An American Dream – Review by Helen Thursby

The Lake Macquarie Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dungeon Big Band in the Warners Bay Theatre on Sunday April 30, at 4pm.

This concert of American classics was enjoyed by an audience of all ages. The air of excited anticipation was tangible as we took our seats in the fully booked theatre. Michael Blaxland OAM was our host for the evening and he introduced each performance with aplomb and touches of humour. The orchestra was conducted by Christopher Bearman OAM, and the program began with ‘A Tribute to Richard Rodgers’.

The evening began with a rousing rendition of ‘’Song of the High Seas’ from ‘Victory at Sea’ moving on to songs from ‘Oklahoma’ which saw many in the audience quietly singing along. Contrasting with the exuberance of ‘Oklahoma’ came ‘The Hills are Alive’ from ‘The Sound of Music’, where the French horns came into their own with a mellow and moving tone. ‘Bewitched’ and then the timeless ‘Carousel Waltz’ were followed by ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. The conductor’s leadership and connection with the members of the orchestra were evident in the achievement of smooth transitions across the medley and brought the music of Richard Rodgers to life.

Zachary Donoghue played Artie Shaw’s ‘Concerto for Clarinet’ with accuracy and expression. The three ‘movements’ of the Concerto, while not typical of the concerto form, are based on the classic 12 bar blues form. All sections of the orchestra had a place to shine in this piece and achieved a most satisfying collaboration with the soloist, Donoghue, a true virtuoso.  

Heather Price, an excellent jazz singer, treated the audience to a selection of songs including ‘Don’t be That Way’ by Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson, and ‘I Got Rhythm’ by George Gershwin. In the breaks between verses, Heather accompanied herself on the double bass and was joined by the percussion. She relates naturally with her audience and when asked for an encore, obliged with ‘Fever’ by Peggy Lee.

No American Dream would be complete without a composition by Aaron Copland.  The orchestra excelled with ‘Hoedown’, the last of four movements from the suite ‘Four Dance Episodes’ from ‘Rodeo’, originally composed for the ballet, and incorporating American folk songs and traditional Irish tunes. For this reviewer at least, it felt like the climax to the most enjoyable program. But there was more to come. ‘Simple Gifts’ based on a Shaker song and from Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’ brought us ‘down to where we ought to be’ with the spellbinding sound of the flutes.

George Gershwin’s orchestral work tells the story of ‘An American in Paris’ and begins with a carefree ‘walk’ played by the strings. The sound of car horns played by the percussion section  interrupts the melody and the story continues with scenes created by the various sections of the orchestra. Although nearing the end of the afternoon, the concentration, musicality and energy of the players did not waver.

The concert concluded with a spirited rendition of ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’, the official march of the United States, composed by John Philip Sousa.

Thank you to the Lake Macquarie Music Society, to Mercia Buck, Michael Blaxland and all sponsors for presenting this most enjoyable concert and all credit to the conductor, Christopher Bearman and the members of the orchestra for making it possible.

Review by Helen Thursby

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