brilliantly, making the final lines ring true: “The angelic voices gladden our senses, so that all awaken for joy.”

Steve Osborn, a children's writer by day, moonlights as a violist and music critic.

January 14, 2019: Review: New Santa Rosa Symphony music director proves mettle at concert

By: , January 14, 2019 - Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat

A series of question marks has hovered above the Santa Rosa Symphony over the past year. How quickly will its youthful, new music director, Francesco Lecce-Chong, make his mark during his first season with the orchestra?

 Will the fifth conductor in the symphony’s 91-year history be able to live up to the hype that he offers “the whole package” as a musical collaborator and community builder?

Will he be able to re-create the magic of his try-out concerts in October 2017?

Saturday night, in his third and final concert set of the season at the Green Music Center, Lecce-Chong left no doubt that the magic of his debut was no fluke. Even without a romantic warhorse like Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, he proved his mettle by pouring new life into Mozart’s tragic Symphony No. 40 and artfully molding the pacing and phrasing of Mahler’s idyllic Symphony No. 4.

Both, it should be noted, were conducted without a score — the one-hour-long Mahler with a baton, the 35-minute Mozart with hands only. Like all of the classical music concerts this season, the program was planned by Lecce-Chong’s predecessor, Bruno Ferrandis, known for his love of dramatic contrasts within concerts.

Despite entering the season as a pinch-hitter, Lecce-Chong, 31, poured his heart and soul into the game, hitting a home run with both works. The orchestra sounded splendid — from individual solos to overall ensemble — and met the thorny challenges of each work with athletic finesse and obvious enthusiasm.

The late symphony by Mozart juxtaposes sunny gentility with rough fury, while the early symphony by Mahler, considered the conflicted composer’s lightest and most accessible, offers a strange blend of transcendent beauty undermined by grotesque humor. It is Mahler, after all.

Even before the season started, Lecce-Chong knew this program would push him and the orchestra to the limit and force them to take their music-making to a new level. But he didn’t back down.

“That’s a beast of a program,” he said in an interview this fall. “I’m glad I was available for that week.”
Mozart is always a litmus test for players, who must perform the most difficult, transparent music with utter relaxation and “seeming” ease. With Lecce-Chong at the helm, the music never seemed rushed — from the elegant first movement to the furious finale — even when traveling at high velocity.

But the orchestra really hit its rhythmic groove in the second movement, a lilting Andante that Lecce-Chong directed with a light but precise touch. In the steely third movement, the orchestra started to break loose from the transparent Mozart mold with a bigger sound, and by the jaunty finale. The pregnant pauses, fierce attacks and dynamic contrasts made the work sound groundbreaking and new.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, last performed by the symphony in 1999, was not a natural fit for Lecce-Chong, who has admitted he connects with the more exciting and dramatic Symphonies No. 1 and 5 of Mahler, which he has conducted before. Symphony No. 4 is a lovely little fairy tale, with occasional nightmarish moments, that demands delicacy and transparency and risks putting the audience to sleep if it is not paced correctly.

It is a tribute to the orchestra’s hard work and preparation that even the children in the audience stayed awake for this hourlong work, performed after intermission. Most people leaned forward in their seats to hear every wailing clarinet line, bellowing horn blast and plucky bass pizzicato.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 opens in a carefree manner, with sleigh bells and graceful, Viennese melodies, then turns grotesque in the scherzo, as an unusually tuned solo violin — played with verve by concertmaster Joe Edelberg — portrays a skeleton playing the fiddle (“Death”) and leads a danse macabre.

Consolation arrives, however, in the beautiful, long phrases of the third movement. Under Lecce-Chong’s baton, the melodies seamlessly rose and fell, dissolved and coalesced again with feathery transparence, leading to a sudden explosion of horns and trumpets. This prepares the audience for the fourth movement, a short, simple song about a child’s naive view of heaven.

Soprano Marie Plette did not give an entirely persuasive interpretation of the poem. It was difficult to hear her above the orchestra, but the unfinale-like finale nevertheless concluded with a natural, easy flow. Like all fairy tales, it seemed to lure eyelids into a blissful sleep, in a good way.

To open the concert, a dozen members of the brass section performed two antiphonal fanfares from Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu: “Day Signal” and “Night Signal.” The short works provided a pleasant curtain-opener, with the beautifully blended tones of the brass reverberating impressively throughout the sensitive hall.

Afterward, Lecce-Chong spoke to the audience, thanking them for their support, highlighting concerts to come (including a family concert he will lead in April) and giving a short introduction to Mahler’s 4th Symphony. He recounted how the audience at the premiere met the first two movements with hissing, then offered tepid applause after the third. “The audience was kind of done with Mahler at the time,” he said.

Obviously, we are just beginning our adventure with Lecce-Chong, and it will be exciting to see the places he will take us in the future. If this program is any indication, he’s not afraid to take a few risks.
The Santa Rosa Symphony will repeat this concert program at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.

December 5, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony Heralds the Holidays

By: , December 5, 2018 - Steve Osborn, San Francisco Classical Voice

Antlers are typical headgear during the holiday season, but the ushers and one bassist at the Santa Rosa Symphony concert on Dec. 2 sported apples atop their heads. The red fruits were festive but perplexing until the orchestra began Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, at which point even the dull-witted reviewer made the connection.

Instead of having Tell stride on stage and shoot the apple off his son’s head, the orchestra offered a bull’s-eye performance that split the overture right down the middle. Audiences of a certain age are accustomed to hearing only the latter part of the piece, where the Lone Ranger gallops across the screen shouting “Hi ho, Silver,” but there’s much more to it than that.

Principal cellist Adelle-Akika Kearns opened with a beautifully played solo, accompanied at times by four of her cello colleagues. Her tone was gorgeous, her vibrato smooth, and her long trills outstanding. Next came solid work from the trombones, a lovely flute and English horn duet, and the heraldic trumpet entry that brings on the Lone Ranger. Guest conductor Jayce Ogren set a furious pace but proved adept at controlling dynamics and eliciting meticulous playing despite all the frenzy. Boisterous applause followed the rousing performance.

So far so good, but then the Swiss legend gave way to an English melancholic of far less heroic proportions. Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, based on Lord Byron’s semi-autobiographical poem “Childe Harold,” is a symphony masquerading as a concerto. The viola, ably played here by Nokuthula Ngwenyama, takes on the role of Harold observing various Italian tableaux. While the viola part is sometimes of interest, it is nowhere near as virtuosic or impassioned as true viola concertos by Bartok, Walton, and other modern composers.

Ngwenyama spent most of her time playing long notes or arpeggios, with very few dazzling runs or assertive solos. She also hampered her stage presence by playing from a computerized score, which she kept advancing with a foot pedal. In addition, Berlioz’s awkward orchestration often had her doubling lines played by other orchestral sections, particularly the French horns. Her strings vibrated and her bow moved, but the horns drowned her out.

The viola is relatively prominent in the first two movements, but it begins to fade out in the third, deferring to the English horn for a prominent solo. By the fourth movement, the viola plays almost nothing except for a brief passage near the end, all of which entails a considerable amount of standing around.

Perhaps a better way to perform Harold in Italy would be to place the soloist in the principal viola spot inside the orchestra. The soloist would still be the main character, but only within a larger context that hides the long stretches of viola silence.

The soloists in Vivaldi’s Gloria also did a fair amount of sitting around, but that is de rigueur in works for orchestra, chorus, and soloists. In a gesture to Baroque performance practice, the orchestra was reduced to 30 players, all but four of them strings. (The non-strings were a trumpet, an oboe, a bassoon, and a small organ.) In contrast, the chorus remained at full strength, with about 70 singers from Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College arrayed on the stage behind the orchestra.

The numbers worked to the choir’s advantage, allowing them to be heard clearly at all times. They enhanced their clarity by careful enunciation of the Latin text and by blending well as a group. The bass, tenor, alto and soprano sections were evenly balanced, and nobody stuck out.

The choir’s singing in the opening “Gloria in excelsis Deo” was sprightly and vivacious, and their performance of the subsequent “Et in terra pax” was restful and calm. Ogren did an admirable job of balancing the singers and the instrumentalists, offering clear signals and expressive hand gestures.

The solos began with a wonderful rendition of the “Laudamus te” soprano duet by Sonoma State alumnae Jennifer Thuman and Esther Rayo. Their voices were radiant, and they projected well in the large space. After another chorus, Thuman followed up with a sublime “Domine Deus” displaying a well-controlled vibrato and solid trills. The final soloist, mezzo-soprano Chris Fritzche, also impressed in another “Domine Deus” and the penultimate “Qui sedes.”

The chorus had the last word with a rousing “Quoniam tu solus sanctus,” leading to an emphatic and life-affirming “Amen.” The applause was long and loud.

Steve Osborn, a children's writer by day, moonlights as a violist and music critic.

October 8, 2018: Ashen Community and Its Culture: Renewal!

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

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

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

October 8, 2018: Lecce-Chong proves his mettle with Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Steve Osborn, October 8, 2018 - San Francisco Classical Voice

Francesco Lecce-Chong was handed two warhorses for his debut as conductor of the Santa Rosa Symphony, and he rode them both to thrilling victory. For the first win, Brahms’s Violin Concerto, he owed much to soloist Arnaud Sussmann, but for the other triumph, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, he and his musicians deserve full honors.

Beethoven’s Fifth is the primary source of the modern symphony, the achievement against which all others are measured. Not a note is wasted within its tightly reasoned structure, and all of them need to fall into place at exactly the right time. Aside from one negligible false entry, the Santa Rosa players fulfilled that duty to perfection, culminating in several spine-tingling passages that rose far above the notes on the page.

Lecce-Chong, whose final audition concert with the Santa Rosa Symphony was cancelled by last year’s firestorms, introduced Beethoven’s masterwork by observing that “Beethoven’s Fifth is about us” because it celebrates the human spirit and our triumph over adversity. In that context, the performance became even more meaningful, offering not only closure for a local tragedy, but also buoyant optimism for the future.

A large part of that optimism was due to Lecce-Chong’s presence at the podium throughout the concert. He conducted flawlessly in the first part of the program, but he really shone in the Beethoven. His crisp and precise beat was easy to follow, and his technique was exemplary. He highlighted stark contrasts between the legato and staccato passages, he let the syncopations ring out, and his dynamics were clearly evident. Moreover, he achieved all of this with minimal movement. He leaned forward and crouched down as necessary, but he was never showy. In the third and fourth movements, he was electric.

So too was soloist Arnaud Sussmann in Brahms’s Violin Concerto. Sussmann is an imposing soloist who stands straight right next to the podium, with both orchestra and conductor well within his peripheral vision. His tone is gorgeous, and he projects well, soaring high above the orchestra with ease. His many other virtues are self-evident: perfect intonation, ramrod-straight bowing, tremendous dynamic range, and blistering speed.

Sussmann’s phrasing, however, easily trumps all his other virtues. He carries phrases all the way through, heedless of bar lines or other restrictions that impede the flow of melody. He played whole sections of the concerto in one continuous line that sang from start to finish. His bow seemed glued to his strings as he leaned into melodies, completely dominating the stage.

Sussmann’s performance was dazzling, but it could have been even more so if he had ventured closer to the front of the stage, particularly in the first movement’s lengthy cadenza. That was his golden opportunity to emerge from the orchestra’s shadow and fully engage with the audience, but he took only a few tentative steps into the vacant space.

Even warhorses start out as foals and yearlings, as evidenced by the inclusion of both a brand-new work on the program, along with another of less recent vintage.

The foal was Sonoma Strong, a remembrance of last year’s fires by Santa Rosa native Paul Dooley, who teaches at the University of Michigan. Lecce-Chong waited for dead silence before starting the piece, which begins with whirling-sounding tubes that evoke the wind. Over this ominous noise, a solo trumpet enters, followed by a harp, a trumpet duet, a trumpet trio, and then a full-blown trumpet solo over strings. Despite the increasing numbers of players, no conflagration is evident. Instead, the melodies are soothing and restful. The pace picks up when a conga drum enters, but the mood veers toward the triumphant rather than the incendiary. In and of itself, Sonoma Strong is laudable, but the connection to the firestorm is hard to fathom.

Ellen Zwilich’s 1984 Celebration for Orchestra, the yearling that opened the program, was more successful in its stated purpose. Celebrate the orchestra it does, also beginning with the trumpets, who repeatedly play a simple two-note phrase before fading out. That phrase becomes the unifying element that allows the orchestra to celebrate its sonic diversity. The two-note sequence moves through the various sections, building up anticipation as the volume increases. A sudden pianissimo followed by the ringing of bells brings the celebration to a close.

October 8, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony performs wildfire-inspired piece on one year anniversary of fires

By: Jeremy Spiegel, October 8, 2018 - KQED

If you were in the North Bay exactly one year ago, you probably remember the wind. Powerful gusts of nearly 80 miles per hour helped fuel some of the deadliest and most destructive fires in state history as they burned at a rate of more than a football field every minute.
For composer Paul Dooley that was the starting point for "Sonoma Strong," an original composition commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony. The symphony debuted the work at a free concert this summer and has decided to perform it again for its season opener on Oct. 6, 7 and 8.
"I wanted to capture some of the wind and some of the energy from that night [on Oct. 8 last year]," said Dooley, a Santa Rosa native who teaches at the University of Michigan.
To do that he used something you won't typically find in a symphony: massive musical tubes called whirlies. You swing them around over your head and they make a soft whistling sound.
"The swirling of the whirlies sort of looks a little bit like a siren — it can kind of evoke that feeling," he said. "But it's also a very beautiful sound, so I figured it might be an elegant way to capture some of the energy from that night."
The whirlies are set to multiple trumpet solos. After a while, the strings come in and the piece begins to build.
"And that transforms into a sort of ominous climax, marking the halfway point of the piece," Dooley said.
That climax evokes the devastation of the October fires, which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 44 people — devastation that was certainly felt by the Santa Rosa Symphony. According to Santa Rosa Symphony President and CEO Alan Silow, 22 families closely connected to the symphony lost their homes in the fires, including members of the board, musicians and staff. A number of the organizations' major donors and subscribers also lost their homes.
The symphony had to cancel and postpone concerts and call off their annual donation campaign, as many of the symphony's staff were forced to evacuate from their homes.
"We still paid our staff for the time they had to miss, we still paid our musicians for the concerts we had to cancel, because we thought that was the right thing to do," Silow said. "But obviously that also impacted us, fiscally speaking, as well."
But now, Silow said, they're beginning to move toward recovery.
"I don't know if I would say it's triumph, but we're definitely in recovery," he said. "And I think whenever tragedies hit like that, the silver lining is it brings out the best of people. It has definitely brought out the best of people in Sonoma County."
That's a sentiment that Dooley worked to capture in "Sonoma Strong." After the piece's ominous climax, there's a marked change in tone.
New instruments enter. The key changes.
"The piece transitions to what I would call the rebirth," he said. "And it's the first entrance of the woodwinds: the flutes, the oboes, the clarinets and the bassoons."
During the "rebirth" portion, Dooley builds off of the themes he established at the beginning of the piece but with new instruments and a different tone, giving it a "more heroic and celebratory fashion and feel," according to Dooley.
That heroism and celebration — the feeling of triumph that comes along with rebuilding — is what Dooley hopes sticks with the audience.
"I'm hoping that through the transformation of the piece, people are somewhat reminded of what happened last year, but are given a new outlook. Or the piece helps them transform their view of the horror of [the wildfires] into something positive and something that can bring the community together, as the construction and rebuilding continues," he said.

2017-2018 Season

May 8, 2018: Ferrandis Bids Farewell with Mahler’s Last Symphony

By: Steve Osborn, May 8, 2018 - San Francisco Classical Voice

Sonoma State University students in graduation robes posed for pictures and hugged each other at the stone gates last Sunday afternoon, mirroring the prolonged farewells within the university’s Green Music Center. There, with an unforgettable performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Bruno Ferrandis bade adieu to the Santa Rosa Symphony after a dozen years at the helm. Some audience members took photographs to commemorate the event, but my most vivid remembrance is of the beautiful sonorities and hushed expectancy of the symphony’s closing moments.

At some 80 minutes, the Mahler could have constituted the entire program, but a wine-sipping intermission was obligatory, so Ferrandis and company opened with Temporis, a 2015 concerto for cimbalom by the Czech composer Michal Rataj, with cimbalom soloist Jan Mikušek.

The concert cimbalom is a trapezoidal Eastern European instrument that resembles a horizontal harp, with strings that are struck by mallets, plucked with fingers, or otherwise set to vibrating. The sound that emerges is reminiscent of plucked piano strings, with considerable resonance but not much volume.

