Ready For Rhapsody

Last night Richard, Julianne, Kish and I went to the Columbus Symphony for the latest installment of the American Roots Festival series.  This performance was at the Southern Theater, a beautiful, more intimate venue than the mighty Ohio Theater, and featured engaging guest conductor Donato Cabrera and wonderful pianist Thomas Lauderdale.

IMG_4826It was a great program and will be performed again at 8 p.m. tonight.  It began with Dvorak’s delightful Humoresque, Op. 101, No. 7, written when he was visiting the United States, which set the evening’s theme — American-inspired music, with jazz and ragtime influences.  Highlights for me were Scott Joplin’s Overture to Treemonisha and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music, both of which I had not heard before.  I also liked the recomposition of the orchestra from piece to piece as the composers added a banjos and large saxophone section, and gave the bassoonists a moment in the sun as they sought to capture an American sound.

According to the program the night was to end with Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la russe, but Maestro Cabrera announced during the performance that the order had been changed to close with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.  This was a very wise decision, because it’s hard to imagine any piece following last night’s performance of Gershwin’s opus.

Last night was the first time I’ve seen the Rhapsody performed live, and I’ll never think of that music in the same way again.  From the meandering wail of the clarinet that opens the piece, to the beautiful melodies that pop up unexpectedly and are tied together at the end, to the piano trills and fills that give Rhapsody in Blue its spine, the visual aspect of the performance will be forever fixed in my mind.  Thomas Lauderdale is a consummate showman, and he gave his grand piano a workout that brought every bit of sound and texture from the instrument.  It was, in a word, epic.  See it if you have the chance!

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!