Piano soloist Ian Parker performs today with the Honolulu Symphony
Symphony merges pop, jazz, classical
IS IT POP, jazz or classical music? When discussing the works of Gershwin and Bernstein the question is legitimate. And if we really need an answer, the best choice probably is, it depends how they are played. It also depends on the concert program as a whole, on the conductor and, of course, on the orchestra.
In concert: 4 p.m. today
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Tickets: $12 to $65
Contact: Call 792-2000 or visit www.honolulusymphony.com
Friday, the Honolulu Symphony played an all-American classic(al) program featuring pianist Ian Parker and conductor James Paul. The concert showcased a tuneful and rhythmically rich program, Bernstein's "On the Town: Three Dances Episodes" (1944) and "On the Waterfront: Symphonic Suite" (1955), and Gershwin's Concerto for Piano in F (1925) and "An American in Paris" (1928). Emblematically, this concert was scheduled between last week's Pops concert, featuring Broadway music, and next week's program of works by Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi.
First of all, pop. Bernstein's three pieces were composed for the movie "On the Town," starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Jules Munshin and New York City at their best. The music of "On the Waterfront," a cult movie that can still mesmerize, will be forever attached to Brando's predicament. Gershwin's pieces also have that strong pop trademark. Even if not scored for movies, we heard the piano concerto in the musical "An American in Paris," which obviously included the "American in Paris" ballet, as well. The "American" was also played in the 1997 movie "As Good As It Gets".
Then, jazzy and classical. This is a matter of the performers. At first, Paul's conducting style seemed to belong to the classical tradition, his somehow firm approach yielding no extra swing besides what was prescribed in the score. In the "Three Dances," the orchestra played all the blues notes and syncopations, but the tunes lacked jazzy sensuality. It is just a matter of interpretation.
Conductor James Paul successfully brings out the nuances of the "Waterfront" music.
IN THE PIANO concerto, however, Parker brought together the classical and jazz qualities of the piece. This was Gershwin's first attempt to compose in a traditional classical form, and Parker understood it in that way. An excellent pianist, relaxed but very much in control, he gave a perfect performance. The orchestra sometimes overpowered his sound, but his solo parts came out strong and spicy. In the second movement, Michael Zonshine's trumpet played his solo theme with exquisite taste.
The second part of the concert started with the "Waterfront" music. Here Paul did his best. This wonderful work is like an American version of Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain," overwhelmingly powerful, but also conveying a sensual, jazzy feel. It has many nuances, and such a variety of sections and vigorous sounds that the conductor's sensibility is paramount for a good performance.
"An American in Paris" closed the concert on a high note, with its repeating riffs and energy. Paul found his "mojo," the orchestra found its swing, the audience cheered and we all left whistling Gershwin's tunes.
Valeria Wenderoth has a doctorate in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.