Who says a symphony orchestra cannot rock? The Symphony of the Americas did just that on Tuesday, Marrch 7 witht its high voltage season finale at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater. Soul and R & B singer Lillie Mc Cloud joined the orchestra in the concert's second half for some of the Top 10 hits of recent decades.
James Brooks-Bruzzese got the evening off to a swinging start with Calvin Custer's arrangement of songs by big band great Duke Ellington. The ensemble's lush strings took the full measure of "Can't Get Around Much Anymore" and "It Don't Mean a Thing If it Ain't Got That Swing" really captured the aura of the swing band era at white heat.
A Tribute to Michael Jackson encapsulated the music of one of the legendary and iconic pop stars of the 1980's and 90's. With a hot percussion section and bass guitar playing at full force, music from Jackson's internationally best selling and award winning album Thriller was assayed at high velocity. Victor Lopez's chart for a Whitney Houston Tribute culminated in a gorgeous and sonorous orchestration of "The Greatest Love of All," the song by Michael Masser and Linda Creed that was one of Houston's chart topping hits.
With the velocity at fever pitch, Lillie McCloud joined the orchestra following intermission. With arranger-pianist Sergio Salani at the keyboard , she opened with a sultry voiced version of Summertime from George Gershwin's operatic classic Porgy and Bess. Salani, a fine classical artist, demonstrated his equal skill at jazzy stride piano. With Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra, Mc Cloud offered her gutsy version of the Cece Wunans gospel classic Alabaster Box which was her winning song on the television show The X Factor and has received tens of thousands of views on You Tube. The Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic A House is Not a Home was sung by McCloud with fervor that recalled that quintessential Bacharach singer Dionne Warwick.
She was joined onstage by Carlos De Antonis for David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager's international hit The Prayer. With De Antonis' robust Italianate tenor and vibrant personality and McCloud's full throated vocalism, the duo sent the rafters ringing. Donna Allen, a recent contestant on the television program The Voice and a contingent from the Florida Children's Theater joinied McCloud and De Antonis for the concluding rousingly sung version of the 1985 Lionel Richie-Michael Jackson anthem We Are the World.
The concert's center piece was an abbreviated version of Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals. In 1949 American poet Ogden Nash wrote a series of witty and ironic verses to go with each of the score's movements. Veteran broadcaster and lecturer Lyn Farmer read the verses with a fine sense of humorous parody that mirrors the melofic delights of Saint-Saëns'vignettes. Brooks-Bruzzese led this wonderful work in masterful fashion, capturing the sarcasm of the quotes from Rossini and Offenbach as well as bringing out the music's melodic grace.
Sergio and Barbara Salani were the stalwart duo in the score's extensive two piano role. Their crisp articulation and patrician phrasing were a pleasure to hear. The rippling and elegant keyboard line of the composer's musical depiction of the fish was particularly wonderful. (Director Terence Malick used that music as the title theme for his classic 1970's film Days of Heaven.) Principal cellist Iris van Eck brought beautiful sonority and tonal radiance to "The Swan," (made famous in dance by ballerina Anna Pavlova). Van Eck phrased this famous miniature in one elongated melodic arc. The finale was given plenty of verve and élan by Brooks-Beuzzese, the Salanis and the ensemble.
The 2017-2018 season will mark the Symphony of the Americas 30th anniversary. Three decades of innovative and highly varied programming, excellent solo artists and fine performances call for a celebration indeed!