Ladies and Gentleman....
George Gershwin

Date: 13 November 2004, 8pm
Venue: The Orpheum Theatre

Reviewer: John Jane



Conductors: Bramwell Tovey & Kenneth Hsieh

Georg Gershwin
1898 - 1937
When George Gershwin and his brother Ira began writing music for the stage in the early 1920s, the world did not seem quite ready for their unique style of blending musical genres. Today, George Gershwin is considered one of America's greatest composers.

Unfortunately, Gershwin never lived to see his work become part of the American fabric. The talented composer died as a result of a brain tumor when he was only 38 years old.

Gershwin explored the sorrow as well as the glory of America in his music. He pushed jazz into a new dimension and created revolutionary music that is still as vital today.

Maestro Bramwell Tovey welcomed the audience to an essentially Gershwin tribute programme with the rollicking fanfare, “Strike up the Band” - an ideal selection to set the mood for an evening of popular American standards.

Maestro Tovey was typically entertaining with his characteristic, off-the-podium, tongue-in-cheek humour; particularly, when introducing VSO recent arrivals, concertmaster Mark Fewer and young conductor Kenneth Hsieh.

While the concert was a celebration of Gershwin’s music, works by American composers, Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers were also featured.





The first of these was the infectious Overture to Bernstein’s operetta Candide. A fast-paced, exuberant work, Maestro Tovey deftly captured the shimmering glamour of the composer’s music.

The jazz ballet, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue is arguably Richard Rodger’s most notable works. In an addition to the advertised programme, the orchestra’s bluesy, nocturnal interpretation of this unique piece nailed the essence of the tough area around Tenth Avenue in NYC.

I suppose no Gershwin tribute concert would complete without featuring at least one song form his groundbreaking folk opera, Porgy and Bess. Coloratura soprano, Tracy Dahl, resplendent in a perfectly fitting black gown, accompanied only by Maestro Tovey himself on piano and Mark Fewer, violin, offered a luminous rendition of the popular “Summertime.” There was something quaintly ironic, listening to this refined Winnipegger singing about cotton fields in the deep south. Alas, she was less successful pairing again with Tovey on piano with a couple of Gershwin jazz standards later in the evening. Ms Dahl is no doubt a fine classical artist, but she certainly isn’t a versatile song stylist. Tunes like “The Man I Love” and “Fascinating Rhythm” are perhaps best left to singers like Diana Krall.

It was great to hear Rhapsody in Blue in its full orchestral version. From Chris Inguanti’s deliciously rude bass clarinet opening, to Maestro Tovey bright and brash performance on piano, the orchestra under the direction of new conductor, Kenneth Hsieh demonstrated an exceptional affinity with Gershwin’s music.

The final selection was appropriately “America” from Bernstein’s West Side Story. Interpreted with the urban tension that the composer intended.

© 2004 John Jane