Rataj’s score harnessed these resonances to the orchestra by setting most of the dynamics at pianissimo and alternating orchestral bursts with cimbalom solos. The resulting sound was often ethereal, tenuous, and ghostly. At times, the cimbalom sounded like bells, but more often like a cloud of notes gently settling over the stage.

While the acoustics were striking, the underlying musical form was elusive. Forward motion and thematic development were hard to detect under the obscuring sonic mist. The conclusion was memorable, however. First, Mikušek sang a wordless phrase, and then he seemed to make all the cimbalom’s strings resonate at once, erecting a veritable wall of sound that slowly dissipated. He followed Temporis with an encore of more traditional cimbalom repertoire, singing the Czech folk song “Up on the Hill” while accompanying himself on his instrument. The blend was irresistible.

Cimbaloms were popular in Mahler’s day, but he didn’t include any in the massive 90-person orchestra required to play his final symphony. Virtually every section of the ensemble increased in size, nowhere more so than the woodwinds, whose numbers doubled. Pianissimo markings were abundant, but so were thundering crescendos, triple fortes, and — more than anything else — the composer’s premonitions of his impending death.

The Ninth opens minimally in the cellos and horns, but their sound soon evolves into a full-throated roar marked by a descending two-note motive. Ferrandis was by turns restrained, animated, and energetic as he guided the players through the opening movement’s many twists and turns. A feeling of expectancy suffused the playing, even as harmonic resolution kept receding in the distance.

Gustav Mahler in 1907, near the end of his lifeThe challenge of the first movement is to keep the story moving forward and not let it get buried by the incessant barrage of notes. Here Ferrandis and the players succeeded admirably. They played each of the many climaxes at full force, but they never let up in the ensuing moments of quietude. One could hear the sounds of doom in the woodwinds and brass as the orchestra finally wound down with a series of exquisite solos from the principal horn, violin, oboe, and harp.

In the second movement, the mood changed abruptly to a country dance in three-quarter time. The playing was jaunty and the oft-repeated trills impressive, but the tempo often dragged.

In contrast, the third movement was a whirling dervish, with frenzied playing all around. The movement opens with a simple three-note motive that is handed from section to section, like a fugue. The complexity and tension mounted until a beautiful solo from the principal trumpet slowed everyone down. Ferrandis guided the orchestra expertly through the sudden change and kept pushing through the inexorable build-up to the presto closing.

Such an invigorating ending might satisfy a lesser composer, but Mahler sets all the preceding movements aside to embark on his last, one of the most gorgeous in the repertoire. The violins opened with a magisterial melody, followed by a superb horn solo as the violins hovered above in nearly perfect intonation. A sense of finality crept in as all the strings joined in the lament. The moment was so spine-tingling that the elderly couple next to me suddenly grasped each other’s hands.

After the strings relented, the woodwinds took over, slowly building upward with a series of commendable solos. The entire orchestra joined in for a triple-forte climax, immediately followed by a triple piano. A hush descended on the audience as the symphony gradually faded away, marked by an elegiac solo from the principal cellist and a last word from the violas. Ferrandis extended the silence for a long moment, gathering his composure before bidding farewell to the cheering crowd.

May 8, 2018: Bruno Ferrandis says farewell to the Santa Rosa Symphony with well-chosen Mahler

By: Joshua Kosman, May 8, 2018 - San Francisco Chronicle

The Santa Rosa Symphony and Music Director Bruno Ferrandis parted company on Monday, May 7, in the most sweet and appropriate way possible: with words of appreciation and a largely stirring performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.
Even though he went on to compose and sketch out extensive parts of an incomplete Tenth Symphony, the Ninth still stands as Mahler’s stirring farewell to the joys and pains of the world. The heart condition that would eventually kill him had already been detected, his marriage was in disarray, and he was no stranger to self-pity even in the best of circumstances.
Ferrandis, fortunately, is departing from Santa Rosa after 11 seasons in a rather less lugubrious fashion. Monday’s concert, the last of three at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, found conductor and orchestra administering a healthy challenge to their communal abilities — the Ninth is notoriously difficult both technically and interpretively — and rising to meet it with increasing assurance.
The French conductor, who next season cedes his baton to Francesco Lecce-Chong, was greeted by a standing ovation as soon as he took the stage, and he opened the proceedings with heartfelt words of thanks to the orchestra’s patrons, donors and musicians. The short first half of the program was devoted to a performance of “Temporis,” a work for cimbalom (the Eastern European hammer dulcimer) by Czech composer Michal Rataj.
But it was the Mahler that both took up the bulk of the evening and conveyed the main expressive impetus of the occasion. From the halting, dissociative opening gesture, which soon melted into a bath of tender lyricism, to the shimmery fade-out of the symphony’s final moments, this felt like a deft summing-up of the moment.
That’s not to deny that the demands of this score were often daunting. The strings, especially in the first movement, sounded underpopulated, which allowed the brass to run roughshod over them; the music in the rushing waltz sections of the scherzo tended to trip over its own feet.
Yet the brass playing, for all its aggressive edge, was always beautiful and darkly expressive, which made the boisterous third movement a vivacious stomping ground. And by the time the ruminative finale arrived, everyone was coordinating beautifully — the strings richly upholstered, the woodwind and brass solos decorous and forthright. The last minutes of the symphony made a poignant farewell.
Rataj’s 20-minute score, which featured Jan Mikusek as soloist, turned out to be full of intriguing sonorities, as the orchestra fastened upon individual notes from the cimbalom — a weighty fundamental low note, or a high pitch that drew the trumpet into its orbit — and turned them into material for further exploration.
Still, the overall course of the piece felt dramatically flat. The tempo changed little, and different sections of the piece came and went without much articulation. The most striking aspect was the composer’s inclusion of a stealth vocal part; midway through the piece, Mikusek (who later showed off his vocal abilities with a folk-song encore) began adding sustained notes in a powerful falsetto, leaving audience members to start scanning the stage for the mystery singer.
What was surely true about “Temporis” was that it served as an apt setup for the Mahler to follow — Rataj’s vivid and resourceful use of the orchestra and his moodily expressive palette almost seemed designed to bring the audience into Mahler’s world. And that in turn helped ring down the curtain on Ferrandis’ tenure in a satisfying way.

May 7, 2018: Mahler's symphonic farewell to us all

By: Paul Hertelendy, May 7, 2018 - ArtsSF

ROHNERT PARK, CA—After 12 years, the Santa Rosa Symphony is bidding au revoir, or perhaps adieu, to Music Director Bruno Ferrandis. Never one to skimp on challenges, the French conductor programmed the fiendishly difficult 81-minute Mahler Ninth Symphony—an apt adieu for the composer himself—along with a contemporary concerto.

In this go-round of the  Ninth of 1910,  for all but the first movement I’d give glowing reviews. The rustic country dance of the second movement went spiritedly, rowdy enough to contrast with the urbane First. This was just what was needed: No spit-and-polish metropolitan discipline, but rather dances of peasants who also thrived in the Austrian Empire back then. The irony-laced Third was trenchant; here Mahler appeared to take musical potshots at his critics, bolstered by the oh-so-solid SRS brass players.

In the finale the poetic string section brought home the composer’s poignant, ardently romantic farewell theme as it vacillated between major and minor keys. At the end, the orchestra was magnificent in carrying off one of the most nebulous closes ever, fading, fading, until nothing. This was pure Mahler, mingling joy with sadness over his prematurely declining health.

The demanding half-hour-long opening movement was less fortunate—the musicians played all the notes, but they never jelled into an ensemble effect. Happily the rest of the magnum opus was admirable (when heard May 6), showing off Meredith Brown’s glowing horn section as well as other sections too numerous to name. The performance  was rewarded by the sell-out house’s prolonged ovation, for both Ferrandis and the orchestra.

The contemporary companion  piece was a unique surprise: a concerto for cimbalom, a mallet instrument seemingly halfway between a zither and a harpsichord with the top removed. Its strings are struck by supple mallets producing a soft metallic sound, and it is heard mostly in gypsy orchestras in Romania, Slovakia and points between, always playing by ear, not from a score. To add to the challenge, the strings are not arranged by consecutive pitches—a nightmare for a visiting pianist.

When virtuoso Jan Mikusek sat down however at the cimbalom to do the solos of Michal Rataj’s “Temporis” (2015), he used a score. The one-movement 19-minute work calls for a large orchestra that is mostly silent, as the dulcet cimbalom cannot play forte or fortissimo. Rataj’s piece focuses on effects (unusual ones) rather than themes or melodies. While Makusek plays the mellifluous arpeggiated chords, the orchestra will retort in subdued fashion with glints of air blown through brass, or bows drawn across metallic percussion. Now and then a pre-recorded wordless voice sounds a note. The strings and winds are barely audible. After a stormy moment or two, the work reverts to the serenity of near-silence.

Mikusek, who by profession is normally a choral conductor, added the most unusual encore ever: He played a folk song “Up on the Hill” on the cimbalom and sang it, in a pleasant baritone.  Mikusek, Rataj, “Temporis” and the folk song all originated in the Czech Republic—a land that also includes the Austrian Mahler’s birthplace. So, in a way, an all-Czech event.

So now Music Director Ferrandis moves on. Some chafed at his continuing to live abroad after getting this job some 70 miles north of San Francisco, unable to fulfill a community’s many musical needs apart from leading the symphony in seven sets of triple classical concerts. But he did shape and oversee a commendable and sometimes outstanding orchestra in recent years, maintaining high professional standards, while the SRS benefited greatly from the awesome acoustic environment of Weill Hall which opened during his tenure. Yes, the orchestra belongs in Santa Rosa. But to get such an enhancing acoustical environment, it’s worth their while to travel seven miles south every time to Weill, shared with the campus community of Sonoma State University.

And shortly the baton will be  passed to the new maestro in town, Francesco Lecce-Chong, 30, of Italian-Chinese descent. He beat out four other finalists, all older than he. His SRS concerts begin Oct. 6 with, interesting enough, no French music at all for that 91st SRS season.

April 10, 2018: It's all about the voice at Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Steve Osborn, April 10, 2018 - San Francisco Classical Voice

In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments — electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano, and myriad drums, gongs, and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass, and strings — the instrument that came out on top was the human voice, both in person and impersonated.

The in-person voices appeared in Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky cantata; the impersonated ones in the “Prelude and Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The utterly nonvocal electric violin took center stage in John Adams’s The Dharma at Big Sur.

Let us begin at the end, a thrilling, blood-quickening and triumphant rendition of the 13th-century Russian prince Alexander Nevsky entering into Pskov after defeating a thundering horde of German knights on a frozen lake. The massive Sonoma State Chorus, supplemented by other local choirs, sang (in Russian), “Russia marched out to mighty battle, Russia overcame the enemy ... Whoever invades, will be killed.” Their diction was precise, their words fully intelligible, their delivery superb. They soared above the mighty orchestral forces assembled below and stole the show.

And what a show it was. Alexander Nevsky, composed in 1938, is one of the great film scores, and its narrative drive is fully evident even without its visual counterpart. Conductor Bruno Ferrandis, returning after the lengthy search for his replacement (Francesco Lecce-Chong), turned up the momentum and moved the score briskly forward. The opening section, “Russia beneath the yoke of the Moguls,” was suitably eerie and oppressive, with a four-octave, two-note chord setting the mood.

The choir’s entry in the subsequent “Song of Alexander Nevsky” was strong and precise. The basses rang out, and the sound filled the hall. The song’s final refrain — “Whoever invades Russia, shall be killed” — drove home the cantata and film’s obvious purpose of rousing the Russian citizenry against the Nazis. As the story moved forward, the chorus kept returning to that invocation, singing “Arise, people of Russia,” “Let the enemy perish,” and other phrases of that ilk, always with power and conviction.

Meanwhile, the orchestra kept up a furious pace, with standout performances by the brass and memorable sounds from the strings. The famous “Battle on the Ice” was played at a fever pitch, with the string, brass, winds, and percussion sections trading phrases with machine-gun rapidity. Ferrandis was as invigorating as ever, jumping around on the podium and swooping his arms like a raptor in flight.

The only disappointment was the solo by mezzo-soprano Jacalyn Kreitzer, who buried herself in the orchestra instead of striding forward on the stage. The solo has a very low range and it didn’t ring out, although her tone was often lovely.

The musician who did ring out, with the help of plentiful amplification, was the electric-violin soloist, Tracy Silverman, who appeared earlier in The Dharma at Big Sur. His instrument sported two additional strings below the low G (lower C and lowest F), a bevy of pickups near the tail, and no acoustic properties. All the sound came out of two speakers on the ground behind him.

Amplified instruments conquered pop music long ago, but in the acoustic context of the concert hall, it’s hard to understand their appeal. The sound is unrelentingly harsh and devoid of subtlety, and the upper registers grate on the ears. Thankfully, Silverman did not play his violin at top volume, but he had the potential to drown everybody out.

In contrast to the overbearing violin sound, John Adams’s music was delightful, with shimmering orchestral textures and complex syncopations that sustained interest. For all the intricacy of the orchestral line, however, it mainly functioned as a drone for Silverman’s peregrinations. He displayed excellent technique and strong bowing, but he was often out of tune in the upper reaches of his instrument.

Silverman, who wowed the audience, was more convincing in his encore, a piece by rock legend Carlos Santana. Here Silverman displayed more flexibility and rhythmic intensity, but he diminished the performance by recording what he was playing and then using the recording as background for further improvisations. It was technically impressive, but it felt like a parlor trick.

The concert opener, on the other hand, was a convincing display of lush acoustics supplemented only by the instruments’ own resonant overtones. Tristan and Isolde is about as romantic and tragic as music gets, and Ferrandis evoked both qualities to the hilt. The beginning in the low strings was wonderfully hushed, and the echoing winds were a perfect rejoinder. What was most impressive, however, was the ever-so-gradual crescendo from the haunting opening to the first climactic moment, followed by a long decrescendo and another rise and fall as Tristan dies in Isolde’s arms. You could almost hear them singing.

April 9, 2018: "Ode to California" - Ferrandis leads the Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Adam Broner, April 9, 2018 - Piedmont Post

Luminous and thoughtful.
For the past eleven years Bruno Ferrandis has led the Santa Rosa Symphony with skill and balance. After this season he is stepping down to return to his home in France. I was able to see him last weekend in a program titled “Ode to California” in the lively acoustics of Weill Hall at Sonoma State, and enjoyed his genius for programming and the wordless way that he communicated his insights into the music.

This has been a busy year for North Bay patrons, as five contenders had try-outs with the Symphony in a bid to be the next Conductor, each with thoughtful programs. On March 29 the board and musicians unanimously chose the new conductor, Francesco Lecce-Chong, currently the conductor of the Eugene Symphony and associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Orchestra, and he will be transitioning into his new job here by leading three concerts next season and six of the seven classical concerts the following year.

While I am looking forward to this rising star, I was keen to hear Ferrandis in one of his last appearances (he conducts one more set of concerts, May 5, 6 and 7), and on Sunday, April 8, his “Ode” delivered.

They began with Richard Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod, the musical condensing of the opening and closing of his opera, Tristan und Isolde. The orchestra infused it with much of the drama and magic of the two-and-a-half hour opera, but in just twenty minutes, a win-win for players and patrons alike. That drama included the famously unresolved progressions of the opera, which flowed from question to question to create its own haunting picture of unrequited love, and then finally resolved at the very end with the “Liebestod,” literally the “love-death.” You have to hand it to the German language, which can romanticize a word out of “love” and “death” not unlike our blasé American “murder-suicide” or “lover’s leap.”

But aside from the twisted premise (which is sort of normal for opera), the music was divine. Ferrandis led the Santa Rosa Symphony in a stirring performance from the first soft hesitant twitters to huge gushing phrases, and with a pause that stretched almost to the point of discomfort.
That was just a warm-up for the blazing electric violin of Tracy Silverman, who was the soloist in John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur. And in fact, Adams wrote that piece for Silverman in 2003 for the opening of the LA Philharmonic’s new Disney Hall, and it was also appropriately an homage to two great California composers, Lou Harrison and Terry Riley.
Although the structure of the piece paralleled the Wagner in its slow build-up of washes and powerhouse apotheosis, this was a joyous celebration of life devoid of Romantic yearning. Tuned partly in just intonation, we came away with an expansive Pacific Rim sensibility that evoked Harrison’s gamelons and the sliding sonorities of Riley’s South Indian ragas. Here two harps and pianist Kymry Esainko spattered rhythmic counter-attacks to the violin’s long phrases, while a bevy of percussionists (including our own Ward Spangler and Kevin Neuhoff who perform with the Berkeley Symphony) delivered a backbone of vibes and timpani.

