MUSIC REVIEW: Summer Philharmonic

Informal fun concert earns standing ovation

By Peter Jacobi


Even the trappings differed from the usual orchestral concert in the Musical Arts Center on Saturday evening.

The musicians in the Summer Philharmonic, instead of appearing in formal wear, were dressed informally: black pants and white tops for the violinists, black pants and tops of various colors for the rest. Their maestro, David Effron, left his tails at home and entered the stage in black pants of his own, along with a shirt of scarlet red.

The stage lights were customarily bright for the pre-intermission fare: an overture, Leonard Bernstein’s to his opera “Candide,” and a symphony, Beethoven’s best known and most popular, his Fifth. But after intermission, the lights changed from white to various hues and wattages, distinctly different from the norm. The configuration of chairs changed as well, to make room up front and near front for a drum set and a Steinway.

At that point, the musical content shifted dramatically into pop mode, and by concert’s end, the audience that filled the theater, knew it had witnessed a very special program. Attendees knew and had rewarded all the participants with generous ovations, cheers aplenty, and a standing ovation that seemed to have no end: all deserved.

Maestro Effron, upon accepting the assignment to plan, prepare and produce this single orchestral event of the 2014 Summer Festival, decided to go for broke, to accept no barriers of custom, so to attract a large and diverse crowd. Informality, he determined, had to be the delivered mood. Variety, he also determined, had to be the delivered content. So, piece by piece, he shaped the evening.

First, that opening half: Bernstein’s scintillating “Candide” Overture, played to the hilt, then that marvel of a symphony, the Fifth, in a seriously considered and eloquently performed reading. Conductor Effron had only two weeks to get this Summer Philharmonic ready, and that he really, truly did. Theirs was an evocative Fifth.

Next came Leroy Anderson’s romp for three trumpets and orchestra, “Bugler’s Holiday,” crisply enunciated by one Indiana University Jacobs School teacher, John Rommel, and two Jacobs School students, Leah Hodge and Evan King. Composer Anderson would have been well pleased.

The striking and classy mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson, another Jacobs faculty favorite, sang, crooned, whispered, poured forth cherished American Song Book standards: Gershwin’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Harold Arlen’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Get Happy.” For an encore, she added a song Louis Armstrong made famous, “What a Wonderful World.” Simpson made the world sound wonderful, assisted at the piano by her visiting sister, Evelyn Simpson-Curenton.

Two recent IU alums, ballet major Morgan Stillman and biology major Cassie Dishman, joined the orchestra as tap dancers, very skilled ones, indeed, giving movement to the Rondo from Morton Gould’s “Tap Dance Concerto” (yes, there is one!) and to Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

Former IU and NBA basketball star Quinn Buckner genially narrated the American folk tale “Casey at the Bat,” in collaboration with Effron and the Philharmonic, engaged in composer Frank Proto’s clever and aurally convincing orchestral setting for the poem. Buckner’s microphone proved inconsiderate, clicking on and off, and there were some balance problems between orchestra and speaker, but Buckner added the right comic touch to this 1888 poetic ballad by Ernest Thayer that has become a literary staple for fans of baseball lore.

Saturday’s concert ended with Tchaikovsky’s “The Year 1812 Festival Overture,” now usually called the “1812 Overture,” that grandiose feast of orchestral glory, bells, chimes and boom-booms which Effron and the Philharmonic performed with tremendous gusto, accompanied by light show and sundry electronics.

The Philharmonic worked hard all evening, as did David Effron who, should he wish to change careers, could become a touring comic. His jokes and banter had the crowd roaring, and one noted that he appeared to be having a great time. Go for it, Maestro!


©Herald Times 2014

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