By Paul Hyde: May 18, 2015
The Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s season-closing concerts proved that local music fans will enthusiastically embrace a pops-style program.
The Peace Center’s Concert Hall was filled this past weekend for two performances of popular jazz-inspired scores by Leonard Bernstein and George Gershwin.
Music director Edvard Tchivzhel led dynamic and often thrilling accounts of Bernstein’s music from “West Side Story” and Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
Many local concert-goers have longed for the orchestra to offer more programs that feature lighter, popular music — drawn, for instance, from Broadway and film.
Tchivzhel decided to present that sort of program as a part of the orchestra’s subscription series.
The question remains: Will an audience turn out for a pops program outside of the regular subscription series?
On the evidence of last weekend’s performances, I’d say yes. The concerts should give the Greenville Symphony the confidence to more actively explore an entire pops series.
For my part, I’d love to see more Broadway-inspired concerts or performances featuring the film music of John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore or James Horner. A program offering the scores of “Star Wars,” “Doctor Who” or “The Lord of the Rings” could bring new audiences to the Peace Center.
Granted, this past weekend’s program, “Americana,” featured music on the more serious side of “pops.” This was purely instrumental music, consisting mostly of familiar tunes from “West Side Story” and “Porgy and Bess.”
Bernstein’s colorful “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story,'” created from the composer’s 1957 musical, still possesses the power to surprise by juxtaposing the most forceful, even brutal, music with hauntingly tender melodies. The piece is a reminder of how superbly Bernstein characterized the classic musical’s story about a sweet romance emerging amid the hatred of gang violence.
Under Tchivzhel’s leadership, the orchestra delivered this complex, highly syncopated score with polished professionalism. Soaring brass and thundering percussion — the harsh “Rumble” music seems to owe a debt to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” — made a particularly strong impression.
The French horn solo in “Somewhere” was beautifully phrased by Anneka Zuehlke-King. Phil Elkins, meanwhile, stylishly negotiated the chop-busting trumpet solos. Other deft solos were articulated by flutist Caroline J. Ulrich, violinists Xiaoqing Yu and Joanna Mulfinger Lebo, violist Kathryn Dey and cellist Robert B. O’Brien.
The program also featured Bernstein’s “Divertimento,” a piece the composer wrote in 1980 to celebrate the Boston Symphony’s centennial season.
Consisting of eight sharply contrasting movements, the lighthearted work is the soul of quirkiness. It includes a charming “Waltz,” a playful “Turkey Trot” and a grubby “Blues” that puts you in the heart of Bourbon Street. The final “March,” with the brass standinga la Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” was pleasingly raucous.
Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture,” which includes all the big songs from the opera/musical, was animatedly rendered by Tchivzhel and the orchestra.
Tchivzhel drew a lovely, lush sound from the strings for the sultry “Summertime” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.”
It was great to hear a suave three-person saxophone section — something you never see in a typical classical concert — for “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York.” Courtney McDonald-Bottoms, meanwhile, provided the dazzling, lightning-fast riffs on the xylophone.
Tchivzhel brought the proceedings to a rousing conclusion with the finale from “Porgy” — “Oh, Lawd, I’m On My Way.”
A standing ovation at both concerts elicited an encore: Bernstein’s effervescent Overture to “Candide,” played at breakneck speed.