Silverman, who was an early member of the famed crossover Turtle Island Quartet, came back for an encore that was expressive and improvised, showing us the startling capabilities of his six-stringed electric instrument. Based on Carlos Santana’s “Europa,” Silverman created runs that were fearsome and slippery over a rhythmic looping, and then turbo-charged it with dense electronic distortions and wailing top notes like Jimi Hendrix.

From the long applause that followed, one could hear that the Santa Rosa Symphony has strong support from an adventurous audience.

After intermission Ferrandis changed gears to Sergei Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with the back of the stage filled with the Sonoma State University Chorus. This was a suite from the score that Prokofiev wrote for the movie directed by Eisenstein, originally used by Stalin to foster the patriotism he needed to break his treaty with Hitler and enter World War II. And to that end, we can hear Prokofiev’s use of village scales and the stirring phrases of youth, amid the deep cracking of ice and the sharp winds of the North.

The very first notes sketched out a broad canvas, with bone-jarring contra-bassoon and high keening violins playing in an ancient church modal scale. The seven movements of this cantata were deeply evocative, with torrid strings, stern trombones, and sharply dissonant cymbal, and the chorus was tight and excellent in its Russian diction. Ferrandis carefully conducted each phrase, and when they swelled and the brass came in, his long arms and large expressive hands slashed out gestures until I wondered if blood would spill.

Actually, it was probably democracy that was being sacrificed on this musical altar, but when they sang, “Arise, People of Russia,” I was ready to stand and cry “Da!” with the rest of them. Creepy and satisfying!

These are the long and thoughtful programs I have come to expect from Ferrandis, whose last concert here, “Au Revoir, Bruno,” includes Mahler’s stirring Symphony No. 9 and a World Premiere by Czech composer Michal Rataj.

The Santa Rosa Symphony performs those next concerts and bids adieu on May 5, 6 and 7 at Weill Hall on the campus of Sonoma State. See for tickets and program notes, along with exciting information about their new pick, Francesco Lecce-Chong.

February 13, 2018: Michael Christie Takes the Santa Rosa Symphony on an “All-American” Ride

By: Steve Osborn, February 13, 2018 - San Francisco Classical Voice

In these international times, what makes a piece of music American? For Michael Christie, the answer is that it needs to have at least premiered on these shores, if not been composed here. Thus the rationale for the “all-American” program that Christie — the fifth and final conducting candidate for the Santa Rosa Symphony — led on Saturday night at the Green Music Center.

The opening work, Leonard Bernstein’s suite from On the Waterfront, is truly American, and the closing, Dvořák’s “New World” symphony, is arguably so. But the centerpiece, Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, stakes its claim to Americana by having been first performed in Chicago, even though it was composed in France. That seems a little thin until you realize that the final movement is infused with a yearning melody that sounds for all the world like an American parlor song.

Christie, himself an all-American from Buffalo, is an elegant conductor with balletic arm movements and a firm grasp of rhythm. He is at once restrained and expressive, an expert at using his undulating arms to lead the orchestra in thunderous crescendos and whispering diminuendos. His tempi are unflagging, and he always seems relaxed, even serene. His style was uniformly consistent, from the plangent opening of On the Waterfront to the glittering finale of “From the New World.”

On the Waterfront opened with a heartfelt French horn solo from Alex Camphouse, followed by a saxophone riff and then the full sound of the orchestra urged on by Christie. He altered moods and dynamics with ease, his supple arms changing course in midstream as if unaware of the laws of physics. At times his motions were so languid that he seemed to be moving through viscous air.

The orchestra played quite well, and their solos were superb, especially the off-stage reprise of the opening passage for French horn. In the movie, Marlon Brando famously claimed that he could have been a contender; but with Christie there was never any doubt.

After vigorous applause, the attention shifted to piano soloist Anna Fedorova, who glided onstage in a gossamer turquoise gown with a glittering multicolored top. Flinging back her lengthy brown hair, she plunged down to the keyboard — and was instantly drowned out by the orchestra. Despite the balance problems, which were finally solved in the third movement, Fedorova displayed impressive command of her instrument, wriggling through Prokofiev’s demanding score with nary a scratch. The memorable opening theme, taken at a sprint, was both fiery and compelling.

Fedorova is not a particularly demonstrative performer. She spent most of her time staring intently at the keyboard, her head often obscured by her hair. This introverted style worked well in the tricky passages, but it proved a barrier in the slower parts, particularly the second movement. Notes that should have rung out felt muted, and excessive pedaling muddied the sound.

Fortunately, both imbalance and introversion fell away in the Allegro con fuoco final movement. Christie toned down the orchestral volume and Fedorova emerged from her shell. She took it easy on the pedal and became much more expressive, with spellbinding trills and varied attacks. Changing abruptly to play the melancholic parlor tune at the heart of the movement, Fedorova kept driving forward to the furious ending, prompting a standing ovation.

Christie offered an alternative to the usual intermission by interviewing Fedorova onstage after the performance. They engaged in the usual musical pleasantries, but a question from the audience prompted the revelation that they had met for the first time on Thursday and had only practiced the concerto for a few hours, sandwiched around a recital by Fedorova on Friday night. Perhaps they could have fixed the balance problems if they’d had more time.

The “New World” is performed so often that previous performances are still ringing in your ears each time you hear it anew. This remembrance can be a danger for conductors seeking to put their own stamp on Dvořák’s venerable masterpiece, but Christie seemed undaunted by the risk.

Christie’s fluidity on the podium dominated the performance. His motions were precise and elegant, and the sound he elicited was solid and unified, most notably among the strings. Their bows moved uniformly as they ranged from silken tones to crisp arpeggios.

The unanimity of sound was nowhere more evident than in the unhurried second movement, which opened with a gorgeous English horn solo from Jesse Barrett. The subsequent playing was hushed and ethereal as the glorious melody flowed throughout the orchestra. The pace from Christie was slow, but the ensemble held steady all the way through a tremendous swell near the end.

Oddly, the English horn sat silent for the rest of the symphony, the only static element in a bursting onrush of sound. The third movement was sprightly, and the rapid fourth was driven by strong and heraldic brass. Christie was fun to watch as he summoned crescendo after crescendo in a whirlwind of orchestral interplay. The ovation at the end was heartfelt and sustained. 

February 11, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate Michael Christie puts spotlight on musicians

By: Diane Peterson , February 11, 2018 - The Press Democrat

The Santa Rosa Symphony on Saturday night showcased inspired players, a sparkling piano soloist and a sensitive, empathetic conductor – Michael Christie, the fifth and final music director candidate to audition to succeed Bruno Ferrandis – but the true stars of the concert at the Green Music Center were the bustling cities and wide open prairies of America itself.

Opening with Leonard Bernstein’s tense and lyrical “On the Waterfront” Symphonic Suite and culminating with Dvorak’s bittersweet Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” the Americana theme was writ large by Christie, who last led the symphony here in January 2015, also in an American program of works by composers Aaron Copland and Mark O’Connor.

Conducting with restraint and precision, Christie captured the American spirit — its determination, resourcefulness and optimism — with a steady rhythmic pulse. There were not a lot of extraneous gestures and scant facial expressions, but his body language communicated the feeling and the pulse (he often suggested the subdivided beats within a beat) loud and clear. And while his dynamics and tempos provided exciting contrasts, the music always sounded like it was speaking for itself, never reaching for the easy or overly dramatic.

One audience member commented that for the first time this season, he found his eyes riveted on the musicians rather than the conductor, perhaps pointing to a penchant for a democratic approach. Christie also seems to have a knack for making familiar works sound fresh by giving them new context.

There is perhaps no symphony more familiar than Dvorak’s No. 9, inspired by the “wide open spaces” of America as well as Dvorak’s intense nostalgic for his Czech homeland.

Under Christie, the beloved work had a relaxed, open feeling, evoking the waves of grain, the majestic mountains and the stolid strength of the American continent. From the start, the plodding tempo and hushed dynamics allowed the music to breathe. The string and woodwind sections seemed to be feeling rather than just playing the music and could take their time to polish their tone, shape their phrases and wring all the tender emotion out of the melodies. And, of course, there was a solid contingent of powerful brass to fire up the excitement at the climactic moments.
In the beloved second movement, it took a few seconds for the English horn to settle into the relaxed tempo. But once he did, there were few dry eyes in the house. This melody, inspired by a song written by a student of Dvorak’s (“Goin’ Home”), has an intensely spiritual quality that paired well with the Shaker simplicity of the hall.

The energy ratcheted up in the third movement, a whirling Czech dance, and continued through the stirring fourth movement, which Christie led with a bit more expression and passion but a steady hand on the baton.

Before the curtain-opener by Bernstein, the 43-year-old conductor introduced himself and the American framework of the program briefly, then let the solo French horn set the bittersweet tone of the dark, disconcerting “On the Waterfront.” This searing solo dissolved as the timpani blasted off to dramatize the violent waterfront of the docks of post-war Hoboken, New Jersey.

The percussion cut-offs were crisp, and the saxophone solo was at turns sexy, gritty and bold during this scrappy opening, which gave way to tender lyricism in the flute and strings echoing the love story of Bernstein’s better-known “West Side Story.”

Fans of Bernstein and Elia Kazan’s 1954 film starring Marlon Brando could not help but enjoy this jazzy, Gershwin-esque work of extremes, which captures both the plangent urgency and lyrical sweetness of the American sound.

In the showcase spot before intermission, young, Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedovora plunged into Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with nerves of steel, hardly breaking a sweat as she galloped up and down the keyboard through the ubiquitous arpeggios and chords.

Her playing was sinuous and silky, with each note and phrase connected and moving in a certain direction. Led by Christie, the orchestra accompaniment was tight, staying ahead of the beat at times to emphasis the sardonic passages. In the eerie, otherworldly second movement, there were lovely spaces between the notes, making the music seem more alive and drawing in listeners even more.

Christie, who has a good sense of humor in person, appears very serious onstage, and one might be tempted to say he borders on boring, or at the very least, lacks a bit of pizazz.

But he was refreshingly candid and brisk in his Q&A with the soloist during intermission, sharing the world of the touring concert pianist and guest conductor with honesty and no pretensions.

As Ferrandis pulls down the curtain on his tenure here during the last two concerts of the season, the French conductor is opening a door for the orchestra and its fans to step through and create a new vision of their future.

The five candidates given the chance to fill his shoes come from a wide range of conducting styles, ages, countries and personality types. Do we want youthful energy or time-tested experience? A strict, musical taskmaster or an audience charmer? A restrained introvert or a sweaty, passionate extrovert?

Stay tuned. We’ll all know the answer next month, when the symphony board announces its decision based on input from audience, musicians and staff. It truly will be a new world then.
The Santa Rosa Symphony will repeat this program at 8 p.m. tonight at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall.

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

January 16, 2018: Rising from the ashes - a Santa Rosa symphonic renaissance

By: Paul Hertelendy, January 16, 2018 - ARTSSF

A brave guest conductor indeed, the visitor who introduces Bartok with a 12-minute illustrated lecture.

But the English conductor Graeme Jenkins got away with it and had the Santa Rosa Symphony crowd firmly in his corner for a modern masterpiece, Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” (1943).

Along the way, putting away his baton, he had led articulate readings of Haydn and Mozart. The evening as a whole was rousing—far more an experience than a concert.

Clearly the night’s focus Jan. 13 was on the Bartok concerto. Jenkins cheekily gave his personal narrative interpretation in the piece, as Bartok left us none: The first three movements referred vividly to World War Two, its despair, its horrors. The 4th was nostalgia for Bartok’s prewar Hungary. And the 5th was a beacon of hope and renaissance.

While Jenkins’ impact was considerable in defusing a less familiar piece, his views are debatable, e.g., most analysts take Bartok’s musical quote from Shostakovich not as nostalgia but as a deliberate burlesque of a resented Soviet composer.

What was certain were the quotations of numerous themes from Bartok’s homeland, both folk and urbane, particularly the tune from the popular musical “Beautiful Hungary,” introduced by the splendid viola section. If that isn’t nostalgia for a refugee composer, what is?

Save a few of your exclamation points for the night’s Israeli pianist, Orli Shaham (sister of Gil S., and wife of fast-rising conductor David Robertson). Her play in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (“Elvira Madigan”) was clean, nuanced and refreshing. Long after the “Madigan” movie has faded into oblivion, Mozart’s slow movement—one of the most ethereal ever—keeps it alive. Ms. Shaham watched the conductor like a hawk, held to the tempo, and brought a welcome attention to subtle dynamic shading. If her cadenza (solo) was grandiose, the rest was unassailable. She has the gift of making the piano sing.

The kettle drums were much smaller than usual here, encountered more in baroque music. Similar to practice in period-instruments ensembles, they were struck by Andrew Lewis with a hard stick. Just like the old days.

The concert began with Haydn’s “Military” Symphony No. 100, notable for a “Turkish” effect of cymbals and triangle, popular three centuries ago in Vienna. The performance was articulate, and Jenkins, better known as a choral conductor, amply showed his mettle in the symphonic realm, bolstered by the enviable Weill Hall acoustics.

Jenkins is one of five guest conductors this season as the SRS transitions from retiring Bruno Ferrandis to a new musical director.

PHOENIX RISING FROM THE ASHES—The Santa Rosa Symphony had gone through hell on earth with the nearby devastating wine-country wildfires that had forced cancelation of an Oct. concert (and its guest conductor) and postponed another, with inevitable personnel disruptions. The return to the SRS’ quality music-making in this its 90th anniversary is quite remarkable.

January 14, 2018: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate leads with restraint

By: Steve Osborn, January 14, 2018 - The Press Democrat

For Graeme Jenkins, less is often more.

The fourth candidate to replace Bruno Ferrandis at the helm of the Santa Rosa Symphony was a model of restraint Saturday evening as he guided the ensemble through an invigorating Haydn symphony, a beloved Mozart concerto with pianist Orli Shaham and Bartók’s magnificent “Concerto for Orchestra.”

The English-born conductor was music director of the Dallas Opera from 1994-2013, has directed opera productions in the United Kingdom, Europe and the U.S., and conducted for major European orchestras.

On the podium, Jenkins, noted for his interpretations of Mozart, kept the orchestral volume down, allowing Shaham’s spirited and elegant performance of Mozart’s 21st piano concerto to resonate throughout the hall.

This continuity between orchestra and soloist came to the fore in the andante second movement. Shaham repeated the triplets with her left hand, allowing the melody to slowly emerge from her right. The effect was instantly ethereal, inducing a rapt silence from the audience. The mood quickly shifted in the vivace finale, where Jenkins set a blistering tempo. Nobody stumbled or slowed in a thrilling race to the finish.

The concert opened with Haydn’s playful Military Symphony, which seems to have been programmed as a contrast to the wartime background of the Bartók concerto in the second half.  Jenkins marched lightly through Haydn’s intricate score, eliciting impeccable and graceful playing from the musicians. The strings displayed remarkable unanimity, but the militaristic percussion stole the show. The sparkling finale had a relentless forward motion that led to strong applause.

After intermission, the orchestra became its own soloist in Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra,” which highlights every section of the ensemble over a five-movement span. Bartók wrote the concerto during 1943 in upstate New York, after fleeing his native Hungary to escape Nazi persecution.

Before the performance, Jenkins offered an illuminating introduction, complete with musical samples, about the genesis and narrative of the piece, which he believes depicts the Nazi invasion of Hungary and its bitter aftermath. Although many scholars dispute that interpretation, it served as a useful guide to the concerto’s dense complexity.

Jenkins let the music speak for itself. He coaxed a strong opening from the basses and cellos, followed by a scintillating crescendo and accelerando as the orchestra roared to life. As before, his conducting was steady and restrained, and he managed the perpetually shifting rhythms with ease. Principal oboist Laura Reynolds was outstanding in the first of many solos, as was the entire brass section.

The second movement features a series of duets, beginning with the bassoons. In the shimmering third movement, the focus shifted to the viola section, which played its elegiac theme with searing intensity.

The violas and oboes again took the lead in the fourth movement, featuring dazzling interplay between various sections of the orchestra.

Just as he had in the vivace finale of the Mozart concerto, Jenkins set a ferocious pace for the presto finale of the Bartók. This orchestral showpiece begins with a memorable fanfare from the trumpets, followed by an ornate fugue from the strings. Jenkins kept urging the orchestra to play faster, resulting in spine-tingling passages. The ending, with its eerie swooshing sounds and dense orchestration, was mesmerizing, and was followed by a sustained standing ovation.

