Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Oakland East Bay Symphony Sets Richmond Attendance Record
January 28, 2003

If somebody ever told me I'd be writing music reviews, I would have told them they're crazy. But here goes:

It was Saturday evening, about 6:45 PM. I knew something was up when I spotted virtually every motorist headed north on 23rd Street looking at maps and talking on cell phones. One even hailed a pedestrian at a crosswalk to ask for directions. It was probably their first time in Richmond, and It turned out they were headed for the Richmond Memorial Convention Center on Saturday, January 25, to attend a performance of the Oakland East Bay Symphony. And they were coming from all over the Bay Area. My own guests were from Marin and San Francisco. I didn't invite them - they were already planning to come on their own.

When I arrived at the auditorium, people were streaming in from all directions. And they just kept coming until there were 1,495 of them.

The first Oakland East Bay Symphony performance in Richmond some four years ago drew about 100 people. Frankly, I was embarrassed, and I was skeptical that the City Council's investment in this cultural import made sense. I was chewed out by then Mayor Rosemary Corbin for suggesting it would be cheaper to charter a couple of buses and send Richmond's 100 symphony aficionados to Oakland for the three concert series.

Well, I was wrong. Under Music Director Michael Morgan (http://www.oebs.org/page/michael1.htm), the Oakland East Bay Symphony steadily increased interest and attendance with varied and innovative crowd-pleaser programs that often included youth, locals and special guest performers. Last Saturday night, it topped out.

A combination of traditional symphonic classical music, 17-year-old Acalanes High cellist Gabrielle Athayde, who gave a tremendously poised performance of Camille Saint-Saens' "Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Opus 33,"  and a premiere symphony by Cuban-born pianist Omar Sosa apparently did the trick.

Although given a mixed review by Times critic Andrew Gilbert, the performance seemed to exceed the expectations of nearly 1,500 attendees. Perhaps part of the problem is that Gilbert's review was based on a performance a day earlier at Oakland's Paramount, home of the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Part of Gilbert's downgrade related to acoustics. By all accounts, including those of the symphony's own musicians, the acoustics of Richmond's vintage auditorium are far superior to those of their home concert hall - which was originally a movie theatre. And people paid $5 to $55 per ticket in Oakland while the same concert in Richmond was free.

Your next chance to see the Oakland East Bay Symphony in action is Sunday, March 16, 2003 at 3 p.m., a special family concert spotlighting talented young music students from the West County school district playing alongside professional musicians of the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

From the West County Times:

Posted on Sun, Jan. 26, 2003

Sosa's latest is engaging, but at times unsuccessful
By Andrew Gilbert

Cuban-born pianist Omar Sosa has been a leading force in the expansion of Afro-Latino music for more than a decade, weaving together far flung influences, including jazz, hip-hop, North African modes and various rhythmic practices from throughout the African Diaspora.

Though his five-year sojourn in the Bay Area ended in late 1999 with a move to Barcelona, Sosa is still strongly tied to the region through his relationships with numerous musicians, his Oakland-based record label Ota, and the artist-in-residence program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Sosa unveiled his latest grand synthesis on Friday night at Oakland's Paramount Theatre, premiering his ambitious Afro-symphonic work "From Our Mother," featuring the Oakland East Bay Symphony under the baton of Michael Morgan and guests artists, including percussionists Michael Spiro and Jackeline Rago. Co-commissioned by Oakland East Bay Symphony and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the work was often engaging, but it rarely attained the swirling energy or satisfying aural sweep that Sosa's band produces at its best.

One problem was the sonic balance between the symphony and percussion (both tympany and Afro-Caribbean). Maybe there was better sound separation in other parts of the theater, but from stage right six rows back, the percussion occasionally overpowered the strings. Another problem was the lack of melodic connections between the three movements, particularly in the key central section, which seemed to meander.

The piece opened dramatically, keying on chanting by the strikingly original vocalist Maria Marquez, and a stirring tenor sax fanfare by Hafez Modirzadeh. The third movement was by far the most satisfying, with a thoughtful theme introduced by the woodwinds and echoed by the strings. Powered by the bata drums, ceremonial instruments used in Afro-Cuban religious rituals, the musicians finally seemed to grab the music and play it as a unified ensemble.

Reduced to providing accents, Sosa's own piano was sorely missed. With its percussive intensity and harmonic density, Sosa's keyboard work is a perfect synthesis of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and European harmony.

The symphony opened the concert with a spirited interpretation of Tchaikovsky's much revised "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy-Overture (Schreker's Suite from "Der Geburstag des Infantin" was dropped from the program at the last minute to give the symphony more time to rehearse Sosa's piece).

The star of the evening was cellist Gabrielle Athayde, who gave a tremendously poised performance of Camille Saint-Saens' "Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Opus 33." The 17-year-old Acalanes High senior, who also plays bass and trombone, displayed a sumptuous tone and finely wrought sense of dynamics on the telling allegretto section.