7/28/16 – RPO at Temple B’Rith Kodesh

A review of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra's visit to Temple B'Rith Kodesh for their annual fundraising concert.

7/28/16 – RPO at Temple B’Rith Kodesh

On July 28th, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra came to Temple B’Rith Kodesh in Brighton for the temple’s 22nd annual fundraising concert. The concert, which also provided a raffle contest and several gift bags and other tchotchkes for sale, had the entire RPO playing “light classical” and pops. Guest conductor Matthew Kraemer described the concert as “dance and song.”

They opened with a set of three of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances,” specifically no. 1, 3, and 10.  No. 1 showcased many harmonies of Eastern European folk, frequently using the augmented 2nd and minor modes, and playing with a bouncy quarter note feel beneath many string melodies. No. 3 took these ideas to a more orchestral sound in a round form, while Brahms shifted parts of the melody from the strings to the flutes and reeds, as well as a few french horn passages. Finally, No. 10 was reminiscent of a Classical era “courante,” with running dance themes, and has the truest “orchestral” feel, rather than a strict dance.

Next was Debussy’s “Petite Suite” — a piece originally written for four hand piano and inspired by Fêtes galantes by Paul Verlain — an enjoyable suite with four movements that each could have been part of a movie soundtrack, each colorfully painting a distinct picture. The RPO played three of the movements, “Sailing,” “Menuet,” and “Ballet.”

Two polkas by Johann Strauss Jr. followed, “Thunder and Lightning Polka,” and “Tritsch and Tratsch Polka.” These pieces were classic Strauss; in a time when much of the social activity revolved around dance, Strauss gained his fame by creating masterful waltzes and other orchestral dance pieces. The former featured the recognizable melody on the violins, and the latter was quirkier with a returning descending melody line.

Wrapping up the first set was “English Folk Song Suite” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Credited with bringing England and Britain back to the classical forefront with folk tunes and nationalist material, Williams effortlessly combined true English song with the classical idiom. This piece was a perfect example of his work, as he developed authentic English melodies, styles, and harmonies into a classical suite.

After a brief intermission, the RPO returned with a group of medleys and tunes by prominent American pop composers.

Starting it off was a “West Side Story Medley,” arranged by Mason. The original work by Bernstein was both played as an overture and a medley. The opening and closing material sounded like an introduction and end to the play itself, while the main body of the piece re-orchestrated favorites such as “America,” “Tonight,” and “I Feel Pretty.” The audience was treated to surprisingly frequent trombone soli.

“Duke Ellington Fantasy” came next, a slightly underwhelming arrangement by Hermann. It’s difficult to capture all everything that made Ellington influential in an orchestra setting, but it felt like Ellington’s distinctiveness and touch were lost in a piece that relied too heavily on traditional pop clichés, particularly in the transition material. That said, Hermann handled “Caravan” and “Take the ‘A’ Train” well, but the less recognizable tunes were lost.

Following that were two excellent pieces, Henry Mancini’s orchestration of “Moon River,” and Ades’ arrangement of Irving Berlin, “Symphonic Portrait.” The gorgeous melody of “Moon River” weaved and floated on top of lush harmonies, replete with colorful suspensions. Before “Portrait” was played, Kraemer encouraged the audience to sing along, and they acquiesced, particularly finding their stride in “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and “God Bless America,” which ended the piece. This would have been a more obvious first choice to end the concert, as everyone was singing along to the final flourish.

The RPO then played “Kiss Me Kate Selections,” arrangement by Bennett of tunes from the Tony award-winning play with music and lyrics by Cole Porter. A true pops arrangement, the piece walked through what seemed like the whole play. Those who are only familiar with Porter’s entries in the jazz world (e.g., “I’ve Got You Under my Skin” and “Anything Goes”) wouldn’t have recognized the tunes, but they would have picked up on Porter’s quirk and inventiveness.

They ended the concert with Bill Whelan’s “Riverdance,” the piece that sparked a stage production and worldwide craze. The seven-minute composition was chock-full of Irish jigs and song, and stayed true to the style’s folk charm and character. It was nice piece that was well-played, but it might have served the concert better to either close the first half or start the second half.

The acoustics of the performance space were surprisingly good. The entire orchestra was there, and the the venue accommodated them with taste, nuance, and fullness without being overpowering.

One of the highlights of the evening was seeing young conductor Kraemer at his craft. On the podium, he is cool, crisp, clean, and understated while keeping his expressiveness to lead the orchestra. Even as a younger man in the field, Kraemer is also equally adept as an emcee, sharing charming and informative anecdotes with the audience in between each piece. While putting together and performing a program perfectly suited to his audience, Kraemer brought the enjoyable and light show together. Warm and contented smiles accompanied the standing ovation.

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