January 14, 2018: Tryouts Continue at Santa Rosa Symphony; Jenkins Pleases Crowd with Bartok

By: Steve Mencher, January 14, 2018 - KRCB

Conductor Graeme Jenkins is on the short list of candidates to replace Santa Rosa Symphony music director Bruno Ferrandis. Jenkins led the orchestra in performances on Jan. 13-15, 2018.
The Santa Rosa Symphony continues its series of very public job interviews. This past weekend, Graeme Jenkins conducted the orchestra in performances of music by Haydn and Bartok, with pianist Orli Shaham joining the group in Mozart's Concert No. 21 in C major for Piano and Orchestra. Attendees received an email Tuesday asking them to rate the conductor's skills and rapport with the audience. He'll be compared to the previous three candidates, and the upcoming guest conductor Michael Christie, who arrives in February for a weekend.
Jenkins had the audience's attention immediately, as he dove into Haydn's Symphony No. 100 in G major. He drew warm, precise playing from the strings and seemed to enjoy the band's martial percussion flourishes in the second movement Allegretto. (The symphony is nicknamed "Military.")
The Mozart concerto showed Jenkins as a steady and inspired musical partner to Shaham, whose brother, violinist Gil Shaham, is perhaps a little better known. Her reputation as a Mozart specialist was on display as her crystaline and lucid touch drew a very Classical sound from the modern concert grand onstage. Mozart requires enormous precision, but that detailed playing shouldn't be at the expense of warmth. Shaham has all those bases covered and earned an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd.
After intermission, Graeme shifted to the role of music educator. He spoke engagingly about the themes of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra, illustrating each passage musically, calling the soloists by name, and generally giving the audience a sense that if he is hired to lead the band, he'd be an approachable and informal "maestro" without any fuss or pretension.
Although the concert I attended took place on Martin Luther King's birthday holiday, the only nod to the occasion was a statement by Jenkins that "he has a dream" for the orchestra's excellence in "world class" Weill Hall at the Green Music Center. It wasn't exactly a false note, but it emphasized the apparent lack of diversity in the orchestra and the audience. These are issues that any new conductor will undoubtedly address in time.
The actual performance of the Bartok delivered on Jenkins' promise. It was an intelligent and emotional ride through the composer's late in life homage to his native Hungary. The audience once again awarded a standing ovation, and made it clear that Jenkins is a strong contender for the important job of leading Santa Rosa's orchestra into its next chapter.

Steve Mencher was a radio producer at Carnegie Hall and worked for NPR'sPerformance Today music program. He's currently news director of KRCB.

December 6, 2017: Choices, choices: a job interview in the North Bay

By: , December 6, 2017 - Adam Broner, Piedmont Post

The Santa Rosa Symphony is in the middle of an exciting journey as they change artistic directors. Bruno Ferrandis, their beloved conductor, is stepping down and returning to France after eleven years at the helm. He balanced an electric tautness with depth of feeling, and the orchestra will surely miss him. But this year Sonoma audiences get to hear five different conductors strut their stuff, and they are even encouraged to offer their comments to the hiring committee.
On Monday, Dec. 4, I heard the third of the five candidates, Andrew Grams, in a program titled  “A Luscious Euro Sound.” Built around Ravel’s playful Piano Concerto in G Major, this was a program of contrasts.
The Santa Rosa Symphony is in the middle of an exciting journey as they change artistic directors. Bruno Ferrandis, their beloved conductor, is stepping down and returning to France after eleven years at the helm. He balanced an electric tautness with depth of feeling, and the orchestra will surely miss him. But this year Sonoma audiences get to hear five different conductors strut their stuff, and they are even encouraged to offer their comments to the hiring committee.
On Monday, Dec. 4, I heard the third of the five candidates, Andrew Grams, in a program titled  “A Luscious Euro Sound.” Built around Ravel’s playful Piano Concerto in G Major, this was a program of contrasts.
KA: I believe that the Santa Rosa Symphony is the heart and soul of this community. What can you say about this?
AG: Music is the medium by which we come together. It is the opposite of race and religion. It is a force for bringing people together into meaningful dialogue.

KA: You travel a lot. Moving to Sonoma County is not in your plans, right?
AG: I have a “residence” outside of Cleveland, where I live about two months a year with my love, who plays with the Cleveland Orchestra. And then I guest conduct a lot. If I get this job I will cut down a lot on my guest conducting. Think of it like dating: you go out a couple of times and then you think, It’s fun. But do I need it? So I’ll cut down on some of that…And this conductor search is like speed dating.

KA: [laughs] Yes, it is like speed dating. But we’re not looking for one night stands!
Grams answered smoothly, talking about sharing what he loved with the musicians and community. But I don’t think he was expecting that sweetly smiling musicologist to have such a wicked thrust.
And then on to the tryout! They opened with Hector Berlioz’ King Lear Overture. This was not the mature Berlioz that we know from Symphonie Fantastique, with his command of orchestration and color and smooth transitions. This was the young Berlioz, rough and rocky and fresh from being jilted by the woman he hoped to wed. It may not have been smooth, but in this homage to Shakespeare’s Lear we could hear a King’s madness echoed by a young man’s descent into insane passions.
Grams spoke about the work first, telling us that Berlioz had actually planned to dress as a chambermaid and poison his intended and her mother (who had halted the engagement) and himself, and was traveling from Rome when he stopped in Nice and encountered the Shakespeare play. He managed to regain enough sanity to write this concerto.
Despite the fascinating back story, this was not as successful as it could have been. Perhaps Grams was trying too hard, varying the tempo too often and stopping for long moments before springing back into action. The strings were right with him on those pauses, and started up instantly together. But the horns were ragged, since he didn’t know to telegraph his down beat for them. You just can’t do that to a horn player! They need to know where the beat is going to be, so they can get their mouths puckered down and begin compressing a column of air.
In that moment I knew his violin training was actually interfering with his rapport with the brass.
But then they came powerfully together in Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G major for Piano and Orchestra, with a dynamic performance by young piano sensation Stewart Goodyear.
This was all that the audience could have wished for, with sparkling runs and deep melancholy and lots and lots of Euro-jazz! But here Grams’ job was more direct: he had to follow the soloist faithfully or court instant disaster. No sweeping gestures, no grand pauses. This was that supreme tightrope act that conductors have to do, supporting the soloist’s interpretation of the composer and his rapport with the orchestra.
And the older Ravel was a force of nature, with whole tones mixing it up with blue notes and explosive runs turning to reveries. Goodyear was slow and tragic in the middle movement, and the excellent program notes by Steven Ledbetter described how Ravel “found it necessary to write the Adagio assaione or two measures at a time.”
Along with the full-court piano runs, the orchestra was at the top of its form. The brass were magically tight, the flutes glittered like precious stones, and the harp mirrored piano to create a sense of unearthly distance.
After intermission, the orchestra tried to show its mettle in Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, and it was clear that these musicians were solid. But again there were problems getting the work to gel into clarity. The patron seated next to me leaned over and whispered, “Grams looks like he’s dancing.” She didn’t seem to approve of his sways and round gestures, and I think the brass were having trouble finding the center of his beat.
I tried to think how Rachmaninoff would have conducted his own work of lush chords and bright edges. Stravinsky called him “a six-foot-six-inch scowl.” He would have stood ramrod straight and conducted incisively, and the musicians would have sounded sublime.
Last month Mei-Ann Chen had her tryout, and I read that both audience and musicians connected strongly to her. That program included a brilliant work by contemporary American composer Jennifer Higdon, and I’m sorry that I missed it. But we still have two more excellent candidates, and I’m all ready for “speed dating.”
For complete information on these concerts and on this exciting search for a conductor see

December 5, 2017: Andrew Grams finds his groove with the Santa Rosa Symphony in Rachmaninoff

By: , December 5, 2017 - Steve Osborn, San Francisco Classical Voice

Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two.

Some of Grams’s inconsistency may have stemmed from his chosen repertoire. According to Symphony staff, each of the conductor candidates (Grams is the third of five) chooses his or her own repertoire, with the exception of the piano concerto. The only requirement is that at least one of the pieces needs to be “modern,” i.e., written after 1900. The previous two candidates chose works written within the last 20 years, but Grams played it safe by selecting Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, which hails from 1940 but is unabashedly Romantic. Grams’ other selections were Berlioz’s rarely performed King Lear overture and an orchestrated version of Debussy’s piano classic, “Clair de Lune.”

The choice of the King Lear overture was particularly unfortunate. In introducing the piece, Grams said that it “gets programmed rarely — and you’re about to find out why.” And indeed, there isn’t much to it. Grams asserted that the music “sounds like it would be from a mad king,” but to contemporary ears, it sounds pretty tame, almost like a Rossini overture. The musicians played well, and Grams conducted solidly, but there was no kindling to ignite.

In contrast, the subsequent Ravel concerto (the one for two hands) was crackling within seconds. Goodyear is a self-effacing pianist who plays it straight, but the sounds coming from his fingers are incendiary. His technique is dazzling, his rhythmic sense is infallible, and the speed with which he traverses the fingerboard is astonishing.

The first movement of Ravel’s concerto sounds like a French version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with some nearly identical phrases. Goodyear slid right into his part, balancing well with the orchestra while bringing out the syncopation. He likewise eased into the second movement, playing his simple but evocative part with great sensitivity. His playing was so peaceful and tranquil that it got everyone’s attention, and a sustained hush descended on the audience.

Goodyear broke the silence with a relentless perpetuum mobile in the Vivace finale. He played with tremendous energy, but was always in control and delightfully expressive. Grams and the orchestra matched him note for note, including a torrid bassoon solo.

After intermission, the attention was once again on Grams, who had arranged the orchestra in a somewhat unusual pattern of first violins, cellos, and basses on stage right, with violas and second violins on stage left. The arrangement gave the orchestra a deeper sound, but it was often difficult to hear the violas.

The Symphonic Dances is one of Rachmaninoff’s best works and it’s hard to forget. The driving rhythms and descending triplets in the opening bars become etched in the brain as Rachmaninoff restates, develops, and expands upon them. Grams was precise in cueing entrances, and he paced the first movement exquisitely, the gradual build-up at the outset resolving into a thundering fortissimo.

Grams’s beat is easy to follow. His left and right hands function independently, allowing him to add expressive effects with his left. He used every square inch of the podium as he addressed the different sections of the orchestra.

Despite all that, Grams’s head often seemed to be buried in his score, detracting from full engagement with the orchestra. All the tempi and dynamics were there, but there were few sparks and not much forward momentum.

Thankfully, momentum arrived in the finale. Here Rachmaninoff displays his skill as an orchestrator, and the musicians proved equal to the task, negotiating the tricky rhythms and rapidly changing instrumentation with ease. Grams led them flawlessly and spiritedly.

Another odd repertoire choice ended the concert as a kind of encore: André Caplet’s orchestration of Debussy’s beloved piano piece, “Clair de Lune” (Moonlight). Here Grams was in his wheelhouse, evoking lush sound from the orchestra with grace and confidence.

December 4, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate presents eloquent program

By: , December 4, 2017 - Diane Peterson, The Press Democrat

The Santa Rosa Symphony under music director candidate Andrew Grams presented a program of lush European works Saturday night at Weill Hall that created a kaleidoscope of orchestral color as bright as the holiday lights shining on the hall.

The concert, which replaced December’s traditional choral program, offered two Romantic works by Rachmaninoff and Berlioz, and two French works by Ravel and Debussy. The clarity and simplicity of the French works were particularly well-suited to Grams’ restrained and elegant conducting style.

An agile presence on the podium, Grams conducts with a blend of precision and fluidity, bringing out the eloquence of the music while keeping a steady hand on the rhythmic groove. Clearly he is a musician’s musician, and his hands tell a story that is as fascinating to watch as it is to hear.

Demonstrating tight ensemble, the orchestra seemed to be with him through every measure and note, playing with bravado and tonal luster.

To that end, perhaps, the orchestra’s layout had been tweaked, with the cellos adjacent to the first violins on stage right and the basses behind them. The second violins sat directly across from the firsts, with the violas inside on stage left, with the harp and piano behind them.

This game of musical chairs, according to one musician, allowed each section to hear each other better — a key element for being able to play together.

The highlight of the evening came after intermission with Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances,” a three-part suite that stomps and waltzes its way through lyrical melodies and an uproarious riot of sound. The last major work the Russian composer lived to complete, the dances weave together feelings of joy and despair as the dour Russian — one of the great masters of melody — knew he was approaching death.

Last performed in 2007 under Music Conductor Bruno Ferrandis, the lively first movement Saturday featured a sinuous saxophone solo by Jordan Wardlaw, son of long-time symphony clarinetist Mark Wardlaw (who was working another gig). The twirling solo by concertmaster Joseph Edelberg in the troubled waltz of the second movement also sounded wonderful.

But the orchestra really hit its stride in the third movement, a Spanish-like dance combining a vibrant array of lush strings, sighing woodwinds, blaring brass and percussion, whirling its way like a cyclone to the exciting finale.

Before intermission, the guest soloist — Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia — attacked the piano keys in Ravel’s Concerto in G major in a manner alternately intense, fiery and lyrical, all in the right places.

The quick tempo and rhythmic vitality of the first movement made the Gershwin-inspired music sound new again, and Goodyear demonstrated a lovely, deft touch in the Mozartean second movement, using whispered dynamics and tempo rubato to weave a magical spell. All of the woodwind solos were delicious.

Grams, who conducted the slow movement without a baton, picked it up again for the brief but rambunctious third movement, which had even orchestra musicians bobbing their heads.

The program opened with Berlioz’s Le Roi Lear (King Lear) Grande Ouverture, which Grams introduced with a funny story about the composer’s ill-fated engagement to a woman who, in his absence in Rome, married someone else.

The work, which doesn’t get played very often, was not as wild and crazy as Grams warned, but it did offer a taste of the kind of programming diversity he might offer were he to come here.
The conductor, who addressed the audience casually throughout the concert, concluded with another rarely heard orchestral work: an arrangement of Debussy’s beloved “Clair de lune” piano piece.

Was it a fairly standard lineup? You could argue that, but Grams provided a program whose sum that was greater than its parts, and the orchestra sounded terrific.

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

November 6, 2017: Chen navigates her way through “journey” with Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Diane Peterson, November 6, 2017 - The Press Democrat

With music director candidate Mei-Ann Chen at the helm, the Santa Rosa Symphony whisked the audience o on an exotic voyage Saturday at Weill Hall to destinations ranging from Russia and Italy to a glass cathedral in the sky.

The evening seemed to y by as the spirited Chen — the second of five finalists to try out with the orchestra this season to succeed Bruno Ferrandis — proved her prowess as a navigator. Chen cut a crisp and elegant figure on the podium, dressed in a long black jacket and pants. Her controlled yet fluid conducting style combined clear cues and beats with sweeping, circular gestures reminiscent of the great maestro Seiji Ozawa.

After being introduced by Board Chair Jamei Haswell, who lost her home in the October wildfires, Chen launched the musical journey with a cheerful 1954 work, “Festive Overture” by Shostakovich. This work expresses the freedom the composer feels of getting out from under Stalin’s boots.

After the short work, Chen spoke to the audience about the program’s emotional journey, from the exuberance of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No. 4 to the life-arming “blue cathedral” of Jennifer Higdon and the heartwarming melodies of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

The troubled life of Tchaikovsky, she noted, proves that “something tragic can lead to something beautiful.” Then she urged audience members to give their neighbors a hug.

“Love is the foundation of any rebuilding,” she said. “Let’s rebuild together.”

The Tchaikovsky concerto in B-at minor may sound trite to some — its opening melody is so well known that even those who have never heard a note of classical music can hum it — but the rendition by Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan was anything but.

Wringing all the emotion out of the virtuoso work, Arghamanyan strode through the massive chords of the opening, then delivered each phrase with eloquence and clarity. The woodwind soloists shone in both the first movement and the enchanting second movement, where the strings provided interesting timbres during the pizzicato and muted sections. Chen kept dynamics balanced, but the ensemble seemed to be a bit ragged at times. The pianist plunged into the finale at a brisk pace, then Chen drove it home with an exhilarating accelerando at the end. Like a ride on the Orient Express and the composer himself, this sumptuous work carries Western tradition into the East.

After an enthusiastic standing ovation, Arghamanyan dedicated her encore — the melancholic “October” from Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” — to the victims of the wildfires.

The second half opened with Higdon’s airy “blue cathedral,” composed as a cathartic tribute to her younger brother, who died in 1998. Since its premiere in 2000, it has become Higdon’s most popular work.

The short, accessible piece opens with the percussion section on triangle, glockenspiel and other tinkling instruments. Then strings and winds enter, evoking an open, Coplandesque soundscape. The music slides upward as the listener enters a glass cathedral in the sky and is swept ever upward, then ends with a big, brass fanfare, dissolving slowly into the ringing of Chinese hand bells and crystal glasses. Like a backpacking trek into the mountains, this piece goes up but we’re not sure if it ever makes it back.

Bringing the audience down to earth, Chen landed the concert smoothly with Mendelssohn’s sunny Symphony No. 4, conducting from memory and sculpting the sound with her hands. The passionate first movement drew applause, but the orchestra really hit its groove in the graceful third and dancing fourth movements.

