Review by Keith Kreitman -

"Pocket Orchestra Plays Big"

Published in the “San Mateo County Times” on page 5 of the Bay Area Living section on Saturday, June 17, 2000.

“One of the pleasures of reviewing is finding new, yet still unrecognized, talent or organizations. The Foothill Orchestra which performed at the Smithwick Theater at Foothill College in Los Altos on June 10th is one of these.

Directed by Michael Paul Gibson, it is a community orchestra organized only two years ago. What distinguishes it is that it is a "pocket" orchestra with a big orchestra sound. Operating with roughly half the conventional number of players in the string sections and only the bare minimum numbers in the woodwind, brass and percussion sections, it is yet able to handle creditably major orchestral works.

How it is done is to have each of the relatively few music stands staffed by only the highest quality of players and this is obviously what has made the Foothill Orchestra the very fine organization it is.

Another fact that is becoming more apparent with the proliferation of symphony orchestras on the Peninsula is there seems to be an endless pool of fine symphonic musical talent available in the area.

And, the Foothill Orchestra is as fine a gathering of such talent as any. With the exception of some weak moments for the French horns, the rest of the performers are first rate, each carrying his or her load in balance with the whole. Especially notable are the brass sections and two of the woodwind soloists. Flutist David Ross, and clarinetist Sue Macy, possess tones of remarkable and ingratiating timbre.

Of course, all of this success hinges upon leadership and Michael Paul Gibson seems to have the right stuff. He has an excellent baton technique and clearly is a master of the scores. He had the orchestra tackle some difficult works and with exception of "The Great Gate of Kiev" from "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modeste Moussorgsky, which really requires a fuller instrumentation in order to "shake the rafters," the composers or arrangers would not be unhappy with any of the readings. 

Particularly effective was the main work of the evening, "Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98" by Johannes Brahms. Gibson brought the orchestra through this long and demanding work without missing a single dynamic shading or losing the beauty of a single melodic line.

Also, in the "Water Music Selections," arranged by Emil Kahn from the work by George Frideric Handel and performed with great dignity by the orchestra, we are reminded of the quality and universal appeal that has kept this very early composer in the orchestral repertoire to this day.

The other major work of the evening, "Festival Overture, Op. 96" by Russian composer Dimitri Shostakowitch, was like a test piece for the various orchestral sections in 20th Century music and they all passed.

The sparse attendance that evening makes one hope that there just aren't too many fine artistic organizations at work on the Peninsula at the same time these days, causing the performance offerings to outstrip the potential audiences.

I certainly hope not.”