MUSIC REVIEW: IU CONCERT ORCHESTRA, GERSHWIN, BERNSTEIN

Concert’s music enjoyed by audience, performers

By Peter Jacobi

 

By the time Wednesday evening that the Indiana University Concert Orchestra got into Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story,” conductor Arthur Fagen was dancing on the podium, and the orchestra was rocking.

That happened after intermission, but, truly, the entire program in the Musical Arts Center of Americana, of music by Bernstein and George Gershwin, was a blast. Both the maestro and his band of players were obviously enjoying themselves and justifiably prideful for what they accomplished. So, too, the evening’s soloist entered into the spirit of the occasion. He was pianist Michael Sikich, who played Gershwin’s Concerto in F brilliantly.

The program opened with more Bernstein, the popular Overture to “Candide,” featuring major and familiar tunes from that musical/operetta/opera (choose your designation). Bernstein knew how to fashion tunes, when he wanted to, and he was a skilled orchestrator. In the overture, he exhibited both strengths, dishing up a gem that Maestro Fagen and company treated crisply and with infectious gusto.

Gershwin’s Concerto in F followed. Its soloist, the 20-year-old Michael Sikich, is just a sophomore in the IU Jacobs School of Music, but his bio documents a string of honors, a blossoming career and wide-ranging interests spread from solo keyboard and chamber music to jazz and arts administration. His solo piano credentials were certainly on view Wednesday.

The Gershwin concerto is a showpiece and a showcase. It works when both the soloist and the conductor/orchestra combine have keen technical knowhow and a sense for the world of Gershwin. All involved on this occasion had the goods. The conductor, with the help of the soloist, also must find a way to unify the score’s constantly shifting elements into cohesive movements, a tricky affair, but Fagen and Sikich did. Finally, the soloist must know how to engender the jazzy, ebullient, show-businessy, and sometimes seductive spirit the composer called for; Sikich excelled at the task and earned an extended standing ovation. He’s a genuine talent.

Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances packages nine tunes and themes from “West Side Story.” In sum, they suggest the unfolding plot of this Romeo-and-Juliet-inspired musical, from youthful adventure and romance to ultimate tragedy. Thanks to Fagen and the orchestra, one heard the raucous and the poignant in a niftily coalesced and engagingly flamboyant reading. Again, the audience responded with abounding enthusiasm.

 

© Herald Times 2014

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