Like a Lamborghini, the musicians hugged the winding curves of the intricate score with fearless abandon. 

October 8, 2017: Santa Rosa Symphony conductor candidate creates synergy

By: DIane Peterson, , October 8, 2017 - The Press Democrat

The Santa Rosa Symphony and music director candidate Francesco Lecce-Chong created an exciting synergy Saturday night at the Green Music Center as the orchestra launched its 90th anniversary season with the first of five tryouts for a new artistic leader.

It didn’t go perfectly, but the surprises were all part of the charm.

Unable to curb its enthusiasm, the audience broke into unexpected applause after the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, performed with a lovely, deft touch by Korean pianist Joyce Yang. About midway through the movement, the orchestra and soloist hit a rhythmic groove that was almost transcendent.

Singer-songwriter Tom Waits has described this feeling as a place where “there were no walls, there were no music stands, there weren’t even any instruments. There was no ceiling, there was no floor ... we all went out to the meadow.”

Throughout the evening, Lecce-Chong continued to make forays into the meadow, giving a clear, easy-to-follow beat for the curtain-opener by composer Mason Bates. His “Garages of the Valley,” which pays tribute to the high-tech inventors of San Jose, provided an accessible taste of contemporary music and a challenging warmup for the orchestra.

After the upbeat finale of the work, Lecce-Chong addressed the audience, expressing optimism about the future of classical music.

He found lots of connections in the Beethoven, most notably with Yang, with whom he has performed several times before, including at a gala concert last month for the Eugene Symphony in Eugene, Oregon, where Lecce-Chong is the music director.

Dressed in a long fuchsia gown, Yang married a formidable technique with rich expressiveness. She bent over the piano to generate a powerful sound throughout the concerto, which received a well-deserved standing ovation.

The five music director finalists are vying to succeed Bruno Ferrandis.

Chosen from among 60 applicants by a search committee of five symphony board members, four orchestra members and Alan Silow, the symphony’s executive director, each candidate will spent about eight days in Santa Rosa conducting rehearsals and performances and meeting with community leaders, board members, staff and musicians.

Mei-Ann Chen is the next candidate to tryout, from Nov. 4-6. A final decision is expected in March.

After Saturday night’s intermission, Lecce-Chong conducted the Tchaikovsky from memory, creating exciting accelerandos in the first movement and ramping up the energy with bold facial and left-hand gestures. He broke his baton at the end of the first movement, but playfully shrugged it off. Wrapping his hands around his chest while the oboe soloist launched into the opening of the Andantino by herself, he then conducted the sad, yet serene, movement with his hands.

After being presented with a new baton, Lecce-Chong ripped into the final two movements with frenzied passion, not bothering to tuck in an errant shirttail. Who cares what he looks like when he manages to become part of the orchestra and pull in the audience with him?

The Santa Rosa Symphony dedicated this concert set to principal bassist Randall Keith, who died Aug. 25 after 29 years with the orchestra.

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

2016-2017 Season

January 9, 2017: Symphonic splendor and harp viruosity at SRS concert

By: , January 9, 2017 - Terry McNeill, Classical Sonoma

A rainy winter Weill Hall audience of 800 heard the Santa Rosa Symphony Jan. 7 in an eclectic program of four composers including a provocative harp concerto. The music was preceded by manifold stage announcements and somber recognition of SRS musicians that had recently died. 

A rollicking performance of Rossini’s ‘Thieving Magpie” overture was a splendid opener, played at a quick tempo and spotlighting snare drum and dramatic percussion effects. All evening an eight-musician percussion section and superb wind playing were showcased by conductor Bruno Ferrandis, and the jaunty overture from 1819 had the requisite flash and verve. I am always struck with how starkly different Rossini’s music was in 1819, when juxtaposed with the prevailing Germanic style of Beethoven, Schubert and Weber 

French harpist Marie-Pierre Langlament was the soloist in the Ginastera Concerto, Op. 25, and the instrument brought on stage (hers?) was subtly amplified. The piece is awash in swirling sonic effects, handled with aplomb by Ms. Langlament who must have known the work from youth. Most performances I have heard have had solo playing that was aggressive and often rushed, but Ms. Langlament found elegance in the demanding samba-like rhythms and rapid phrases high in the treble. Nothing was forced or out of balance. 

In the lovely Molto Moderato there was fetching playing from the flute (Kathleen Reynolds), clarinet (Roy Zajac), oboe (Laura Reynolds) and bassoonist Carla Wilson, leading into an extended harp cadenza that was played with compelling virtuosity. The driving rhythms and sharp dynamic contrasts of the concluding Vivace were carefully controlled by the conductor and the sonorous excitement produced a standing ovation and two curtain calls. 

Returning to the stage after intermission for Debussy’s Danses Sacrée et Profane Ms. Langlament played a different harp, and took a few moments to touch up tuning. The ten-minute bucolic piece for strings was again played with the same secure control and authority that was heard in the Concerto, but with a lush and warm tone and seamless modulations. Mr. Ferrandis is at home with the music and crafted waltzes that were aristocratic as well as sensual. 

Ravel’s two big suites from Daphnis et Chloé closed the program in orchestral splendor, making full use of nine percussionists, two harps, xylophone, celesta and with a husky wind machine at the back of the stage. The Suites from the 1912 ballet are often presented with an off-stage choir singing haunting wordless expressions, but Mr. Ferrandis omitted this and the luxurious music had no need of the few seconds of faux artificial wind. 

There was nothing affected or omitted about the playing the first Suite, though after several faulty entrances the performance settled down and the conductor skillfully managed the many tempo changes and drew a reading that was at times white hot with excitement. The “Sunrise” opening in the second Suite was luminous, even without the choir, and the Symphony’s winds were stellar. Ms. Reynolds’ beguiling long solo was reminiscent of Vaughan William’s violin solo in the “Lark Ascending,” and Mr. Ferrandis acknowledged standout playing from Stacy Pelinka and Carmen Lemoine (flute and piccolo), Meredith Brown (horn) and trumpeters Scott Macomber and Kale Cumings. The wind playing mastery reached its zenith with a brilliant flute trio playing off the clarinet, bassoon and oboe lines in the Pantomine and Danse Générale sections. 

Clearly this was music in Mr. Ferrandis’ French “sweet spot” and his consummate and precision orchestral control was equaled only by his grand interpretative choices. 

Robert Hayden contributed to this review.

December 5, 2016: Poetic, but not really Poe-etic: "The Bells" sparks Santa Rosa Symphony program

By: , December 5, 2016 - Paul Hertelendy,

ROHNERT PARK, CA---To catch important musical works, it can take an hour’s drive out of an arts capital to reach them.

Credit the Santa Rosa Symphony and amalgamated choruses for bringing out that very eloquent but little-known choral symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff, “The Bells,” given in the concerts of Dec. 3-5 here. The composer called it his number one achievement.

Coming from his palette in 1913, the 35-minute piece contains some of Rachmaninoff’s most skillful musical effects. If you only know the big three piano-cum-orchestra opuses, then, my friend, you don’t yet know Rachmaninoff the deft orchestrator, the master of rich romantic textures who could also produce consummate articulation in a diaphanous orchestra.

Like the composer’s life itself, “Bells” combines both Russian and American strains, using poetry of E.A. Poe. The piece is poetic, but not really Poe-etic. It’s a very free adaptation of Poe into Russian, then set to music, and now translated back into English in an even freer adaptation (Is that Mr. Poe himself we see, turning over in his grave?).

Its four movements present distinct themes, doled out to individual vocal soloists: childhood, wedding days, sheer horror (my favorite) and deathly doom-in-tomb. The finale contained the most memorable singing by far on opening night, with veteran operatic basso Philip Skinner and his fiery, booming voice in total command, as if prepping for Verdi’s “Requiem.”

Cuing his forces throughout, the wiry French Music director Bruno Ferrandis had clearly worked hard readying this rarity, and his orchestra did the rest. Though the audience reaction was tepid-to-polite, perhaps because the last movement is the most subtle and somber, the interpretation was exquisite, one of the best at the SRS.

Bells play little role in the music itself. Childhood is marked by silvery flute effects and a humming chorus, plus high (angelic?) female voices. The wedding section turns both sensual and tender, white the “horror” segment bristles with turbulence and dissonance. The chaos reflects souls in distress, as the chorus turns chromatic, and harp arpeggios emphasized the instability  of the infernal scene.

Effective and attractive instrumental solos peppered the program, coming from SRS principal players Roy Zajac, Meg Eldridge, Adelle-Akiko Kearns and Jesse Barrett.

While unusual, a choral symphony is not a new concept, used as format by Berlioz (“Romeo and Juliet”), Mahler (“Das Lied von der Erde”) and others.

Also featured was Elgar’s best and most played work, the “Enigma” Variations, that very durable mystery opus. It offers multiple mysteries which Elgar was not forthcoming to reveal. Why enigma? Who was the lady friend on an unmistakable sea voyage, in the variation ID’d as merely “***”? And what is the hidden principal theme which is never played (as he confessed), which no one can identify? (When asked if he’d reveal the theme, he always growled “Never!” implying it could be from the British song “Rule, Brittania.”)

Opening it all, a tone poem “Prayer Bells” by Augusta Read Thomas, 52. Full of rich sonorities, doleful horns and deep sounds, the ominous opus opens up to a full-throated “angry birds” orchestral finale. There were bells here, as elsewhere, but not much, to judge by involvement of the percussionist teetering atop a ladder hitting the tubular percussion.  

MUSIC NOTES---Ferrandis, who has audibly grown as an interpreter since arriving, will have logged an 11-year tenure as M.D. next summer. A replacement search will be underway next season, with five candidates.

SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY, with choruses, music of Rachmaninoff, Elgar, Thomas. Green Center, Sonoma State Univ., Dec. 3-5. For SRS info: (707) 546-8742, or go online.

December 4, 2016: Hear the tolling of the bells--iron bells!

By: , December 4, 2016 - Steve Osborn, Classical Sonoma

Thanks to the generosity of Don Green (as in Green Music Center), the Santa Rosa Symphony has for many years performed an annual choral program, usually during the holiday season. In keeping with this tradition, the orchestra and the SSU Symphonic Chorus featured Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony “The Bells” during their Dec. 3-5 concert set (I attended on Dec. 4). Rachmaninoff’s title suggests a festive work appropriate to the season, but the reality is that “The Bells” is a peculiarly Russian version of Edgar Allan Poe’s captivating but ultimately tragic poem, more suitable for mourning than merriment. 

The music of “The Bells” is among Rachmaninoff’s best, mixing equal parts of passion and invention. The third movement, “Alarm Bells,” is particularly stirring in its mixture of fortissimo choral lines, unusual orchestration and melodic fervor. Both choir and orchestra proved up to the task in this performance, with lines like “In a tuneless, jangling wrangling as they shriek, and shriek, and shriek” ringing forth with clear diction and enormous power. Maestro Bruno Ferrandis conducted with vigor, and the orchestra sustained the drama throughout. 

The other movements were less impressive, hampered by often inaudible soloists, imperfect balance and a strangely perverted translation and retranslation of Poe from English to Russian to English. Much is lost in transit, such as Poe’s insistent repetition of key words--bells, time, tinkle--and his rhythmic intensity. Captivating lines like “How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle / In the icy air of night” are debased into “Rippling sounds of laughter falling / On the icy midnight air.” 

These textual difficulties were somewhat moot during the performance because the words were often hard to hear and nearly impossible to read in the darkness. Perhaps the powers that be could raise the auditorium lights slightly during vocal performances or even consider using supertitles, as in opera houses. 

Tenor soloist Christopher Bengochea sang with excellent diction, but his voice was somewhat dark, and his head was often buried in the score. Soprano Jenni Samuelson has a lovely voice, but her insistent vibrato sometimes overpowered the text; her performance was much better in Rachmaninoff’s wordless “Vocalise,” which ended the program. Baritone Philip Skinner was the most impressive soloist, enunciating his mournful lines with deep resonance. He was also the most engaged with the audience, rarely referring to his score. 

“The Bells” was actually the second bell-related piece on the program, which opened with a spirited performance of contemporary composer August Read Thomas’s “Prayer Bells.” Like many other modern compositions, the work is built around a single sustained note, or drone, heard in different octaves. The melodic material, such as it is, begins and ends on the drone, with no forward progression. Attention thus focuses on orchestral color and quality of sound, which was impressive; but the lack of forward motion was frustrating. 

The highlight of the concert was Elgar’s “Enigma Variations,” which earned a standing ovation before intermission from the packed house. The majestic ninth variation, “Nimrod,” is often played by itself, but it sounds even better when heard in the context of the 13 other variations on Elgar’s “Enigma” theme. 

Unlike purely musical variations, Elgar’s are based on the characteristics of individual people, with only distant references to the original theme. This change in basis, as it were, gives Elgar considerable freedom to depict each person’s foibles in sound. There is considerable variety to the variations, and the orchestration is consistently inventive and delightful. 

The symphony played with great confidence and gusto, easily switching from grim foreboding to fragile delicacy. The clarinet, viola and cello solos were outstanding, and Ferrandis’s conducting was both steady and fluid throughout. He would have done better to program the gloomy Rachmaninoff first and the shimmering Elgar last, so everyone could leave with a smile on their face instead of a furrowed brow.

November 8, 2016: Orion Weiss Takes Bartók at the Speed of Light

By: , November 8, 2016 - Steve Osborn, Classical Voice

Gifted pianists are everywhere these days, but few have the prodigious speed, stamina, and musicality of Orion Weiss. He exhibited all these qualities in a memorable rendition of Béla Bartók’s second piano concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony on Nov. 6.

Weiss is a no-nonsense pianist. He seated himself at the piano, gathered his energies, and then launched full bore into the finger-crunching opening runs of the Bartók. He spent nearly all his time staring at his hands, as if guiding his fingers with his eyes rather than his arms. The speed of light seems like the most plausible explanation for the astonishing rapidity and precision of his attack. He was able to control the resonance of the piano with finger speed as much as pedal. In one soft passage, he achieved a haunting effect by striking the keys with so much speed that the notes died away as soon as they sounded.

The Bartók requires a considerable amount of fire from the soloist, an element that Weiss has in profusion. Although he was occasionally drowned out by the winds in the Allegro first movement, he flamed forth time and again, fully igniting near the end with an incredibly fast cadenza.

The entry of muted strings in the second movement brought an entirely new world of sound, to hypnotic and engaging effect. Weiss arose out of this background by producing tremendous volume from his instrument, accented by a beguiling duet with tympani. The tympani featured prominently in the final movement as well, along with a booming bass drum. Much of the movement is given over to a vigorous call-and-response between piano and orchestra. Weiss not only matched each orchestral outburst but kept raising the ante all the way to the transcendent conclusion.

The opener, Liszt’s symphonic poem Les Préludes, stood in pale contrast to Bartók’s masterpiece. Liszt’s orchestration is competent, but his melodies are insipid and his development evanescent. Nonetheless, the orchestra played flawlessly under conductor Bruno Ferrandis, with elegant solos from the French horn and oboe. After an interminable series of runs and arpeggios, the melodic material does coalesce near the end with a striking nine-note descending figure from the brass, impeccably executed by the orchestra’s trumpets and trombones.

Schumann’s second symphony, which occupied the latter part of the program, is a standard of the repertoire, and with good reason. Every movement has striking melodies and motifs, and they flow together with consummate grace. The orchestra played superbly, but special praise must be given to the string section, which negotiated Schumann’s roller-coaster runs with accuracy, unanimity and feeling. Nary a wrong note was to be heard.

In the first movement, Schumann uses a dizzying array of short motifs to build a central theme. Ferrandis brought out the abundant phrases and syncopations, nowhere more so than in an extended passage for strings and clarinet. The violins shone in the second movement, a playful Scherzo that requires nearly perpetual motion, capped off by a bracing sprint to the finish.

The players caught their breath in the subsequent Adagio, a subdued and calming interlude that invites rhythmic flexibility and heartfelt playing, which were everywhere in evidence. Most notable was the beautiful Bach-tinged fugue in the middle.

Ferrandis set a brisk tempo for the Allegro molto finale, resorting sometimes to compact angular motions instead of a more relaxed fluidity. However the beat was conveyed, the musicians kept up the pace while deftly handling repeated sforzandos and orchestral swells. Each idea led seamlessly into the next and propelled toward a triumphant ending — triumphant not only for Schumann, but also for Ferrandis and the Santa Rosa Symphony, which delivered an outstanding performance.

Steve Osborn, a medical writer and editor by day, moonlights as a violist, singer, and music critic.

