Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Music I'm Listening To: The Santa Rosa Symphony with the Eroica Trio (March 19, 2012)

Last night I heard one of the last Santa Rosa Symphony concerts I'll hear for a while, as I've decided not to renew my subscription, after 11 years. The new seats assigned in the Green Music Center for next season were not especially good, as I expected, and they've eliminated the mini-series option (your choice of three of the season's concerts) that I liked. The cost relative to the quality of the performances just didn't make sense any more. Instead I've added the Green Music Center series of the San Francisco Symphony to my regular subscription in San Francisco--which seems the best of both worlds; you get four concerts with the San Francisco performers and guests at the new music center for only a modest sum more than the cost of the Santa Rosa Symphony subscription.

On the program last night was The Chairman Dances (subtitled Foxtrot for Orchestra) by John Adams, Beethoven's Triple Concerto, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, the Eroica (appropriately enough).  The Chairman Dances has a somewhat convoluted origin. It was originally conceived as part of Adams' opera Nixon in China in a scene with Chairman Mao dancing with his wife but was deleted from that project and reworked as a stand-alone piece only to be later worked into the opera again, in a different context--in a scene that involved President Nixon and his wife dancing. As the program points out, we mostly think of Madame Mao as a member of the Gang of Four, but she was in her younger days a rather glamorous actress, Chiang Chin, and the original conception of the piece draws on the tradition of cinematic dance music with that part of her history in mind. Hearing it as a concert piece, of course, none of that really matters.

It was typically Adams in its use of repetitive, almost hypnotic sections with sudden gear changes that drop the listener into passages of more upbeat and expansive material, all colored with a wide range of instrumentation, including piano, harp and a large and varied percussion section. I always like Adams. Despite a somewhat shaky start, Ferrandis got things under control fairly quickly and he and the orchestra delivered a workmanlike performance. The piccolos and horns were standouts.

The main event was the Beethoven Triple Concerto, with the Eroica Trio, with founding members Erika Nickranz and Sara Sant'Ambrogio on Piano and Cello, and with Susie Park on violin; Park joined the trio in 2006. The women created quite a stir as they entered the auditorium, Park and Nickranz dressed in glittering silver, Sant'Ambrogio in white with silver shoes.

Again, a solid performance. Although Maestro Ferrandis kept the accompaniment so quiet through much of the first movement that the soloists seemed rather too loud, the rest of the performance was nicely balanced. Cellist Sant'Ambrogio seemed more on top of the challenging cello part than Alisa Wielerstein was when I last heard this piece live (in San Francisco). The cello was particularly sweet in the middle movement. The trio played a Piazzolla tango "Oblivion" as an encore--perhaps the highlight of the evening.

Ferrandis's reading of the Eroica seemed rushed to me in the first movement, but all in all it was a creditable performance, despite a certain lack of attention to the long lines of the piece. Again the woodwinds and the horns seemed especially good. On the whole, Ferrandis seemed more in charge of things and more focused last night than he often is. Normally I attend the Sunday afternoon concerts. Because of a schedule conflict I had to switch to the Monday night performance this time. Perhaps he's best in the evening performances?

Photo of Bruno Ferrandis courtesy of the Santa Rosa Symphony website. Photo of the Eroica Trio from the Eroica Trio website (photo by Nina Choi).

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