Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Under the guidance of conductor Dirk Meyer, who was making his premiere appearance with the Symphonyand what a distinctive and impressive premiere it wasthe PSO sounded exceptional. The highlight of the evening was their superb performance of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." This exceptional work, which is George's love letter to Paris and the time he spent there in the 1920s, provides the chance to highlight every section of the orchestra, vibrantly bringing to life the frantic Parisian days and romantic nights in the city of lights.
Guest vocalists included Lisa Vroman and Rick Faugno, both of whom have extensive Broadway and touring credits. While Vroman's legit, operatic voice was a bit at odds with Ira Gershwin's playful lyrics in a couple of selections, her rendition of "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess was one of the best versions I've ever heard. Her nuanced yet distinctive delivery of the lyrics was superb with her warm, sustained notes floating over the audience. Faugno, who just last year won a Fred and Adele Astaire award for Best Ensemble for his work in the Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century, displayed surefooted vocals as well as some fancy, skilled footwork in the style of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, both of whom worked with Gershwin. His dancing and singing during "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Slap that Bass" were exuberant.
The duo also delivered scripted narration that touched upon George's upbringing, how he got his start in the music business, his Broadway hits, and his time in Hollywood. It added just enough information to further enjoy the music and to give details into his life without being over sentimentalized or hokey.
Some of the Gershwin standards performed included "I Got Rhythm," "Strike Up the Band," "The Man I Love," and "'S Wonderful." Video footage of George playing some of his most well-known works displayed the superb pacing and style of his compositions. Under Meyer's direction, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra didn't miss a beat in matching the jazz-infused requirements of Gershwin's skilled compositionsboth the slowed down ballads and the up tempo numbers.
An encore of "Love Is Here to Stay," the last song George Gershwin wrote, was a poignant and fitting end to the concert. Having died so young, at just age 38, George Gershwin's music is full of life, wit, and sophistication and, like the encore song and the title of the concert, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra and guests proved that his music is most definitely here to stay.
The Gershwin Experience: Here to Stay with the Phoenix Symphony played three performances on March 11th through the 13th, 2016 at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. Information for upcoming performances with the Phoenix Symphony can be found at www.phoenixsymphony.org.