Thursday, June 19, 2014

Something to munch on: ISO launches noon-hour series of mini-concerts at Hilbert Circle Theatre

You won't get a better musical bargain for $5 than a new series the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra inaugurated Thursday noon in Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Eric Zuber displayed a flair for Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
In the summer, the ISO's downtown concert presence over the years has been a peekaboo matter, as it focuses on Symphony on the Prairie until that series at Conner Prairie extends past the orchestra musicians' contracted responsibilities with popular acts sans symphony. The first "Lunch Break" concert attracted a crowd of 500 for a short program of Copland and Gershwin.

Both New York City boys and sons of Jewish immigrants, each composer in his own way became an authentic voice of Americana. And none of their compositions could represent them better in this regard than Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Copland's Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo."

David Glover was on the podium, with Eric Zuber at the piano for the ever-popular Rhapsody. Zuber, a laureate in the 2013 Classical Fellowship Awards of the American Pianists Association, displayed a deft affinity for the work. The solo cadenza portions were flavorful and just impulsive enough to suggest the kind of jazz party piano the composer was known for during his all-too-short life.

The soloist exhibited some wry phrasing touches (teasing playfulness with tempo, for instance) that complemented the sauciness of brief solos for muted trumpet and muted trombone. A couple of his accelerating solo passages seemed just plain rushed. Moving close to the edge is part of the atmosphere that the piece's more rambunctious parts breathe naturally, however. So Zuber was in his element — and Gershwin's.

The accompaniment had the requisite sense of urgency when needed, but was overall relaxed and companionable. Opening the general-admission performance, Glover and the casually dressed ISO were also in accord during the Copland excerpts. "Buckaroo Holiday" enjoyed an expansive tone-poem treatment, including such hijinks as a slightly rowdy trombone solo, succeeded by the open-air sonorities of "Corral Nocturne."

"Saturday Night Waltz" was lent a lingering, romantic quality that is likely to suit the ambiance of Conner Prairie (where the work will be repeated Friday and Saturday night, along with the Rhapsody). The concluding "Hoedown," while somewhat imprecise, never flagged in high spirits.

Future "Lunch Break" concerts (June 26, July 3 and July 10) will also partially preview Symphony on the Prairie programs, and are expected to have food-truck vendors outside on Monument Circle, by arrangement with the Indy Food Truck Association.