|Cheryl North :: Reviews|
Opening Night of the 2008-2009 Season of the Oakland East Bay Symphony
George Anthiel's A Jazz Symphony";
World Premier of Nathaniel Stookey's Zipperz: A soaPOPera; and
Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet,
Michael Morgan Conducting
Review of the performance of November 14, 2008, published in the Oakland Tribune and other papers of the Bay Area News Group.
By Cheryl North
For a concert concocted to make the masses fall in love with classical music, one need look no further than the Oakland East Bay Symphony's 20th Season Opening program last Friday at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland during which Maestro Michael Morgan deftly led a crew of excellent musicians through an evening billed as "Cool Jazz, Hot Romance."
George Antheil's A Jazz Symphony provided "cool jazz" in a racy, riveting musical ride. Commissioned in 1925 by bandleader Paul Whitman, Antheil's piece preceded Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by a year. This daring exploration featured madcap syncopation and lively percussion, with lusty brass and woodwinds sounding out good-natured catcalls. Strings insinuated Latin rhythms into a mix that featured some terrific Gershwin-like solo piano passages executed with jazzy panache by Ellen Wasserman.
The hot romance aspect of the program was provided by the Bay Area composer Nathaniel Stookey with the world premiere of his ZIPPERZ: A soaPOPera to a libretto by another Bay Area resident, poet Dan Harder.
Both creators definitely think "outside the box." Can you imagine a thoroughly 21st century romance between a gorgeous girl and comely guy, essayed and enacted via the musical methodology of 17th century counterpoint -- as in a J.S. Bach fugue?
Well, Stookey and Harder made it happen by directing two youthful, attractive singer/actors - Eisa Davis and Manoel Felciano - to stand facing each other on either side of Maestro Morgan. Both, pop singers with plenty of professional stage performances to their credit, were hooked up to microphones. Unfortunately, there were neither supertitles projected over the stage nor a libretto provided in the program notes.
The compositional format of the work is in two acts, with "Meeting;" "Waiting" and "Dating" sections comprising Act I and "Coming together/Coming apart" and "If" making up Act II.
Davis, a magnificent singing actress with a beautiful, expressive voice and superlative diction, sang the girl's point of view as she contemplated the attractive hunk across the room. Her words embodied one half of the zipper.
Felciano, a sensitive 21st century guy with a suave voice, gave empathetic expression to the male's thoughts -- the other side of the zipper. While not quite explicit, the words are indeed, suggestive: they're about to conjoin - to zip together. Rhythms driven by thrusts from cellos and double basses suggested accelerating heartbeats and movement. Massed strings combined to build fast-breathing tension, finally culminating into a breathless, consuming climax.
Then -- silence. Finally, Davis intoned a single word: "Wow."
The program concluded with Sergei Prokofiev's powerful musical narrative of Shakespeare's classic boy-girl tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Morgan led the OEBS musicians in a performance with visceral wallop segueing into transcendent beauty.