Sunday Night Out

Last night Kish and I went out to dinner and then hoofed it over to the nearby Southern Theater for a ProMusica Chamber Orchestra program called “The Romantic Piano.”  It was an excellent show that featured pieces by Bizet, Saint-Saens, and Schubert.  (The Schubert selection was his rollicking Symphony No. 1, which was a pretty impressive piece of work by a 16-year-old.)

IMG_0840It was a great end to a wonderful weekend that (finally) let us enjoy some terrific weather, and it was intentional, too.  Lately we’ve been making a conscious effort to get out of the house and do something fun on Sunday nights.  We’ve gone to dinners and musical performances and nightclubs, and when some of the spring and summer shows start, like the summer movie series at the Ohio Theater, I’m sure we’ll add those to the mix, too.  We’ve found that stodgy old Columbus has a lot to offer on Sunday nights.

The theory behind this effort is simple:  let’s end the weekend with a bang, not a whimper.  Sure, you can ease in to Sunday night, plop down on the sofa, put your feet up on the coffee table, and watch whatever HBO or your cable channel of choice is showing, and it’s a perfectly acceptable capstone to the weekend.  Unfortunately, I usually end up nodding off if I watch too much TV, and I always think, uncomfortably, of how Angela Lansbury racked up huge ratings with the blue-haired set on Sunday night with Murder, She Wrote.  It seems like camping out in front of the flat screen and watching TV on Sunday night is something old people do.  I’m not quite ready to go there, yet.

That doesn’t mean we won’t be watching the first installment of the new Game of Thrones next week — we’re not being puritanical about it, and I’m as interested in learning whether Jon Snow survives as the next person.  We are realizing, though, that there’s real value in getting off your duff, off the couch, and out into the community on the last night of the weekend.

At The Messiah Side-By-Side Sing-Along

For a number of years now, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra has been presenting George Frideric Handel’s Messiah in a side-by-side sing-along format — where all of the singers among us can join together in the majestic confines of the Southern Theatre and sing their hearts out to the 15 separate full chorus sections of some of the world’s most beautiful holiday music.  Last night Kish and I and our friends Mr. and Mrs. JV took it all in for the first time, and it made for a fabulous holiday experience.

IMG_7589Most of us have heard the Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah and, probably, tried our hands at singing along, but there’s a lot more to the Messiah, and a lot more to the ProMusica experience.  Last night’s program was hosted by the affable and knowledgeable Dr. Robert J. Ward, the Director of Choral Activities at The Ohio State University, who offered interesting and funny commentary about the composer, the music, and the message and feeling Handel was seeking to achieve in this choral masterpiece.  To make the evening even more special, the ProMusica orchestra was joined by a host of student musicians from schools that partner with ProMusica in their music programs, and the combined orchestra was guest-conducted by Dr. Ross and seven other local church and school music directors who each directed different choruses.  And the audience — or perhaps I should say the performers seated in the theatre rather than on stage — featured singers from no fewer than 12 local church and school choirs and choral groups, roughly divided into bass, tenor, alto, and soprano sections.  The combination of students and teachers, professionals and aspiring performers, gave the evening an almost magical, festive feel.

And, make no mistake:  the people in the theatre (except for the four of us, who were too awe-struck to utter a peep) were there to sing, in the most full-throated and unabashed way.  They all brought their copies of the score to the Messiah and followed the direction of the composers, and they sang wonderfully.  It tells you something very positive about your community when it can fill a theatre with highly capable singers who can read music and skillfully navigate the difficult vocal gymnastics of some very complex Baroque music.

The combined effect was, in an oft-overused-but-nevertheless-apt-in-this-instance word, awesome.  The theatre was jammed, and the only seats available when we arrived were in box at the side of the theatre, right in front of the stage and next to the bass section.  It turned out to be a spectacular and inspired location, with orchestral beauty coming from one direction and song from the other, giving us a kind of total immersion in the music.  And the feeling coming from the students excited to be on stage, the guest directors happily getting the opportunity to strut their directing stuff in front of a big crowd, and the singers joyfully singing with all of the talent they could muster created an indelible impression.  You don’t fully appreciate the combined power of a choir until you are sitting in their midst.

I’d be willing to bet that every person who walked out of the Southern Theatre after that performance was filled with the holiday spirit and feeling better about the world.  Dr. Ross said at the outset of the program that their goal was not to change the world, but just to make the two hours of the performance as wonderful as it could be.  Mission accomplished!

Lovers & Dreamers

Thanks to the generosity of our friends Tom and Lee we attended last night’s Lovers & Dreamers benefit and concert for the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.  The evening featured fine drinks and good food at the Grand Ballroom of the Westin Hotel (formerly the Great Southern Hotel), a silent auction, and then a concert in the Southern Theater by the Orchestra and jazz vocalist Jane Monheit.

The Westin Hotel is a turn-of-the-century brick structure at the southern end of downtown Columbus.  It is one of those classic older hotels that has all of the touches and flourishes that distinguish those establishments from the soulless, cookie-cutter hotels of more recent vintage.  The hotel lobby is an interesting room, spacious and yet cozy at the same time, framed with stairways and doorways and with second-story seating areas open to viewing from the ground floor.

The performance itself was a revelation on two grounds.  It was the first time I have been to a show at the refurbished Southern Theater, which is part of the hotel itself.  The theater was opened in 1896 and it is one of the oldest surviving theaters in Ohio; it was refurbished in 1998.  Shame on me for my delay!  The Southern is a little gem, beautifully appointed and with excellent acoustics.  It was a perfect venue for last night’s show and would be ideal for any intimate classical, jazz, or folk performance.

The second revelation was the performance by the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and Jane Monheit and her trio.  It was the first time I have heard the Orchestra and, again, shame on me.  Led by the energetic conducting of Timothy Russell, the Orchestra acquitted itself quite well in performing various standards and selections from the Great American Songbook in support of Ms. Monheit.  I think last night’s show was the finale for the season, but I will be looking for the chance to catch the Orchestra a time or two next season.

I’d never heard of Jane Monheit before last night, either, but I’ll be looking for her CDs to add some songs to the Ipod.  The sultry Ms. Monheit is possessed of a fantastic voice and real showmanship.  She and her tight backing trio — on keyboards, bass, and drums — delivered some pitch-perfect treatments of American classics, like Arlen and Koehler’s Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek.  Who would have thought that a tattooed, funny Long Islander could be such a compelling torch singer?  She was terrific.  A Youtube video of Ms. Monheit performing Cheek to Cheek is below:

Last night just reaffirms, again, that Columbus has a lot to offer:  you just have to look.  Thanks, Lee and Tom!