September 28, 2006

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CLASSICAL REVIEWS
Reviews by Jeff Rapsis jrapsis@hippopress.com

Hey, you got barbershop in my symphony!
Just as two great tastes make a peanut butter cup, two different local musical groups joined forces for the season's opening concert of the Nashua Symphony Association, held Saturday, Sept. 23 at Keefe Auditorium in Nashua.

The result? A pleasing grab-bag of a pops program, nearly all of it centered around a Broadway theme, but with enough variety to keep it from feeling claustrophobic. Raising the level of interest were Nashua-based performers that rounded out the program.

Who? Local vocalist Wendee Glick got several chances to shine as soloist with the orchestra. And the concert marked the first-ever collaboration between the symphony and members of the Granite Statesmen, the Nashua-based barbershop harmony chorus.

Too often, regional orchestras turn up their collective noses at local talent. cutting themselves off from much of their potential fan base. Yes, it's true that an orchestra such as Nashua's must make extensive use of out-of-town musicians to play at a certain level. But there's no reason to limit community involvement to fund-raising or ushering.

Rather, getting folks onstage to participate in making the music ought to be an important part of any local orchestra's mission. So it's refreshing to see the Nashua Symphony willing to work with other groups from the non-symphony world to create good music and bring new ears to the concert hall.

This isn't by chance. In introducing the concert, executive director Eric Valliere mentioned a "spirit of community that makes Nashua so special," and he's right. Several concerts of the upcoming season venture outside the symphonic box, promising not just another season of same-old, same-old in the Gate City.

About the concert: The orchestra sounded fine, chugging smoothly through arrangements of Broadway and big band standards after just two rehearsals, a fact that conductor Royston Nash cheerfully admitted from the podium.

Nash, starting his final season as music director, ably guided the players through tempo and mood changes, keeping things simple and keeping everyone on track.

The orchestra—downsized slightly but augmented by a guitar player, a drummer, a pianist, and some other players—sounded like a pepped-up version of itself. Nice, but several arrangements chosen for the first half were fairly timid; at times, the orchestra's sound was a fair imitation of what you'd hear on, say, an old easy-listening LP of the works of Henry Mancini.

Vocalist Glick had the stuff, turning in effective and well-proportioned renditions of tunes ranging from an intense version of "What I Did For Love" to a giddy up-tempo "Always True to You" from Cole Porter's 'Kiss Me Kate.'

Balance (a tricky issue with soloists in front of an orchestra) was good, with her vocals staying out in front of the ensemble. Glick was miked a bit heavily for my taste, sounding a bit echo-y and distant, but the only real casualty of that was some of the lyrics, which at times blurred too much to be easily understood.

Despite the Broadway theme, Glick didn't turn all theatrical, but rather brought warmth and style to each of her numbers. More would have been welcome, always the mark of a successful gig.

Overall, she was good enough that a few mishaps didn't matter: an early entrance, a memory lapse or two, and saying that the song "People" was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber didn't detract from her performance at all. (The song was by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. Hey, not all gooey Broadway songs were written by the Brits.)

As for the Granite Statesmen—having to sing from behind a sea of empty music stands didn't keep them from filling the Keefe, both with sound and stage presence. A delight throughout, the boys filled the second half with interesting and effective choral arrangements of Broadway's best.

The performance was consistency itself: a group of perhaps 60 guys singing every note with precision, massaging every chord, singing every word clear as a bell, and getting across gestures that enlivened the show but never took away from the music.

Though they can clown with the best of them, the group sobered up their act a bit for the concert hall, but still got in welcome moments of comedy in what was a fairly serious program, even for a pops concert. We need more moments such as when chorus director Steve Tramack, a big guy, jumps on the podium, causing all the chorus behind him to do a unison wobble in reaction.

But the laughs fit because the music-making is so good. They make it look easy, but it can't be, not at this level of performance. It is the great talent of the Granite Statesmen to take a song such as Irving Berlin's "How Deep is the Ocean," something you've heard a thousand times, and make it sound so new and fresh you hang on every word.

That talent was on display last Saturday night, and it's the essence of what live music-making is all about. Here's hoping for more moments like that as the Nashua Symphony's new season unfolds.
Jeff Rapsis


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