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wcfsymphony → Kelley’s Blues

February 6, 2010 7:30 pm → Great Hall, GBPAC, Cedar Falls

Still – Symphony no. 1
J Dilla, arr. Atwood-Ferguson – from Suite for Ma Dukes [2009]
Ellington – Three Black Kings with artist Gary Kelley
Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue [1920s theater version] with Genadi Zagor and artist Gary Kelley

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WCFSO’s recent concert ‘refreshingly unique’
by George F. Day
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
February 11, 2010

‘Expect the Unexpected’ is the current motto of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra, and an apt phrase it is, as shown by its most recent concert in the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center. As we have come to expect, this program was refreshingly unique.

The first half of the program was dominated by a sterling performance of William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1 [Afro-American]. This was a first hearing for me, and quite likely for most people in the audience. It is a haunting, stirring work that deserves to be better known. For me, it passed the ‘CD test’: I immediately wanted to go buy a recording of it.

The orchestra also performed an interesting new arrangement of some sections of Suite for Ma Dukes by J Dilla. The arranger, Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, was in the house and was given a warm welcome.

Another work on the bill was Three Black Kings by that master performer and writer of jazz and swing, Duke Ellington. In three movements, the piece is a tribute to three outstanding figures of history and legend: one of the Magi, King Solomon and Martin Luther King Jr. As backdrop to the music, paintings depicting the African-American experience appeared on a large screen behind the orchestra. The paintings were brilliantly conceived by artist Gary Kelley, and they did much to enhance the power of Ellington’s score.

The marriage of music and painting also was present in the final work of the evening: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Here the images were mainly of New York City, particularly the lower East Side and Tin Pan Alley - the neighborhoods where Gershwin grew up. And here again Kelley’s artistry was fascinating.

But the star of this work that closed the program was Genadi Zagor, who played the piano part of Rhapsody. His glittering interpretation of the score [virtually a classical-jazz concerto] was a triumph as he swept through the score with incredible speed and sensitivity. Never have I heard the Gershwin played with such careful nuance, such exquisite attention to detail. Exhilarated, the audience roared its approval.

Note: All reviews are edited for length and spelling.