Sunday, January 24, 2010

Music I'm Listening to: Santa Rosa Symphony

Just got back from a good concert by the Santa Rosa Symphony--the best I've heard from this ensemble in quite some time. I hear the musicians like Bruno Ferrandis, but I'm afraid this concert has only confirmed my feeling that he's not getting the best out of them. Setting aside one or two weak entrances from the brass section, the performers today were mostly together, playing crisply, attacking with energy, and apparently with enthusiasm, although the concertmaster looked a bit sour from time to time--surely my imagination.

Guest conductor JoAnn Falleta conducted the players in four works: The Holiday Overture by Elliott Carter, The Red Violin, A Violin Concerto by John Corigliano (originally written for Joshua Bell and based on music first composed for the 1998 film, The Red Violin), Aaron Copland's El Salon Mexico, and Barber's Symphony No. 1 in One Movement. Michael Ludwig was the soloist in the violin concerto. We also got an encore from Ludwig and the orchestra in the form of Kreisler's Caprice Viennois.

I say mostly together because the first piece, the Holiday Overture, seemed a bit disjointed, although I'm really no judge in this case, as it's a piece I don't know (of course, that won't prevent me from offering an opinion about the other unfamiliar piece on the program, The Red Violin, which I enjoyed very much). I confess that I wrote off the Holiday Overture as a warm-up piece, which is, no doubt, unfair to the musicians, the composer and the composition--but few orchestras are always in top form.

With the Corigliano, everything came together. Taut and edgy in some sections, more expansive in others, the conductor seemed to have everything nicely in hand throughout. The orchestra was clearly in tune with her (no pun intended). I enjoyed watching her bouncy yet precise style of wielding the baton. She has a distinctive way of swinging her hips as she works that in some sections gave the impression that she was dancing to the music. I found that disconcerting at first, but there was never any doubt she was in control, despite the playful visual effect.

What an interesting piece of music the Corigliano concerto is. I loved it for it's wide range of unorthodox sounds--including unusual bowings in the strings, heavy use of mutes in the brass section, and diverse percussion. I'd very much like to see the score to get an idea of the notation used for some of the odder effects--notably a strained creaking sound from the strings that was especially effective. Despite these very modern elements, the piece has a rather grand, romantic sweep to it, and some sections sound distinctly 19th century--an interesting juxtaposition. I understand there's a Joshua Bell recording of this music, which I plan to look for. I will also look for more from soloist Michael Ludwig who was excellent throughout--from the more abstract sections of the Corigliano to the Kreisler with its somewhat silly flourishes that kept bringing Bugs Bunny cartoons to mind--all in good fun. The concert was worth it for the Corigliano alone. Now I'm curious to rent the film that spawned the concerto.

El Salon Mexico is one of the first pieces of music that I got to know as a teenager exploring classical music. I feel like I know it well. The performance was competent and enjoyable, although in places it seemed to lack a bit of forward drive. Still, it was fun to see it performed for the first time.

I very much enjoyed the Barber. I don't listen to Barber a lot, but always seem to like what I hear. While I have heard the Symphony No. 1 in One Movement before, I don't own a recording of it, so it was good to hear it again for the first time in many years.

All in all, a pleasurable concert. It was nice to be reminded what the Santa Rosa Symphony is capable of with an inspiring conductor at the helm. I very much look forward to the move to the new Green Music Center--if it ever gets finished. 

(Photo of JoAnne Falleta used with permission, courtesy of the Santa Rosa Symphony.)


  1. Thanks for coming to the concert and for sharing your thoughts! I'm one of the musicians in the orchestra, and we've certainly enjoyed working with Maestra Falleta this week. It's a very challenging program for the orchestra. I thought you might like to know that all of the works are available through iTunes - I bought them all a while back to prepare for this week's rehearsals. The Josh Bell recording of the Corigliano is great, and Michael certainly plays the piece incredibly well. His recording of the Corigliano with the Buffalo Philharmonic comes out later in the Spring. Also, rent the Red Violin movie. If you enjoyed the piece you'll really enjoy the soundtrack. Take care.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment! I will definitely be looking for both the movie and a recording--as well as the score. I really want to see what the piece looks like on paper. I compose myself and I am always interested in how people translate ideas in their heads into ideas on paper and how notation is translated into sound by performers.


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