The Symphony of the Americas opened the 2014-15 season on Tuesday night with From Venice to Venezuela, a musical party celebrating Hispanic and Italian Heritage Month. Also celebrating the commencement of the orchestra's 27th season, the program was wide ranging in repertoire, performed with spirit and pizzazz and, like any good party, great fun. State Senator Maria Lorts Sachs (who played a vital role in the state legislature's declaration of Italian Heritage Month) and legendary pop star Connie Francis were among the special guests at the performance in the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater.

From Venice to Venezuela, a musical party celebrating Hispanic and Italian Heritage Month

Maestro James Brooks-Bruzzese, the ensemble's artistic director, embodied the spirit of the event, his parents coming from Hispanic and Italian roots. The evening opened with a ceremonial color guard from Fort Lauderdale High School's ROTC unit parading the colors down the aisles before standing at attention in front of the stage as the orchestra played a rousing version of the Star Spangled Banner.

The Overture to La Forza del Destino by Giuseppe Verdi, the greatest of Italian operatic composers, was the dramatic curtain raiser. The score's three opening brass chords, symbolizing fate, had tremendous punch and impact. Brooks-Bruzzese led a tautly paced, full blooded performance. The unison playing of the strings was particularly impressive and the ensemble's full throttle climaxes were fiery indeed.

The Sergio and Barbara Salani Piano Duo were the concert's featured soloists and indeed the Salani family proved an indispensible part of the event with contributions from the pianists' uncle and father. Sergio Salani did first solo honors with George Gershwin's iconic Rhapsody in Blue. The opening wail of the clarinet set the appropriate bluesy aura and Salani's pianism was wonderfully idiomatic, exhibiting an almost improvisatory sense of the score's jazz underpinnings. He brought agility and accuracy to even the fastest runs and his playing was wonderfully syncopated in the jazzy driving moments. The orchestra's playing was outstanding, Brooks-Bruzzese exhibiting wonderful affinity for Gershwin's quintessentially American synthesis of Broadway and classicism. The familiar broad rhapsodic theme was rendered with spacious richness, the strings particularly lush and sonorous, and concertmaster Bogdan Chruszcz's solo was elegantly stated. With the orchestra stating the melody of the opening clarinet solo at full force, the curtain was brought down with a dynamic catharsis.

Joaquin Turina's all too rarely heard Rhapsodia Sinfonica proved an ideal companion to the Gershwin classic. This score is replete with Andalusian melodies and instrumental tints and Barbara Salani brought great sensitivity and a wide color palette to the score's most delicate moments while exhibiting octave spanning virtuosity in the rapid fire finale. The silky string tone infused the music with luster - a worthy revival of an outstanding work by a composer whose output deserves more frequent performance.

The brother and sister duo came together for Fantasia Venezolana by their nonagenarian uncle Renato Salani who was in the audience. Originally composed for piano/ four hands, Sergio Salani arranged the score for two pianos and orchestra , the new version receiving its premiere. A distinctively classical medley of popular Venezuelan tunes, the piece contrasts elegant and sentimental melodies with throbbing rhythms. The Salani duo offered deftly coordinated pianism, bringing real Latin verve and bravura strokes to the finale, set to the famous Venezuelan melody Alma Llanera. The orchestral writing emerged warm and rich, the sections for winds and strings a standout.

Repeated standing ovations for the Salani Duo brought a unique encore. Barbara and Sergio's father Julio Salani was brought to the stage. The 89 year old Italian crooner sang the 1955 Renato Rascel-Pietro Garinei-Sandro Giovanni pop hit Arrivederci Roma, accompanied by his children at the keyboards and the full orchestra. He sang with that authentic mix of throbbing sentimentality and easy, casual intimacy that is unique to the Italian popular song tradition. The Salani musical family is remarkable indeed!

Barbara and Sergio's father Julio SalaniBarbara and Sergio's father Julio Salani.

The duo pianists were not the only soloists on the evening's generous program. Concertmaster Bogdan gave a vibrant performance of the formidably difficult solo violin line in Autumn from Vivaldi's enduringly popular Four Seasons. Chruszcz's vigorous attack, superb execution of stops and runs, clean articulation and beautiful rendering of long, slow lines brought Vivaldi's portrait of dancing, later sleeping peasants and the excitement of a hunting party to vibrant life. The string ensemble's contributions were no less distinguished, the harpsichord and cello continuo underpinning in the slow movement strongly clear and present, strings crisp and precise.

The concert concluded with one of the most famous compositions from Mexico - Huapango by José Pablo Moncayo. Brooks-Bruzzese reveled in this work's lustrous string textures and percussive volleys. Beyond the memorable themes and surging rhythmic impetus that pervaded the performance, individual instrumental moments were riveting - the beauty of the muted trumpet and the supple harp solos, lovely tonal shadings of the first chair winds and the rousing brass cries in mariachi fashion. This lively score, played in full sonic splendor, was the perfect conclusion to a festive, terrific evening and a great start for the new season.

The Symphony of the Americas season continues with The Magic of Cirque de la Symphonie on November 9 at 2 p.m. and November 11 at 8:15 p.m. at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theater in Ft. Lauderdale. For tickets and information, call 954-335-7002 or see www.symphonyoftheamericas.org

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