November 8, 2016: (Untitled on Keyboard Brilliance)

By: , November 8, 2016 - Paul Hertelendy,

The centerpiece of the latest Santa Rosa Symphony program was one of Bela Bartok's thorniest works, the Piano Concerto No.2, with Music Director Bruno Ferrandis at the helm. Having just recently completed his 10th season here, the French conductor clearly does not shy away from challenging assignments.

The musicians brought off the work's many high-energy intricacies with the fast-flying, nimble pianist Orion Weiss.

Despite the considerable drive (nearly 100 mi. round trip from San Francisco), I relish my trips to the Santa Rosa area. Ferrandis is a meticulous figure leading a solid ensemble in a wood-lined modern hall that is a joy.

Bartok was an ultra-structuralist who embodied neoclassicism to the core; his thematic structure was comparable in complexity to J.S. Bach, though much less melodious, more dissonant and decidedly more contemporary in harmony.

You might have been concerned that Ferrandis never turned to look at Weiss and the keyboard---no doubt because the orchestral parts needed close attention and sharp cuing.

Bartok had been enamored of the timpani; the opus could almost be called concerto for piano and kettle drums. The latter enter again and again, like a thunderstorm, somewhat magnified because of the hall acoustics, and usually right on the beat.

Pianist Weiss was a superior choice for this technically demanding concerto. He not only managed the rapid-fire filigree of this work, which the composer himself had introduced in 1933, but showed a lot of subtlety in dynamics, never content just to pound out the thousands of notes on the page.

Overall, the hall acoustics at Weill Hall are admirable, with a welcome sonic afterglow. In the balcony, you get fine ensemble blending of the whole orchestra, If instead you sit downstairs closeup, the sound is stronger, and the individual musicians are readily recognizable. Each has its appeal.

Liszt's “Les preludes,” opened the program. For many years after World War Two, groups on both sides of the Atlantic avoided playing it, as the brass-chorale theme had been used countless times by the Nazis for their propaganda-bulletin broadcasts. The association was so distasteful that only belatedly and gradually has this rousing romantic piece returned to orchestral-concert repertoire---as well it should, since it is arguably Liszt's finest orchestral piece, written a century before the war by a composer who was not even German. The SRS' horn section was resplendent.

The Nov. 5 concert concluded with Schumann's Symphony No. 2, firmly rendered, full of the marches and German-romantic touches that Schumann favored and savored. His most sensitive moments come to life in the much lighter touch of the slow movement, where the lyricism is paramount, as produced by oboe soloist Laura Reynolds and cohorts in the winds.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD---This is Ferrandis' final season as music director. Next season concerts feature five candidates for his job, each leading a separate concert set: Francesco Lecce-Chong, Mei-Ann Chen, Andrew Grams, Graeme Jenkins and Michael Christie. The 6th and 7th concert set will be led by Ferrandis.

November 6, 2016: Santa Rosa Symphony offer up stars of the keyboard

By: , November 6, 2016 - Diane Peterson, Press Democrat

The Santa Rosa Symphony led by Music Director Bruno Ferrandis offered up a colorful trio of works by three, virtuoso pianists Saturday night at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall, including the rarely heard and devilishly difficult Bartok Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by American pianist Orion Weiss.

Weiss, who will turn 35 on Tuesday, was named after the most visible constellation in the Northern hemisphere’s winter sky. A graduate of Juilliard who studied with pianist Emanuel Ax, Weiss brought plenty of star power to bear on the Bartok, which is so challenging that some flatly refuse to play it. British pianist Andras Schiff once called it a “finger-buster,” and Israeli-American pianist Yefim Bronfman injured himself a few times on its thornier passages.

With Weill Hall lit up ominously in red and pre-concert lecturer Kayleen Asbo warning us to “look out for the bloody keyboard,” it was a relief when Weiss managed to survive the rhythmic complexity and relentless brutality of the 28-minute concerto, written by the famous Hungarian composer in 1931.

Weiss played the keyboard work brilliantly, with machine-gun clarity. Amazingly, he also performed it from memory. Under Ferrandis’ baton, the orchestra matched him beat by angular beat, rhythm by fractured rhythm, marching through the controlled chaos of the first and third movements with clear-eyed precision.

But the intensity of the music, while underlining the percussive power of the piano, did not always transcend the notes and emerge with the exuberance and joy one would expect.

Part of the problem, at least from my seat, was that the piano was often difficult to hear, especially in the first movement, a Stravinsky-like romp punctuated by racing octave scales and a crazed cadenza. There are just so many notes — the pianist has only 23 measures of rest — that you hardly notice the strings are just sitting silently, while the rest of the orchestra provides the accompaniment.

The elegiac adagio, written in the spirit of Bartok’s eerie night music, brought a mesmerizing reprieve from the motoric energy of the first movement, with the strings adding a lush, hushed, nearly transparent sound.

The concerto concluded with another restless folk dance, tossing up recycled themes from the first movement and interjecting pointed dialogue between piano, brass and percussion. The complex rondo, driven to a climactic conclusion, brought the audience immediately to its feet.

While the Bartok was intellectually provocative, the other two works eclipsed it in terms of sheer emotion. They also provided a handy vehicle for the orchestra’s musicians to shine with nuanced playing and solos.

The program opened with Hungarian composer Franz Lizst’s “Les Préludes,” a symphonic poem completed in 1854 as a paean to nature. Lizst created the new musical form to reconcile poetry with music, and this particular example — full of far-off horn calls, mournful woodwinds and swirling strings — evokes the serenity of the countryside, broken only by a nerve-tingling storm that rises and falls in intensity, thanks to evocative orchestration for timpani and brass.

Ferrandis rounded out the program with another literary composer, Robert Schumann, whose father was a bookseller. Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, written in 1846, took the audience on an uplifting journey, from the solemn brass fanfare of the first movement, reminiscent of a Bach chorale, to the triumphant finale, with its nod to Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Written in the sunny key of C major, the work also includes a spirited scherzo of perpetual motion, pulled off with amazing accuracy and endurance by the strings. The slow movement took a soulful dip into C minor, spinning out sublime melodies full of yearning and colorful solos executed by woodwinds and horns.

The clouds parted in the final movement, with the ensemble carefully building to the joyful conclusion, executing clear, dotted rhythms and triplets along with nicely nuanced dynamics. It was a memorable trip from darkness to light, worth every finger-numbing note.

The Santa Rosa Symphony will repeat the Saturday program at 8 p.m. Monday at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. Tickets: $20-$80.

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

October 13, 2016: Duet for Flute and Baton

By: Steve Osborn, October 13, 2016 - Classical Sonoma

Sustain, sustain, sustain! That exhortation often passes the lips of music teachers, and their students’ success is often judged by how well they master the concept. Two students who mastered it to perfection are Bruno and Jean Ferrandis, the “Brothers in Black” who led and soloed in the Santa Rosa Symphony’s October opening set of concerts in Weill Hall. 

The basic idea of sustain is to play all the way through the note and the phrase, never letting the energy peter out. This quality is nowhere more necessary than in wind instruments, where the player has to control intake and expenditure of breath without running out of air or gasping for more. Jean Ferrandis, the flute soloist for his brother’s orchestra, proved himself a master of sustain in two radically different flute concertos by Bernstein and Mozart, along with a breathtaking encore by Debussy. 

Not to be outdone, brother Bruno coaxed an equal level of sustain from his wonderful orchestra, which kept driving forward through pieces fast and slow, never letting their intensity falter. Each piece offered its own gripping narrative, from the haunting beginning of Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” to the propulsive climax of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony. 

Soloist and orchestra were equally praiseworthy, but let’s begin with Jean, who opened with a heartfelt rendition of “Halil,” Bernstein’s nocturne for flute and small orchestra. He immediately displayed a beautiful, even sound that carried to the farthest reaches of the balcony, where music reviewers tend to sit. He sustained his notes well beyond the limits of ordinary breath without a hint of effort or strain. 

“Halil” itself is somewhat amorphous, with a luxuriant opening melody that passes back and forth between the soloist, the principal flutist (Kathleen Lane Reynolds), the concertmaster (Joseph Edelberg) and principal violist (Elizabeth Prior). This dialogue transforms into a Broadway-style dance and is then replaced by a lengthy section where the soloist is accompanied only by percussion. Here Jean shone, holding the audience in rapt silence as he wove in and out of the percussive backdrop. The piece finally reverts to the opening melody, repeatedly employing a descending six-note phrase, and it ends with a long note from the flute, which Jean stretched to the limit. 

In “Halil,” Jean proved a master of atmospherics, but in Mozart’s G Major flute concerto (K. 313) he displayed an equal mastery of relaxed precision. In Mozart the soloist is fully exposed, and even the slightest misstep can turn into a tumble. Jean negotiated Mozart’s trickiest passages with ease, dancing along with a feathery tread. His phrasing in the beautiful second movement was exquisite, matched only by his virtuosity in the third. 

After a well-deserved standing ovation, Jean encored with Debussy’s “Syrinx” for solo flute, a brilliant showcase for his breath control and tone. After all his work with the orchestra, it was a revelation to hear him all alone. If anything, his sound was even more gorgeous than before. 

Following his brother was no easy task, but Bruno displayed his own mastery of conducting sustain in a riveting performance of Beethoven’s eighth symphony. The orchestra produced a tight, unified sound from the beginning, with the strings playing unerringly in the fastest passages. The precision was particularly evident in the sprightly second movement, where the orchestra sounded at times like a string quartet. The minuet third movement tempo was a bit too deliberate, but the French horn duo over cello arpeggios was delightful. The real fireworks occurred in the finale, which builds up bit by bit to a stunning climax. Here the sound was transparent, with no mud to cloud the headlong rush to the end. 

The Beethoven was great, but the piece that opened the program, Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes,” was every bit its equal. Taken from his 1945 opera “Peter Grimes,” the interludes portray the sea in its multiple moods and rages. The first interlude begins with a high phrase in the violins that features a sustained trill. The unity of the strings here was impressive, and it set the stage for a sensitive, intricate performance of Britten’s majestic score. 

Conductor and players handled the dense orchestration with ease and grace. Many passages stood out: the handoffs of the compelling staccato theme from woodwinds to strings to brass; the insistent plucking of the harp; the compelling force of the kettledrums. All these and more combined for a fiery and dramatic performance that left one wishing to hear the entire opera, arguably Britten’s greatest work. 

October 10, 2016: Jean Ferrandis with Santa Rosa Symphony: Storms of the Upper Air

By: Adam Broner, October 10, 2016 - Piedmont Post

Bruno Ferrandis opened his final year with the Santa Rosa Symphony this past weekend in an ambitious program. The last ten years under his baton have been exhilarating, and his flamboyant conducting will be missed. But a search for his replacement as Artistic Director has already begun, and next year should be a lot of fun as five different conductors do their best to wow the savvy North Bay audience.

Monday evening’s program, Oct 10, in Weill Hall at Sonoma State featured the talents of his brother, flutist Jean Ferrandis, and he was extraordinary.

But before his brother’s entrance, Bruno stretched the orchestra in an intensely atmospheric tone poem, Benjamin Britten’s Four Sea Interludes. This was music that Britten had put together out of his opera, Peter Grimes, and the music was as yearning and contradictory as the opera is grimly compelling.Bruno Ferrandis-photo by Susan and Neil Silverman

In concert with the flute theme of the evening, Interludes begins with long-held flute notes in unison with high violins, a single sound as plaintive as a sea gull on a cold British coast. These were answered by the lowing of horns and bass trombone.

This felt like Nature in all Her Awful Grandeur, the high thin winds, the clarinet-quick scrabble of sand crabs, the rhythmic billowing of breakers, the stillness of the sea. There were inexplicable points of brightness with sharp wood blocks and marimba, and a call-and-response of clarinet and horns, transforming that early morning feeling into the hurly-burly of midday.

And then Ferrandis gathered his forces for a storm, with low timpani sounding as hushed and dramatic, and a chromatic step by step climb of big brass. Afterwards, soft cymbal and harp notes divided the silence like stars after the storm. The conducting was exacting, almost joyful in its tension.

The two Ferrandis brothers came out to sustained applause, and then swept into an unusual work, Leonard Bernstein’s Halil: Nocturne for Flute and Small Orchestra. This was late Bernstein, an experiment in tone rows that still had room for lyricism and touches of jazz.  Halil is the Hebrew word for a shepherd’s pipe, and as modern as the work was, there remains the lively feeling of that ancient instrument. And Bernstein did not let it stand on its own, but shadowed it with the warmth of low alto flute, and high piccolo echoed its phrases, played respectively by Kathleen Lane Reynolds and Stacey Pelinka. Those two had already distinguished themselves in the Britten.

Jean was warm, bright and unforced, linking Bernstein’s curious intervals into miles of scenic road, while the orchestra exercised lovely color and restraint. In many of his moments he was accompanied by percussion, with one lovely cadenza arrayed against soft kettle drum.

He returned after intermission in Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 in G Major for Flute and Orchestra, and the two works could not have been more different. Mozart seems to understand the flute better than Bernstein, and here Jean was able to display its rich bottom and pure upper ranges, with the whole full of eye-popping cadenzas… and lyricism! Magical!

Jean FerrandisAfter the first movement the audience erupted into spontaneous applause (as they would have in Mozart’s day, instead of holding their applause to the end). The Adagio felt more like Handel, with limpid strings and expressive horns – and those horns were tight throughout, led by Meredith Brown and Alex Camphouse, regulars of the Berkeley and Oakland Symphonies. Jean finished with a flute cadenza full of poise and snap.

He returned after several bows and explained that he was going to do an encore. “Tomorrow we are taking plane [back to France]. I know him [Bruno] since he was [this high]. I could play Bach, but I want to improvise on ‘Bruno.’ The theme is [and he played five notes spelling out his brother’s name].”

It was an astonishing moment, lyrical and liquid, with notes falling like curtains of raindrops, and the whole improvised on the spot with the ‘theme’ popping out unexpectedly. The audience stood back up and applauded long.

The younger Ferrandis retook the stage to lead Beethoven’s good-natured Symphony No. 8 in F Major, which I recently heard in the East Bay. This orchestra’s professional core was exceptionally tight, and better than most orchestras. But it was the end of a long evening and the energy was beginning to run out. If this were first on the program, they would have been selling the CD’s.

2015-2016 Season

April 4, 2016: Colorful Falla and Provocative Britten Works in SRS Weill Hall Concerts

By: Terry McNeill, April 4, 2016 - San Francisco Classical Voice

Current fashion in orchestra season marketing showcases themes, and it’s de rigueur now, from the fledgling Sonoma County Philharmonic to the august San Francisco Symphony. Some of these themes are inane, but the Santa Rosa Symphony’s set of three concerts beginning April 2, with the event title “Rhythmic Vitality,” was singularly appropriate. 

In the April 4 Weill Hall concert Britten’s Cello Symphony (Op. 68) and Falla’s complete music from the ballet “The Three Cornered Hat” had rhythmic interest by the truckload. With cellist Zuill Bailey performing the demanding but often introspective solo, the Britten work from 1963 was provocative. It’s constructed in an unusual format of four movements, the final two linked by an instrumental cadenza, and though loved by virtuosos it has not been popular with the public. 

Mr. Bailey made a strong case for the Symphony, working with conductor Bruno Ferrandis to considerable effect. It needs to be said that this is a difficult piece to initially like, and much audience reaction in the lobby at intermission seemed to confirm this. Surprisingly the soloist used both a microphone and a score, playing much of the work with little vibrato that allowed the upper register partials to clearly sound. One needed to look elsewhere for easy tunes, and Mr. Bailey, who I have admired in recent Napa and San Rafael performances, was at his best in the ruminating first-movement phrases and slashing attacks over flute and bassoon parts, and a knockout cadenza. From a balcony seat the cello tone sounded muddy and indistinct at places, contrasting with the lucid and sonorous orchestra. 

Much low-drone cello playing and extended vibrato was heard in the Presto and adagio and the musical sun came out in the finale. Here the music rises to a luminous finish, and perhaps audience comprehension leading to a standing ovation. 

Falla’s wonderful 1919 Ballet score received a performance of orchestral color and sparkling effects. The audience of 950 seemed to physically move with the unfolding of piquant Andalusian folk tunes and brassy sway, something foreign in the Britten. The music throughout suppresses string importance (save for bass and cello) and is a tour de force for winds. There was lovely playing from the clarinet (Roy Zajac), bassoon (Carla Wilson), oboist Laura Reynolds and Stacy Pelinka’s piccolo. 

Mr. Ferrandis drew some exceptional Spanish colors from his orchestra, shaping the clarinet and harp (Dan Levitan) duo, the abbreviated piano parts and a scintillating pizzicato accelerando in the Seguidillas section. This piece needs the sure hand that Mr. Ferrandis has, always the picture of control and energy on the podium. The two vocal passages, totaling just 85 seconds, were sung by mezzo-soprano Bonnie Brooks, and past without much notice in the lush 40-minute composition.

