Francesco Lecce-Chong conducts a masked and distanced Santa Rosa Symphony

Santa Rosa Symphony is making the exigencies of the pandemic into an opportunity to explore all-new programming in its 2021 SRS @ Home spring season. As Music Director Francesco Lecce-Chong told The Press Democrat, “It’s important to all of us to find ways to thrive, not just persevere. I wanted to do something that we would not be able to do under normal circumstances.”

Composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich is Santa Rosa Symphony's new artistic partner | Credit: Bill Keefrey

The first move was to turn the problem of having a big orchestra on stage on its ear and use the limitation as a chance to explore music for smaller ensembles. Each of the concerts features pieces that require no more than 32 musicians on stage for any time. And Lecce-Chong decided to shake things up further by inviting Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich aboard as SRS’s new artistic partner. “She’s a legend of a composer who has defined classical music for a generation and has all these accolades from all around the world,” according to Lecce-Chong.

Every concert this spring will feature a Zwilich composition, ranging from her Concerto Grosso 1985 in homage to Handel to her Romance for Violin and Orchestra with soloist Joseph Edelberg to her popular Peanuts Gallery, a piano concerto inspired by the characters of the comic strip Peanuts by cartoonist and Santa Rosa resident Charles M. Schulz, who was Zwilich’s friend.

Prerecorded introductions to each concert will offer insight into Zwilich’s creative process. “I’m hoping to do more live stuff where people can join Q&A and to engage her in everything we are doing,” Lecce-Chong told The Press Democrat. “She’s really excited to have a chance to see her music performed this consistently over a brief amount of time.”

Concerts will be available on the SRS YouTube channel and on the SRS website. Details about ways to watch are available here.

Here are the upcoming concert programs. Click on the dates for more detailed information.

Jan. 24
Bach: Ricercare à 6 from Das Musikalische Opfer (The musical offering), arr. Anton Webern
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Concerto Grosso 1985 for Chamber Orchestra (after Handel)
Marianna Martines: Sinfonia in C Major
Mozart: Symphony No. 39

Feb. 28
William Grant Still: Serenade
Wagner: Siegfried Idyll for Small Orchestra
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Prologue and Variations for String Orchestra
Dvořák: Czech Suite

March 28
Zuill Bailey, cello
Jessie Montgomery: Starburst for String Orchestra
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
Charles Ives: The Unanswered Question
Brahms: Serenade No. 2

April 25
Joseph Edelberg, violin
Caroline Shaw: Entr’acte for String Orchestra
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Romance for Violin and Orchestra  
Arturo Márquez: Danzón No. 4
Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C Major for String Orchestra

May 16
Elizabeth Dorman, piano
Rossini: Overture to Il signor Bruschino
Michael Daugherty: Asclepius, Fanfare for Brass and Percussion
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Peanuts Gallery for Piano and Orchestra
Paul Dooley: Sonoma Strong
Haydn: Symphony No. 45 (“Farewell”)

Francesco Lecce-Chong | Credit: Anastasia Chernyavsk