May 12, 2017 –  A Grass Valley violinist will help lead audiences on a lush, Alpine trek that will include dawn streaking across a valley, a roaring waterfall, a thundering storm, getting lost and a spectacular view from the summit.

Musically, of course.

Richard Altenbach is the concertmaster and first violinist for the Auburn Symphony. He will assist Conductor Peter Jaffe in this Sunday’s extravagant presentation of Richard Strauss’ “An Alpine Symphony” at the Mondavi Center in Davis. (See below for ticket information or click here.)

“This is a very extroverted, huge sound,” Altenbach said of Strauss’ pinnacle work. “But it’s (depicting) a giant, Alpine mountain! The concept of scaling such a mountain is a herculean effort, and you hear that in the music.”

“Alpine Symphony” is Strauss’ final tone poem, completed in 1915. It is rarely performed because it requires such a large orchestra, Altenbach explained. Jaffe brings in “many more than 100 instruments,” including little-heard ones such as the heckelphone – a large, deep, bassoon-like instrument that Strauss himself suggested creating.

Several other residents of the Grass Valley-Nevada City area also play regularly with the symphony and will be part of the Mother’s Day “At the Mondavi” spectacular. In addition, Jaffe conducts at other orchestras in northern California, including the Stockton Symphony, Stockton Opera and the Folsom Symphony.

‘Big’ musical themes

Auburn Symphony Orchestra

The Mother’s Day Spectacular opens with Giovanni Gabrieli’s “Canzon XVI a 12” – the “12” referring to the dozen brass making up the ensemble. “This Renaissance maestro wrote for very early brass the way Vivaldi wrote for violins,” Altenbach said.

“Gabrieli created so many pieces that were written… for those parts – trumpets, trombone – when they were just coming into their modern form,” Altenbach said. “He also used the brass antiphonally – a sort of surround-sound effect, placing distinct brass choirs in the balcony and different parts of the church.”

“Canzon,” published in 1615, has a big, bold, complex sound that marks Gabrieli as one of the most important composers of his era.

The concert rounds out with Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto” of 1868. People instantly recognize the opening tympani roll and dramatic piano chords of the main theme. It’s “flashy, virtuosic and very familiar,” Altenbach said. “The sounds and melodies come from a sound palette you might have if you had grown up in Scandinavia.”

Pianist Andrei Baumann performs.

Altenbach: Big local talent

InConcert Sierra fans will recognize Altenbach as the concertmaster for that Grass Valley-based organization. An A-List recording musician in Hollywood, Altenbach has performed for movies including “Finding Dory,” “Moana” and “Bridge of Spies,” plus recorded with singers including Barbra Streisand and Puff Daddy.

Altenbach also is an award-winning composer who writes for concert stage, video games and feature films. He most recently composed for “The Dark,” an Indie horror film, and for “Stealing Time,” a beautiful drama from South Africa. Learn more at

Ticket information: Masterworks IV At the Mondavi

  • What: Mother’s Day Spectacular:“An Alpine Symphony”
  • When: 3 p.m. Sunday, May 14
  • Where: Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, UC Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616
  • Cost: $40 general, $20 student
  • Tickets: (866) 754-2787 or
  • Transportation: Bus available from Auburn at 12:45 p.m.; see Auburn Symphony website

Grass Valley-based freelance writer Trina Kleist may be contacted at or (530) 575-6132.