Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ian Parker Plays Gershwin at the Brott Festival

We attended the Crazy for Gershwin concert last night at the McIntyre Theatre at Mohawk College and came away happy and musically satisfied. There was a near capacity crowd of very enthusiastic concert goers.

I don't usually attend Pops concerts but I've been doing a personal study of Gershwin's music and this presented an opportunity to hear his Concerto in F played by Canadian pianist Ian Parker.

There was a lot of talking at this concert. This would usually annoy me but, this time, it was pretty entertaining. Boris is an inveterate raconteur and a familiar personality to most of the audience. He introduced and congratulated soloists and shared anecdotes and wisdom. For example, he spoke warmly last night of his relationship with Leonard Bernstein (whose apprentice he was) and of "Lenny's" dislike of West Side Story. He wisely warned us that the Symphonic Dances end quietly, not after the climax of the penultimate section. (Somebody started to applaud anyway!)

The evening opened with a charming spiel from the staffer Jacqui Templeton-Muir, welcoming the audience and encouraging us to buy tickets for one (or all!) of the remaining three fabulous concerts. This was followed by conductor Boris Brott himself introducing Composer-in-Residence Maxime Goulet who explained the dramatic and musical premises of the short animated film, Running, for which he had written the score.

Maxime Goulet

Boris donned the headphones (he'd already explained about the need to follow the click-track) and the orchestra played while the film was projected on screens to each side of the stage.

M. Goulet returned and talked about the next music which he had composed in a film music course in Los Angeles to accompany the closing scene of the film Hidalgo. (The original score is by James Newton Howard). Again, the orchestra played the music while the film was projected.

The two pieces are quite different. The Running music changes constantly and is often motoric, sometimes employing gestures and conventions which have been used in music for animation for decades. This is a serious piece, however, in the sense that it is extremely detailed and worked out with a clear understanding of developments in new music. It's a very convincing score which would bear listening to again.

The Hidalgo music is a more conventional orchestral film score echoing John Barry or perhaps John Williams. The film is a Western, so the broad melody and prominent strings and horns are conventions familiar to anyone who has listened to film music. It is, however, exactly what the scene required. You can watch and hear it here.

I think Maxime Goulet is a major talent. I've listened, on-line, to recordings of several of his works, both concert music and for media. He should have a long and successful career writing music for films or TV (he's already a successful video games score composer) if he can make the appropriate connections in the industry. My interview with him will be published in Greater Hamilton Musician Magazine in the coming weeks.

The first half closed with a spirited reading of the Gershwin Concerto in F. Gershwin composed it in 1925 hardly a year after the celebrated Rhapsody in Blue and before he began to study classical composition. It's a much longer and more involved piece than the Rhapsody. Themes recur in the middle and last movements. For all that, it often reminds one of the Rhapsody and, especially of the Three Preludes which were premièred a year later. Ian Parker played brilliantly. He really has a way with this repertoire. The orchestra sometimes overwhelmed the piano but that might just be an issue with this hall's acoustics. The first movement was conducted by Brott's apprentice Brendan Hagan who was exuberantly applauded at its end. Brott conducted the rest of the concerto. Much of the audience came to their feet at the concerto's end.

Ian Parker

The second half began with the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I heard a Brott-conducted performance of this piece many years ago in the Burridge Gym at McMaster University. Rich Little, who was also on the program, said Boris, dressed in a white suit, reminded him of the Man From Glad. I don't remember what Rich Little was doing there, but I fell in love with this piece.

It must be a great work to do with young players. It's demanding, full or complex rhythms, and very exciting, excerpting some of the most memorable moments from the Broadway show. Special mention must be made of trumpeter Daniel Mills. The percussionists were outstanding especially drummer Catherine Varvaro who also played trap set in the piece that followed.

Then Brott, his orchestra and Ian Parker rounded it out with the Rhapsody in Blue. Featured in the orchestra was clarinetist Afendi Yusuf who nailed the opening glissando. The standing and rhythmically applauding audience forced Parker to return and play an encore, a Chopin waltz.

These are premium concerts at a bargain price. The concert tickets are a little more than half what I am paying to hear the HPO next season as a subscriber, perhaps a quarter the price of a full-priced TSO concert. If you knew ahead of time what you wanted to hear, the tickets were available on WagJag for $19.

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