Opening the concert was New York composer Daniel Brewbaker’s Blue Fire, a 15-minute exploration of contrast and instrumental tint. The composer was in attendance and took three curtain calls, and spoke elegantly during the pre-concert talk alongside Mr. Bailey and Mr. Ferrandis. The 2013 premiere was at a Napa Valley summer festival.

As with many freshly-minted orchestra works, it was heavy with loud timpani and brass, but there were rhapsodic and lyrical sections with echoes of Bernstein and movie scores. Movements (I counted two) are constantly shifting, with standout parts for tuba (Scott Choate), Ms. Reynold’s oboe and Mr. Zajac. The percussion and timpani sections were busy and chimes and marimba parts were distinct, unlike an inaudible piano part. Often in newer music the pianist can be seen but not heard. 

Blue Fire ended with a long and orderly climax in the strings, a counterpoint to the frequent previous offbeat brass phrases and insistent incisive rhythms. As with the balance of the program it was Mr. Ferrandis’ triumph, his diligent command directing every facet of the music. 

February 21, 2016: Ever Westward Eternal Rider

By: Steve Osborn, February 21, 2016 - San Francisco Classical Voice


Like her violin virtuoso colleagues, Rachel Barton Pine can make herself heard above the din of a full orchestra without noticeable effort; but what made her Feb. 21 performance with the Santa Rosa Symphony memorable was how softly she played. Although she dispatched the forte and fortissimo passages in the Beethoven D Major concerto with élan, her intensity increased markedly the softer she became. The most gripping points in each movement were the trills and other filigrees in the upper registers, which she played on the very edge of audibility to a rapt Weill Hall audience. 

Any musician can play loudly, but those who can play quietly without any loss of energy or tempo are rare indeed. By the same token, any competent soloist can play all the notes of the Beethoven concerto, but those who can make sense of them and express their meaning are few. In this department, Pine was somewhat lacking. She hit all the notes, to be sure, but her performance was occasionally choppy and lacked fluidity. 

Instead of merging one phrase or musical idea into the next, Ms. Pine often separated them, disrupting the forward motion and draining some of the drama. More often than not, however, the beauty of individual passages shone through. Her cadenza for the first movement was a treat, as was the lovely duet with bassoonist Carla Wilson in the slow movement. Ms. Pine seemed finally to relax in the playful finale, which was marked by a forceful and convincing drive to the conclusion. 

The applause was significant, so the violinist obliged with an encore: the Andante from Bach’s second sonata for unaccompanied violin. Here again the pianissimo was bewitching, and it combined with a steady pulse on the lower strings to ravishing effect. 

More ravishment appeared in the second half, in the form of Bruckner’s unfinished Symphony No. 9. This colossal work lasts over an hour, and that’s just for the first three movements. Who knows how long it would have been had Bruckner lived to complete the finale? 

Ultimately, time is immaterial in Bruckner’s final work. The structure he employs in all three movements resembles nothing so much as a series of ocean waves, beginning in a valley and rising inexorably to a peak before crashing down again. The ascents and descents are most often chromatic, with a lushly romantic aura: chromanticism. Bruckner’s technique may be chromantic, but his content is most often dark and dramatic, even sinister. He incessantly combines and recombines short motifs that lead ever onward. His quest seems to be for some deep, hidden meaning in the world of sound. 

Conductor Bruno Ferrandis displayed a firm grasp of Bruckner’s score, carefully guiding his players through the various phrases, crescendos and decrescendos, accelerandos and ritards. He most often conducted with two symmetrical hands, drawing out a foreboding, intense and elemental sound. 

The first movement was spine-tingling, resolving in the home key at the very peak of a wave. The intensity only increased in the second, which features a devilish seven-note figure--a triplet and four march steps on a single note--that Gustav Holst later appropriated for the Mars section of “The Planets.” In Holst, the figure conjures up the god of war, but here it seemed a symbol of onrushing fate. Again, Mr. Ferrandis and company played the score to maximum effect, creating a tremendous, fiery sound with sustained energy. 

The third movement proved even more gripping. The playing was muscular and assured, and the orchestration was dazzling. The conductor kept all the iterations of the theme intact, leading to a startling dissonant chord that resolves into a serene passage at the end. 

The performance was one of the Symphony’s most profound efforts in recent years, rivaling anything they’ve done in that time. An otherwise unremarkable Sunday afternoon turned into a thrilling exploration of uncharted musical territory, filled with both apocalyptic fury and rays of hope. 

January 12, 2016: Pure Gold from Caroline Goulding and Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Steve Osborn, January 12, 2016 - San Francisco Classical Voice

Could Mei-Ann Chen be a candidate to replace Bruno Ferrandis at the helm of the Santa Rosa Symphony when his contract expires at the end of the 2017-18 season? If so, she would be a strong contender. Her impressive guest conducting at the orchestra’s Jan. 10 concert at Weill Hall in Sonoma State’s Green Center was overshadowed, however, by a staggering performance from the young violinist Caroline Goulding, who played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto to perfection.

Goulding is the most impressive violin soloist this reviewer has heard since Hilary Hahn burst on the scene more than 20 years ago. Goulding’s technique is impeccable, her intonation superb, her bow arm a wonder, and her fingers anatomical marvels. Her musicianship, however, is what sets her apart from her many technically gifted colleagues.

Barely into her 20s, Goulding plays like a seasoned musician, alert to all the subtle nuances and possibilities of the music. No matter how many fully articulated notes fly off her violin, the important ones always come to the fore. The phrase always takes precedence, and the sound is consistently gorgeous.

With her mop of curly blond hair and a red dress, Goulding looked like a pillar of fire capable of igniting anything she played. The only blemish to her otherwise radiant appearance was a music stand with a score. One can only guess how much more engaging her performance would have been without that memory aid. (To be fair, Goulding is performing violin concertos by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Glazunov, Paganini, Prokofiev, Bruch, and Ligeti during her jam-packed 2015-16 season, to say nothing of multiple recitals and other performances.)

In the Tchaikovsky, Goulding displayed an elegant, room-filling sound from the outset, easily bringing the softest passages to the remotest corners of Weill Hall. Her body was in constant motion, crouching forward during the virtuosic passages and swaying from side to side during the emotive ones. Her tone was exquisite, even in the highest registers and the many harmonics called for in the score.

Meanwhile, Chen had the orchestral dynamics firmly in control. The orchestra never once overpowered Goulding, and their playing in the softer passages was well below pianissimo. Both Chen and Goulding took their time, letting phrases linger before transitioning to the next. Goulding’s cadenza in the first movement was stupendous, as complete a musical experience as one could wish for.

Goulding, Chen, and the orchestra sustained the same high level of musicianship throughout the concerto. The fireworks of the first movement gave way to the delicacy and luxuriance of the second and then the awe-inspiring dances of the third. The standing ovation at the end was sustained but sadly produced no encore. Nonetheless, we’re sure to hear from Goulding again.

Earlier, Chen set the mood for the afternoon with an invigorating performance of contemporary Chinese composer An-Lun Huang’s Saibei Dance. The melodies, inspired by Chinese folk songs, were sprightly, and the orchestration was inventive; but it was all over in four minutes, barely enough for a taste.

The second half offered a better opportunity to observe Chen’s conducting skill, with a performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8. Chen led with economical movements and an easy-to-follow beat. The musicians appeared to be well-rehearsed, with good unison playing from the strings and excellent balance between the orchestral sections.

The performance of the first movement was energetic, but the full sound of the orchestra didn’t emerge until the second, where sharply delineated phrases and assured pace led to full resonance and shimmering beauty. The graceful waltzes of the third movement were taken a bit too slowly, but individual sections were often serene.

All the stops came out in the finale, which the trumpets announced with a stirring fanfare. The low strings maintained that energy, and the atmosphere became supercharged when the full orchestra joined in, with standout playing by principal flutist Kathleen Lane Reynolds. Although not as magical as the Tchaikovsky performance, Chen got everything she wanted out of the players, and then some.


Steve Osborn, a medical writer and editor by day, moonlights as a violist, singer, and music critic.

November 8, 2015: Two Steps Forward, One Back

By: Steve Osborn, November 8, 2015 - Classical Sonoma

Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 7 concert ran the gamut, not only from new to old, but also from impassioned to inert. The new was Gyorgy Kurtag’s “...quasi una fantasia...”; the old were the Schumann piano concerto and Brahms’ first symphony. The Brahms and Kurtag performances were lively, but the Schumann was moribund. 

Let’s start with the lively ones. “...quasi una fantasia...” was clearly unusual even before the music began. Instead of the standard orchestral seating arrangement, the chairs were shuffled around into five groups. The first group was a semicircle of chairs and piano at the front of the stage. Behind that semicircle, four other groups of chairs were scattered about the stage in a seemingly random pattern. 

Another deviation from the norm was the absence of musicians, even when the lights went down. After a brief pause, they finally filed onto the stage and settled into their respective groups. The semicircle comprised a handful of strings and the piano on stage right, woodwinds in the middle, and brass on stage left, opposite the strings. The other groups were mostly percussion, but one was a collection of harmonica players. 

Conductor Bruno Ferrandis briefly explained the four short movements of the piece, and then the musicians got to work. The sound from the beginning was distinctive, with a halo of percussion around slow and low descending notes beginning in the piano. The harmonicas and a marimba added to the unusual texture, which was simultaneously thick and delicate. 

The second movement began with heavy percussion and then segued into the third, a deliberate march, as if to a funeral. Nearly all the instruments soloed briefly as the march proceeded relentlessly in the background. The last movement featured dense sonorities that required full attention. The descending scales appeared again, resolving into a final wash of sound from the harmonicas. “...quasi una fantasia...” lasts just nine minutes, but each one is packed with innovation and surprise. It was the perfect foil for the older works on the program, demonstrating that contemporary works can equal or even surpass the classics. 

One of those classics occupied the second half. Brahms’ first symphony is an oft-repeated gem of which audiences never seem to tire. Perhaps that’s because all the parts are so authoritative and finely honed that they feel like the building blocks of a mighty fortress. Musicians, however, still have to breathe life into the parts and make sure they fit together. 

The musicians at hand proved up to the task, digging in with gusto from the opening bars. The strings began each new phrase with an emphatic down-bow and bowed in unison with nary an outlier. Ferrandis infused the performance with drama by pushing tempi and eliciting pinpoint crescendos and diminuendos. At one point the syncopations got so intricate that several musicians began tapping their toes. 

The unanimity of sound and pace was impressive, and the many solos were a delight. One of the standouts was the violin and horn duet in the slow second movement. Concertmaster Joseph Edelberg hit all the high notes, and Alex Camphouse's French horn articulation and phrasing were superb. The symphony hurtled forward with only brief pauses between the movements and really began picking up steam in the finale. The spark was the resonant and accelerating pizzicato at the opening, followed by heroic playing from the horns and woodwinds, and then the memorable theme. Ferrandis has a real gift for driving the orchestra forward, and drive them he did, right to the spine-tingling close. 

In Schumann’s A Minor concerto, piano soloist Pedja Muzijevic was technically perfect but demonstrated little passion or projection. He sat straight at the keyboard and came down heavy on the pedal. The sound that emerged from the lid was precise but curiously muted, almost as if under water. At times the orchestra drowned him out. 

Muzijevic's technique, however, was awesome. His fingers flew across the keys and fluttered so rapidly that they often seemed to be floating above the keys rather than striking them. All the notes were there, but they never ignited. Schumann is a composer who demands fire, yet there were no flames in evidence, not even smoke, and the performance became a mere collection of notes. 

October 13, 2015: Piano Duo Syncs With Santa Rosa Symphony in Concertos

By: Steve Osborn, October 13, 2015 - San Francisco Classical Voice

The Santa Rosa Symphony season opener was a double bill in more ways than two. It featured two piano concertos and two pianos played by two identical twins. Pianist sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton are virtually indistinguishable from afar, and they also wore the same dresses.  They were even more indistinguishable in their playing and technique. They and the orchestra came together for an evening of superior music-making on Sunday at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center.

The Naughton’s synchronicity is the essential quality for a piano duo. Instead of contending with a pair of divergent interpretations, conductor Bruno Ferrandis and the orchestra enjoyed the luxury of playing with one super-pianist with four arms and 20 fingers.

The unanimity was apparent from the opening measures of Mozart’s Concerto For Two Pianos, K. 365. Playing gracefully together, they traded emotionally matched lines back and forth, with neither trying to outdo the other.

The Mozart concerto, suffused with incandescent melodies, is a wonderful piece, and it received a wonderful performance. The orchestra projected a warm sound, creating an expansive backdrop for the Naughtons’ remarkable artistry. Each movement was sharply etched, with rock-solid playing. The only flaw — and it was a minor one — was the Naughtons’ restricted dynamic range in the last movement. The soft passages could have been softer and the loud much louder.

In Francis Poulenc’s Concerto For Two Pianos, one of the sisters’ calling cards, their playing was exemplary. This rarely heard concerto is a model of musical invention and vivacity. It begins fervently, with rapid call and response between the two pianos, and between the pianos and orchestra. The interchange was playful and rollicking.

The complexity of the first movement was balanced by the simplicity of the second. The Naughtons played an ethereal, looping duet that sounded almost minimalist in its incessant repetitions. 
The final movement began with a piano solo that sounded straight out of Mozart. After an orchestral response, the subsequent solo sounded like Beethoven. The next time around, it was Chopin. This constant shift of musical personalities was matched by a stunning variety of sounds and textures from the orchestra. 

The two concertos were bracketed by a concert-opening new work and a closing favorite. The new one came from the pen of Mohammed Fairouz, a widely performed, 30-year-old, Arab-American composer who has already produced an impressive body of work. His style is accessible, distinctive, and inventive — with the notable exception of the work commissioned and premiered by the Santa Rosa Symphony, Pax Universalis.

The new piece begins promisingly enough, with strings syncopating against a resonant and well-struck wood block, which tocks like a metronome. The melody sounds faintly Mexican, in a traditionally cheerful, dance-like vein. After a few more bars, it begins to sound like a John Williams movie score. The melody is traded back and forth between strings, woodwinds and brass without developing into anything else and the music builds to a predictable climax. 

If Pax Universalis had been written by somebody less renowned, it could be dismissed out of hand. But because it’s from Fairouz, you wonder if it’s just an aberration.

Another aberration, this one positive, closed the program: Saint-Saens’ Symphony No.3, “Organ.” Most of Saint-Saens’ music has faded from the repertoire, but the “Organ” Symphony is still much performed, and with good reason. Its themes are memorable, its effect, in a good performance, transformative.

All cylinders were firing in the symphony’s well-oiled traversal. The orchestra was responsive to Ferrandis’s baton, the sound was rich and full, the string sections played in ringing unison. The organ, ably played by Charles Rus, transformed the second movement into a church service and began the last with a tremendous bang.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect was the relentless forward momentum, which began barreling along so rapidly in the third movement that Ferrandis’s baton flew high in the air and landed in the audience. With a replacement in hand, he continued fervently leading the orchestra through the triumphant finale.

Steve Osborn, a medical writer and editor by day, moonlights as a violist, singer, and music critic.

October 11, 2015: Seamless Sister Act Opens Santa Rosa Symphony Season

By: Diane Peterson, October 11, 2015 - Press Democrat

The Santa Rosa Symphony opened its 88th season Saturday night at Weill Hall with an exotic tapestry of Arabic and French melodies, two double piano concertos and an “organ” symphony that generated so much energy it seemed like the hall might lift off the ground like a steampunk balloon.
It was a challenging program, bringing to mind Emperor Joseph II ‘s famous complaint about the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” — “Too many notes, Mozart.”

As a result, ensemble and balance was a bit ragged in places, with the orchestral engine not always bringing the valves in sync with the pistons, but that was a small price to pay for the dazzling kaleidoscope effect of such an ambitious, colorful program.

For fans of the Classical era, the highlight of the evening was the Mozart Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos, starring twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton, who performed the palate cleanser with playful clarity and otherworldly synchronicity.

The 27-year-old pianists, who studied at Curtis Institute of Music and at the Juilliard School, wore gold shoes and dip-hem, red sheaths that were of a slightly different hue and cut, but nearly identical. The color scheme echoed the red-and-gold interiors of the two grand pianos, which were nestled into each other like a Tao symbol.

Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, who taught the sisters at Juilliard, once remarked, “When they play together, they seem to have one mind and one body — it’s extraordinary — like one person with two hands playing.”

Indeed, the pianists’ Mozart ensemble matched seamlessly, from the declarative first movement with playful trills and cadenza to the mesmerizing second movement with its lyrical dialogue between soloists. The bright, rondo finale, used in the soundtrack of the 1984 film “Amadeus,” ended the first half on a high note.

