MSO Pops Presents ‘S’Wonderful: The Music of Gershwin’
As their 2014-2015 season comes to a close, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Pops paid tribute to one of America’s most well-known composers of the 20th century, Jacob Gershowitz—better known as George Gershwin. Under the direction of Michael Krajewski, the MSO Pops presented an array of Gershwin’s most-beloved works. A familiar yet refreshing list of orchestral pieces including a few featured on Broadway and in Hollywood films. The evening’s performances were enhanced by guest appearances from former Broadway actress Lisa Vroman, most famous for her role as Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera, as well as accomplished pianist Michael Chertock. A couple of added surprise performances on top of the already impressive repertoire and a near sold-out crowd made for a s’wonderful evening with Gershwin.
The first performance opened with the energetic, upbeat sounds of the Broadway musical Girl Crazy. It doesn’t take long for one to recognize the variations of “I Got Rhythm” and “Embraceable You.” Its wide range of tempos and flowy sounds of jazz mixed with swing made for a pleasant listening experience. Performances of “S’Wonderful” from Funny Face and Fascinating Rhythm were executed very well but the real showstopper of the evening came when Vroman arrived on stage. Her performance of “Someone to Watch Over Me” was simply breathtaking. Her vibrato and sheer vocal range and abilities were enough to give anyone chills. She showcased her acting abilities on stage and even incorporated a little bit of comic relief with the conductor; a nice touch indeed. Her performance was followed by a rendition of “By Strauss” (more or less a waltz) from The Show Is On, which proved to be a nice contrast from the otherwise more melancholy sound and feel of the previous tune. The first half was concluded with the orchestra’s performance of “An American in Paris,” which tells the story of a young American traveler and his adventures in the City of Dreams. Incorporating a variety of musical elements such as a bluesy trumpet solo, fanfares and a show-stopping finish, the tune was a wonderful closer for the first half of the evening’s performances.
A sudden drum roll queued the start of the second half. “Strike Up The Band,” a piece resembling that of a march, was effective in reeling the audience back in. Not only did it sound like a march, but Gershwin incorporated sudden tempo changes that created an almost Broadway-like feel. The evening continued with a compilation of Gershwin pieces featured in Hollywood hits such as The Goldwyn Follies and A Damsel in Distress. Vroman took the stage once more with her performance of “Summertime” and “Just Another Rhumba;” two distinctly different sounding pieces. “Summertime” gave Vroman a chance to showcase her talents a bit more; she sings the song with such intense emotion and passion and is able to accomplish this with ease. For her final performance of the evening, Vroman turned up the heat! “Just Another Rhumba,” with its emphasis on the trumpet section and its Latin flare, allowed Vroman to bring out some sass and it was the perfect end to her performance.
First and foremost, Gershwin was a pianist so it would only be appropriate to close the show with arguably his most famous composition and one of the most recognizable melodies in existence. “Rhapsody in Blue” featured soloist Chertock accompanied by the MSO Pops. A piece as famous as “Rhapsody in Blue” leaves lots of room for critique. Many sections of the piece, especially the cadenzas where the pianist was performing solo, seemed a bit rushed. More gradual accelerandos and crescendos would’ve added a more dramatic effect to the performance and further shown off his musicality. Generally speaking, the concert was tremendously successful and performers received a well-earned standing ovation. Gershwin would’ve been most pleased.