The Vancouver Symphony put a little razzmatazz into its first concert of the New Year (January 26), pairing flashy and popular works by Copland and Gershwin with several numbers from the world of Broadway musicals. While the purely instrumental pieces were warmly appreciated by the near-capacity audience in SkyView Concert Hall, it was the collaboration with singer-actress Susannah Mars, the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, and other guest artists that really got people’s attention.
Sashaying in from the left side of the stage, Mars did a bang-up job with “Hello Dolly” (from Hello Dolly) and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” (from Anything Goes), backed up by 80-plus voices of the PGMC. They were brassy and had plenty of verve that got heads to nod along.
In “What I did for Love” (from A Chorus Line), Mars shared the spotlight with two students from the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics: Isabella Daltoso and Maddison Gebhard. Each took a verse, with Mars leading the way, and young singers showed that they could easily deliver the goods, making the piece very enjoyable.
Gebhard and Daltoso were joined by Julana Torres and Jae Specht for a lively rendition with dance moves of “America” (from West Side Story). They made terrific use of an extended stage area that didn’t leave much room for error.
The PGMC, expertly prepared by its Artistic Director Bob Mensel, were featured in three selections: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” (from Oklahoma), “To Build a Home” (from The Bridges of Madison County), and “Wheels of a Dream” (from Ragtime). The men sang with enthusiasm and sensitivity, but , the tenor section needed to be stronger whenever they broke into harmony.
The musical half of the program concluded with “Make our Garden Grow” (from Candide) with Thomas Black and Mars as the soloists. Black’s warm and expansive baritone sounded well suited to the piece, but the timbre of Mars’ voice didn’t match up well. Music Director, Salvador Brotons and the orchestra didn’t hold anything back in the final measures, and the music expressed the hope of a brighter tomorrow, which was a great way to end the concert.
The orchestral suite of four dance episodes from Copland’s ballet Rodeo was played with a lot of spirit, but needed some tightening up, especially when a couple of violins jumped the gun at the in third episode, “Saturday Night Waltz,” causing first few measures to sound a bit out of whack. Still, there was plenty of good music made with excellent solos on trombone (Greg Scholl), trumpet (Bruce Dunn), and clarinet (Igor Shahkman).
Gershwin’s American in Paris fared much better, and the orchestra conveyed the scene of a young American strolling around Paris, sampling one diversion or another, yet becoming homesick. Solos on English Horn (Kris Klavik) and by the concertmaster Eva Richey were highlights of the piece and the bluesy sound of the trombone and trumpet suggested the comfort food of American music. The dynamics could have been crisper, but the orchestra wound it all up on an emphatic and joyful note.
The concert marked the first time that the orchestra had ventured into Broadway. The amplification of the voices (choir and soloists) was done very well. Some lyrics in the chorale pieces were difficult to understand, and that might have been circumvented if they had been printed with the program note. Still, the Broadway pops concept was a refreshing success for the orchestra.