Under Music Director Bruno Ferrandis’ baton, the orchestra provided a sensitive, well-executed accompaniment — not always easy with Mozart — and the work drew an immediate standing ovation from the nearly sold-out crowd.

After intermission, the twins switched pianos to perform Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, a polished and persuasive work that spans the Classicism of Mozart, the Romanticism of Rachmaninoff and the modern dissonance of Stravinsky.

At turns jocular and dreamy, morose and sensuous, the schizophrenic work lurches from the jazzy rhythms of Parisian music halls to more nostalgic, childlike tunes worthy of Mozart, such as the melody that opens the second movement. The work blasts to a forceful conclusion with a blur of brilliant themes and a rag-doll-like dance required by the pianists’ facile hands.

The evening concluded with another nuanced French work: Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3, also known as the “Organ Symphony,” although technically it is a symphony “with organ,” not for organ. Only two out of four sections call for organ, which was played admirably by Charles Rus.
Like the composer himself, the third symphony has been accused of being over the hill, a warhorse on its way to the orchestral glue factory. However, the French Jew was at the height of his power when he wrote his third and last symphony, and he poured his heart into it, writing it as a summation of his long career.

Under Ferrandis’ baton, the symphony made a strong case for the work, which sparkles with beautiful string melodies and fugal writing. Even though the ending comes across as more bombastic than honest, the brass section really shone, picking up where they left off during Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 at last season’s finale.

A world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’ “Pax Universalis” opened the program with syncopated rhythms, exotic percussion and a hint of the minor Phyrgian scale of Middle Eastern music. The work seemed purposefully naive, with simple harmonies and a repetitive groove that was non-offensive, if not peaceful.

The symphony will repeat the Saturday program at 8 p.m. Monday at the Green Music Center’s Weill Hall at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park. Tickets: are $20 to $80 and available at

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

October 10, 2015: Outstanding opening for Santa Rosa Symphony

By: Adam Broner, October 10, 2015 - Repeat Performances

After a concert at Sonoma State’s Weill Hall one is left with an appreciation for acoustics that should be part of every concert experience. The design and dimensions of this hall, which opened just four years ago, create a sound with a natural loft, clarity and intimacy that is breathtaking.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, Bruno Ferrandis led the Santa Rosa Symphony in a savvy season opener, mixing a populist new work and the timelessness of Mozart, colorist French creations and a brilliant sister act.

Along with the sound, what most stood out was the high level of professionalism from a cadre of musicians whose names grace the rosters of many local orchestras including the Berkeley and Oakland Symphonies, our “Freeway Philharmonic” hard at work. Under Ferrandis’ florid direction their solos were punchy and their ensembles were full and taut.

They began with the World Premiere of Pax Universalis by Mohammed Fairouz, a surprisingly pop-sounding offering that repeats the same melody throughout. Propelled by dotted-note urgency, Fairouz insinuates strands of Big Western themes and pop Arabic noodling into the work. While he is trying to formulate a sense of cultural identity and distinctiveness within a context of musical universality, the whole affair was a little too Disney.

But the audience loved it.

Immediately afterwards we were treated to an incomparable pair of “soloists,” twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton, performing Mozart’s Concerto No 1 in E-flat Major for orchestra and two pianos.
Mozart wrote this at the age of 22 for himself and his older sister Nannerl. They had already been a touring child prodigy act for over a decade, and this was the last piece he wrote before leaving home and his overbearing father. This work was golden and glorious and unmistakably Mozart, but it is still a young composer coming out of the Baroque era.

After Pax Universalis, I was surprised by the level of accessibility Mozart was striving for, again with the lilt of dotted notes, and with a motif that repeats nearly as much as Fairouz’ populist offering. Yes, Mozart was the pop icon of his day! But his “simpler” forms were not only brilliant in the way they transformed and generated themes, but built the foundations of the Classical era.

And it was a pleasure to hear the sheer playfulness between the two pianos, a mark of his love for his sister. Our identical twins certainly had that, along with a mesmerizing unity in this piece that is all about completing each other’s musical sentences.

After the concert I was able to speak with them for a moment. “Is one of you more Mozart and one of you more Nannerl?” I asked.

“No,” Christina answered. “Mozart was very even in the two piano parts. There is only one area where he seems to express… [personalities].” (I suspect that moment was when the warmer mid-tone piano made her entrance, certainly feeling like an older sister.)

I mentioned that I also have an identical twin brother who lives across the country.
“Oh, do you call him every day?” Michelle asked breathlessly.
“No,” I admitted, and felt guilty. We talked about Poulenc until the pressure of other people ended our conversation, but I later wrote my brother.

And that Poulenc! In his Concerto for Two Pianos those sweet young things showed their ferocious stature in a performance that simply blistered the air. Poulenc, a member of Le Six, was the “bad boy” of French composers, tangling common tunes and naughty jokes into his serious themes. And that irreverence only added to the immediacy of his writing. It was interesting to hear what Ferrandis, a French conductor, would do with this. His gestures were never minimal, like some conductors who strive for understatement in order to focus their squadrons. Ferrandis used his long and expressive hands to inspire a French passion and sensitivity, and his apparent reverence for this icon of the piano repertoire and for these two performers only enhanced their moments of humor.

The twins were firecrackers in the explosive first movement, and then severely internal in the Larghetto, quietly rendering a beauty that was almost intolerable in its constraint. The orchestra crept in on wheezes and sighs and then swelled into romanticism. The Naughtons turned the runs of the Allegro molto absolutely molten with doubled notes and tripping runs, and the orchestra feverishly followed and at times pasted together musical quotations in a fascinating display of artistic assemblage.

And then followed another big work of the French repertoire, Saint-Saëns famous “Organ” symphony. Colorful, woodsy, and driven, this paralleled Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in its deep architecture and impulses. They both built their tensions out of short violin motifs and then brought out the winds. Where Schubert went for clarinet, Saint-Saëns chose English horn and throaty flutes, and then reprised those short themes into a huge closing argument for piano and organ. That ending is one of the great moments of the literature.

Saint-Saëns was more of a classicist than an impressionist, and actually loathed Debussy’s watery chords and whole tones. But his orchestration expanded on classical choices with very French colors, sumptuous winds and earthy bassoon. The Santa Rosa Symphony brass were crisp and stentorian, well deserving the standing ovation for their magnificent closing.

Next month, Nov. 7 – 9, this excellent orchestra performs Kurtág, Schuman and Brahms with another great pianist, Pedja Muzijevic. More information and tickets available at

2013 - 2014 Season

May 5, 2014: SR Symphony Season Finale Pushes Limits

SR Symphony Season Finale Pushes Limits
May 5, 2014 - Press Democrat

April 1, 2014: Going North for High Quality Sounds

Going North for High Quality Sounds
April 1, 2014 - artssf

March 23, 2014: A Tour de Force of Sonic Splendor

A Tour de Force of Sonic Splendor
March 23, 2014 - Classical Sonoma

February 16, 2014: Shining the Light on the Vikings at Santa Rosa Symphony

Shining the Light on the Vikings at Santa Rosa Symphony
February 16, 2014 - San Francisco Classical Voice

October 13, 2014: Pipa Passes, with Flying Colors

Pipa Passes, with Flying Colors
October 13, 2014 - Classical Sonoma

December 9, 2013: Bernstein, Brandes, and an Inspiring Mass from Santa Rosa Symphony

Bernstein, Brandes, and an Inspiring Mass from Santa Rosa Symphony
December 9, 2013 - San Francisco Classical Voice

November 11, 2013: Well Mixed, Still Spicy

Well Mixed, Still Spicy
November 11, 2013 - Press Democrat

October 6, 2013: SR Symphony Opens Season

SR Symphony Opens Season
October 6, 2013 - Press Democrat

2012 - 2013 Season

May 12, 2013: Symphony Shines in Season Finale

Symphony Shines in Season Finale
May 12, 2013 - Press Democrat

May 14, 2013: A Perfect 10 for the Tenth

A Perfect 10 for the Tenth
May 14, 2013 - San Francisco Classical Voice

March 18, 2013: Range of Emotions Sweep through Weill Hall

Range of Emotions Sweep through Weill Hall
March 18, 2013 - San Francisco Classical Voice

February 2, 2013: Playing Hearts: It's Zajac in Spades

Playing Hearts: It's Zajac in Spades
February 2, 2013 - San Francisco Classical Voice

December 15, 2012: Intensely, Beautifully, Devotedly: Bach's B Minor Mass

Intensely, Beautifully, Devotedly: Bach's B Minor Mass
December 15, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

December 3, 2012: Titans of Opera, Christina Major: Cup Runneth Over

Titans of Opera, Christina Major: Cup Runneth Over
December 3, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

November 5, 2012: Santa Rosa Symphony: Hear and Now

Santa Rosa Symphony: Hear and Now
November 5, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

November 4, 2012: Santa Rosa Symphony Review: French pianist Collard an old hand in new digs

Santa Rosa Symphony Review: French pianist Collard an old hand in new digs
November 4, 2012 - Press Democrat

October 10, 2012: Santa Rosa Symphony: Now That's a Housewarming

Santa Rosa Symphony: Now That's a Housewarming
October 10, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

October 9, 2012: Santa Rosa Symphony Review: A New Era

Santa Rosa Symphony Review: A New Era
October 9, 2012 - SF Gate (San Francisco Chronicle)

October 9, 2012: Electronics and Symphony; Campion's Premiere Work Inspired by Gasoline Engines

Electronics and Symphony; Campion's Premiere Work Inspired by Gasoline Engines
October 9, 2012 -

October 6, 2012: SR Symphony Revs Up Season with Powerful Opener

SR Symphony Revs Up Season with Powerful Opener
October 6, 2012 - Classical Sonoma

October 3, 2012: Big League Music Hall in Wine Country

Big League Music Hall in Wine Country
October 3, 2012 - New York Times

October 2, 2012: "Consecration of the House" Weill Hall Opens

"Consecration of the House" Weill Hall Opens
October 2, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

September 30, 2012: Green Grows the Superb Weill Hall in Sonoma

Green Grows the Superb Weill Hall in Sonoma
September 30, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

September 30, 2012: Review: SR Symphony Triumphs in First Inning at Green Music Center

Review: SR Symphony Triumphs in First Inning at Green Music Center
September 30, 2012 - Classical Sonoma

2011 - 2012 Season

May 14, 2012: Review: Symphony Bids Farewell to Wells Fargo Center: Maestro's Brother joins in last SR concerts before move to Sonoma State University

Review: Symphony Bids Farewell to Wells Fargo Center: Maestro's Brother joins in last SR concerts before move to Sonoma State University
May 14, 2012 - Press Democrat

February 11, 2012: Review: Horn of Plenty

Review: Horn of Plenty
February 11, 2012 - Classical Sonoma

January 24, 2012: Review: Kahane's Triumphant Return to Santa Rosa

Review: Kahane's Triumphant Return to Santa Rosa
January 24, 2012 - San Francisco Classical Voice

January 23, 2012: Review: Kahane wows the crowd at SR Symphony performance

Review: Kahane wows the crowd at SR Symphony performance
January 23, 2012 - Press Democrat

December 12, 2011: Review: Orchestra United at the Santa Rosa Symphony

Review: Orchestra United at the Santa Rosa Symphony
December 12, 2011 - San Francisco Classical Voice

December 11, 2011: Review: Santa Rosa Symphony performs German Requiem

Review: Santa Rosa Symphony performs German Requiem
December 11, 2011 - Press Democrat

December 1, 2011: Review: Where were you at 22? Bach and Handel 1707

Review: Where were you at 22? Bach and Handel 1707
December 1, 2011 - Classical Sonoma

November 12, 2011: Review: Alive and Free but Hard to Understand

Review: Alive and Free but Hard to Understand
November 12, 2011 - San Francisco Classical Voice

October 17, 2011: Review: Santa Rosa Symphony opens season on strong note

Review: Santa Rosa Symphony opens season on strong note
October 17, 2011 - Press Democrat

2010 - 2011 Season

May 9, 2011: Review: Small Hands, Big Heart

Review: Small Hands, Big Heart
May 9, 2011 - San Francisco Classical Voice

January 14, 2011: Review: Lukewarm Mozart, then hot Mahler at Santa Rosa Symphony concert

Review: Lukewarm Mozart, then hot Mahler at Santa Rosa Symphony concert
January 14, 2011 - Press Democrat

January 14, 2011: Review: Mozart, Mahler Burning Bright

Review: Mozart, Mahler Burning Bright
January 14, 2011 - San Francisco Classical Voice

January 24, 2011: Review: Dynamic Diemecke leads buoyant Rodrigo and dissonant Chavez at SR Symphony concert

Review: Dynamic Diemecke leads buoyant Rodrigo and dissonant Chavez at SR Symphony concert
January 24, 2011 - Classical Sonoma

January 4, 2011: Review: Bach's Cantatas soar under Worth's direction in Windsor Christmas concert

Review: Bach's Cantatas soar under Worth's direction in Windsor Christmas concert
January 4, 2011 - Classical Sonoma

December 19, 2010: Review: A touching tribute, a century later

Review: A touching tribute, a century later
December 19, 2010 - artssf

December 5, 2010: Review: Holiday music with a twist

Review: Holiday music with a twist
December 5, 2010 - Classical Sonoma

December 5, 2010: Review: French songs and an original work in holiday concert

Review: French songs and an original work in holiday concert
December 5, 2010 - Press Democrat

November 8, 2010: Review: Transcendent Liszt from Lisitsa

Review: Transcendent Liszt from Lisitsa
November 8, 2010 - Classical Sonoma

October 11, 2010: Review: SR Symphony opens season Italian style

Review: SR Symphony opens season Italian style
October 11, 2010 - Press Democrat

October 9, 2010: Review: Overture without Opera

Review: Overture without Opera
October 9, 2010 - Classical Sonoma

2009 - 2010 Season

May 11, 2010: Review: Sins, Swans, and Dons in Santa Rosa

Review: Sins, Swans, and Dons in Santa Rosa
May 11, 2010 - San Francisco Classical Voice

May 10, 2010: Review: Lemper, SR Symphony Shine

Review: Lemper, SR Symphony Shine
May 10, 2010 - Press Democrat

March 22, 2010: Review: Where Comes the Sun?

Review: Where Comes the Sun?
March 22, 2010 - San Francisco Classical Voice

February 15, 2010: Review:Three Hits and a Miss at SRSO Concert

Review:Three Hits and a Miss at SRSO Concert
February 15, 2010 - Classical Sonoma

February 13, 2010: Review: Pianist Berenika Shines

Review: Pianist Berenika Shines
February 13, 2010 - Press Democrat

January 23, 2010: Review:The Red and the White

Review:The Red and the White
January 23, 2010 - Classical Sonoma

2008 - 2009 Season

December 8, 2009: Review: We Have Ignition Beethoven's Ninth

Review: We Have Ignition Beethoven's Ninth
December 8, 2009 - San Francisco Classical Voice

December 7, 2009: Review: Beethoven draws a diverse crowd

Review: Beethoven draws a diverse crowd
December 7, 2009 - Press Democrat

November 10, 2009: Review: What Dvorak Knew

Review: What Dvorak Knew
November 10, 2009 - San Francisco Classical Voice

October 12, 2009: Review: Kahane Rocks the House in Symphony Opener

Review: Kahane Rocks the House in Symphony Opener
October 12, 2009 - Press Democrat

October 10, 2009: Review: 10 Points for Kahane, Ferrandis in SR Symphony Opener

Review: 10 Points for Kahane, Ferrandis in SR Symphony Opener
October 10, 2009 - Classical Sonoma

October 9, 2009: Preview: Kahane Returns for Santa Rosa Symphony Opener

Preview: Kahane Returns for Santa Rosa Symphony Opener
October 9, 2009 - Press Democrat

May 17, 2009: Review: Santa Rosa Symphony Ends Season with a Bang

Review: Santa Rosa Symphony Ends Season with a Bang
May 17, 2009 - Press Democrat

May 16, 2009: Review: Turanga-lite

Review: Turanga-lite
May 16, 2009 - San Francisco Classical Voice

April 21, 2009: Review: The Suite Smell of Success

Review: The Suite Smell of Success
April 21, 2009 - San Francisco Classical Voice

February 24, 2009: Review: Shifting the Center of Attention

Review: Shifting the Center of Attention
February 24, 2009 - San Francisco Classical Voice

February 23, 2009: Review: A Little Night Music

Review: A Little Night Music
February 23, 2009 - Press Democrat

January 27, 2009: Review: Well Within the Box

Review: Well Within the Box
January 27, 2009 - San Francisco Classical Voice

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