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Santa Rosa Symphony ‘brings on the strings’ with principal string players

by Diane Peterson, Press Democrat, March 23, 2017

For their concert program this weekend, the Santa Rosa Symphony, under Music Director
Bruno Ferrandis, will ask a few of its principal string players to step in front of the orchestra
as soloists.

Concertmaster Joe Edelberg, a 20-year veteran of the symphony, will be joined by Principal
Violist Elizabeth Prior in Mozart’s timeless gem, the Sinfonia concertate for violin and viola.
Principal Cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns will perform Fauré’s “Elégie,” a delicate work full of
nostalgia.

The works written for solo instruments solo vehicles will be sandwiched between a
contemporary work, Alan Hovhaness’s “Meditation on Orpheus,” and two works by Sibelius:
his brooding and rarely heard Symphony No. 4 and his upbeat “Finlandia.”

Kearns and Prior both joined the symphony five years ago and, like Edelberg, play in a wide
range of ensembles all over the Bay Area, from Monterey and San Jose to the San Francisco
ballet and opera.

Prior, a native of South Africa who lives in San Rafael, will play her Giuseppe Tarasconi viola
from Italy for the Mozart work. She initially was attracted to the viola because of its deep,
rich sound.

“It’s a modern, Italian instrument with a very flexible sound,” she said. “It has a big sound,
and it resonates very well, and it also has a warm, sweet sound. It’s not as nasally as some
violas ... it’s got more brightness.”

Although she started out as a violinist, Prior’s heart was not in playing the violin, a stressful
and often difficult instrument to play.

“I was always attracted to what the inner voices were doing rather than playing the tune,”
she said. “So I demoted myself to the second violin, and then I tried the viola.” 

She is looking forward to playing the Mozart Sinfonia concertante for Violin and Viola
because she considers the piece as “absolute masterpiece,” with a slow movement that is
particularly beguiling.

“The whole things is like a conversation between violin and viola,” she said. “Mozart really
brings out the sonority of the viola ... He gives the viola the response that brings the
conversation to a deeper level.”

Both the violin and viola play the introduction to the work with the orchestra, so Prior does
not expect to be nervous when she dives into the solo part.

Because the two solo parts are written like separate pieces, the main challenge will be
listening to each other and creating a smooth ensemble with the orchestra, she said.

“I probably will have a moment of fluttering, but I am so looking forward to it,” she said. “I
feel so lucky and honored to play this piece.”

Kearns, a native of San Francisco who started studying the violin at a Suzuki school at age 3,
also was put off by the sound of the tiny violin.

“They are squeaky, and I would drop it on the floor,” she said. “Then I saw a video of Yo-Yo
Ma playing the Dvorak Cello Concerto ... and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever.”

In the fifth grade, she brought home a cello from school, and that became her life’s passion.
She went on to study performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Kearns will be playing Fauré’s “Elégie” on her French cello, which is about 100 to 150 years
old. She stumbled upon the cello in Japan when she needed to borrow an instrument to
play a concerto.

“I instantly clicked with it,” she said. “It has a very pretty sound with a lot of different colors
... it’s very responsive and sings really nicely and projects well too.”

The Fauré is a short piece that the French composer originally wrote as a slow movement
for a Cello Sonata, which never came to fruition.

“It’s a piece that I probably studied when I was 12 years old,” she said. “It’s a piece that little
kids can start playing, but it has a lot of emotional depths that you can’t fully understand
until you are older.”

Among cellists, Kearns counts Mstislav Rostropovich as her all-time favorite. She played in a
master class for him during college, accompanied him in an orchestra at Tanglewood and
watched him from the audience many times.

She also has played in an orchestra behind Yo-Yo Ma. Once at a party, she got to play Ma’s
DAvidov Stradivarius, the same instrument that the late Jacquelin Dupré played and the
one he famously left in a taxi.

While violists are known as jovial, easy-going folks, Kearns said cellists tend to be a little
more eccentric.

“There’s a little element of craziness in cellists,” she said. “We’re all kind of drama queens, a
little bit. But some of my closest friends are cellists.”

Kearns said leading the cello section of the Santa Rosa Symphony is a joy because all the
players are all top-notch. She also enjoyed serving on the search committee for a new
music director, even though it meant making extra trips all the way up from San Jose for
regular meetings throughout the season.

“It was really fun to be part of the process,” she said. “And I’m thrilled about the candidates
we chose."

You can reach Staff writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287.

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