Orchestral Music Review Print



Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra: Crossover Defined!

May 17, 2008 - Hendersonville, NC:


The final Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra concert of the season was entitled "Extreme Crossover - Dance Songs." Music director Thomas Joiner explained that crossover music is music that the audience would not normally listen to. It is audience-dependent. Thus when Ravel's "Bolero" became a hit with the popular-music audience, it was crossover. And when a symphony orchestra plays a Beatles medley to a jacket-and-tie classical audience, that is crossover.

The three B's were represented by twenty minutes of music, less than the duration of one movement of a Mahler symphony. Three of Johannes Brahms' Hungarian Dances showed good woodwind coloration and a little gypsy fiddling. One could almost taste the paprika. Three selections from J.S. Bach's Orchestral Suite #3 included two gavottes and the well known "Air," which the entire first violin section in fact played on their G strings. Ludwig von Beethoven's "Turkish March" from The Ruins of Athens flew by. Then Aram Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" provided the first memorable performance of the evening. The orchestra's precision and some fine saxophone work made for a convincing reading of this work.

Ballroom dancers James Gilleran and Mary Lou Edwards entered the Hendersonville High School auditorium to the strains of Johann Strauss Jr.'s "At the Beautiful Blue Danube." Since the stage is of a size that barely accommodates the orchestra, the duo danced on floor level in the auditorium. I found this just as frustrating as when television zooms in to show the heads and torsos of ballet dancers. In both cases, you cannot see the legs and feet, which are crucial to the beauty of the dance. When the dancers finally came down my aisle, I confirmed that they were a graceful pair with good body communication.

Not risking a can-can, the dancers left the hall while the orchestra played five dances from three of Jacques Offenbach's operas to end the first half.

Merle J. Isaac's arrangement of Strauss's "Thunder and Lightning Polka" and Calvin Custer's arrangement of Richard Rodgers' elegant "Carousel Waltz" roused the audience after intermission. The Rodgers saw the orchestra at their most attentive, well executing the accelerando as the carousel begins turning to open the famous musical.

This was my first hearing of Robert Lowden's arrangement of Beatles tunes, and several of the bridges were very well conceived. Lush orchestrations of "Yesterday" and "Please Please Me" worked, but when "Eleanor Rigby" and "A Hard Day's Night" received that treatment, it took away the fundamental rebellious edginess that I associate with the writing of Lennon and McCartney.

The high point of the evening was Jeff Tyzik's "Ellington Portrait." Tyzik was educated as a trumpet player at Eastman School of Music (where he was a contemporary of noted jazz trumpeter Al Vizzutti) and is fully conversant with both the classical and jazz repertoire. If this Ellington arrangement is representative of his work as pops conductor for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops had better watch out.

The ballroom dancers had returned to the auditorium for the Beatles and Ellington pieces. With utmost grace, Gilleran partnered several ladies from the audience during the Ellington. Then five youthful clog dancers appeared for the Richard Hayman "Pops Hoedown."

In addition to Maestro Joiner's other definitions, "crossover" apparently equals "brief." The longest piece on the program was the Ellington, fifteen minutes in length. Several of the others were only three minutes long. The overall effect was somewhat jerky, with too many stops and starts for my taste.