Subscribe

SSU Symphony returns to Weill Hall

The season opener on Sunday, Sept. 26, is the first live student performance since the pandemic began.|

SSU Orchestra returns to Weill Hall for season opener

What: The inaugural concert of the Sonoma State Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-2022 concert season will feature two student soloists, flutist Isabella Grimes and saxophonist Matthew Bowker, winners of the university’s 2021 Concerto Competition.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26

Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Tickets: $12, includes parking; free for students with ID

Reservations: tickets.sonoma.edu/performingarts/Online

The Sonoma State Symphony Orchestra performed its last concert in Weill Hall in early March 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic forced widespread closures. All last year, the student orchestra met with each other only online. Concerts were out of the question.

“We never came back from spring break” said Director of Orchestral Activities Alex Kahn. “Between March 2020 and May 2021, every interaction was through Zoom.”

This weekend, however, the student orchestra will return to Weill Hall under Kahn’s baton for the first time since the pandemic hit. The season opener, “Raise the Curtain,” will kick off with a short fanfare by composer Eric Ewazen performed by SSU’s Brass Ensemble.

“It’s the first student performance of any kind, so let’s open it with a fanfare,” Kahn said. “The whole point of an orchestra is to get together with people and respond in real time.”

Most of "Raise the Curtain“ will showcase the talents of two music students who won the university’s Concerto Competition last year: flutist Isabella Grimes and saxophonist Matthew Bowker.

“The two winners were both playing at such a high level that it became immediately clear that both deserved to be featured with the orchestra,” Kahn said.

Bowker is completing his final semester in the teacher credential program and will perform Jacques Ibert’s Concertino for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra.

“It’s sort of contemporary, chromatic and fast-paced,” Kahn said of the work. “Some say the string parts in the orchestra are more challenging than the solo part.”

Grimes, who transferred to SSU from a community college last year, will perform part of Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 for Flute and Orchestra.

“Even though she was my student all last year, I had never seen her in person before this year,” Kahn said. “The Mozart Concerto is a great piece with three movements, but we’re only doing one movement. … Otherwise it would be too long.”

Rounding out the program is Mozart’s Symphony No. 36, “Linz,” a work that doesn’t require flutes or trombones.

“I’ve never done it, partly because it has a very small orchestration,” Kahn said. “The danger of Mozart is that people think it’s easy, but it’s not. You are so exposed, and you have to play musically and in tune with such good ensemble.”

Grateful to return

For the past year, instead of having students perform repertoire, Kahn has been helping his musicians learn how to become better orchestral players, through lectures about the life of a musician, preparation for auditions and other skills.

“They did projects, like watching the ‘Keeping Score’ series from the San Francisco Symphony, and they watched videos and wrote papers on them,” he said. “But it’s not the same as getting together and playing in person.”

The orchestra currently has about 40 musicians, but Kahn hopes to ramp up his recruitment this year now that the orchestra is back to meeting in person.

“Part of the appeal of SSU for a potential music major is getting to play in the Green Music Center,” he said. “And that was taken away from us.”

However, Kahn feels optimistic about the future at the department, with Andy Collingsworth serving as the new department chair and two new violin and viola teachers on board: Aaron Westman and Liana Bérubé.

“I’m so grateful to be finally back in the Weill Hall stage making music again, with my colleagues and my orchestra members and with an audience,” Kahn said. “There are groups across the country still not playing at all.”

For the concert, the orchestra will follow the university’s health and safety rules requiring proof of vaccination and masking for everyone.

“The winds, brass and percussion have to wear musicians’ masks,” he said of the masks that include an opening flap at the mouth. “We’re not using the Plexiglas (shields in front of each player). Part of the problem is that it affects the audio. It’s hard to project. And it doesn’t do a good job of protecting.”

SRJC Orchestra

Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa Junior College Orchestra has resumed in-person rehearsals but will prerecord their October and December concerts in order to stream them.

SRJC Orchestra and Band Director Jerome Fleg said the orchestra plans to resume performing in front of an audience for the March and May 2022 concerts, which will be held in the newly renovated Burbank Auditorium.

The 80-year-old auditorium, which was revamped at a cost of $30 million just before the pandemic, welcomed the public to a grand opening on March 6, 2020, but has been sitting empty ever since.

During the pandemic, Kahn served as an assistant to Santa Rosa Symphony Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong in Weill Hall. His job was to help the video crew record the orchestra’s concerts and determine where to aim their cameras, for the symphony’s virtual “SRS @ Home” concert series.

“I was the only one involved in the process with a score,” Kahn said. “That was a lifeline for me that allowed me to keep doing music in some way. … Without that, there would not have been any public way for me to be a musician.”

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

.

SSU Orchestra returns to Weill Hall for season opener

What: The inaugural concert of the Sonoma State Symphony Orchestra’s 2021-2022 concert season will feature two student soloists, flutist Isabella Grimes and saxophonist Matthew Bowker, winners of the university’s 2021 Concerto Competition.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26

Where: Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Tickets: $12, includes parking; free for students with ID

Reservations: tickets.sonoma.edu/performingarts/Online

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor

Our Network

The Press Democrat
Sonoma Index-Tribune
Petaluma Argus Courier
North Bay Business Journal
Sonoma Magazine
Bite Club Eats
La Prensa Sonoma
Sonoma County Gazette