Sunday, September 25, 2016

Everything looks rosy as ISO celebrates 100th birthday of its home, 200th of its state

The feeling of a community resting on solid foundations energized the atmosphere Sunday evening as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra presented its Opening Night Gala concert at Hilbert Circle Theatre.

Jack Everly as he appears on ISO website.
It was Jack Everly's show. A conductor from Richmond who is used to occupying the spotlight,  which he does affably and without a touch of the grandiose, presenting himself to the ISO's blended audience and several dignitaries whose presence was acknowledged by CEO Gary Ginstling from the stage.

A recently signed contract, with terms reached early and not against a play/don't-play deadline, shows ISO's musicians a way out of the shadows of a difficult contract that forced them to lose professional status with a tightened schedule and smaller paychecks. Things are looking up.

Everly knows how to shape pops programs. His gala choices were mixed, but with popular appeal guaranteed. Guest stars included some local connections in an aura of glamour: Broadway star Megan Hilty, local (and internationally recognized) operatic soprano Angela Brown, actor and activist George Takei, Pink Martini director Thomas Lauderdale, and ISO concertmaster Zach De Pue.

Everly was characteristically an amusing, informative host. He knows apt historical tidbits and shares them: George Gershwin's first song was written in 1916,  the year the Circle Theatre opened as a movie theater (it would prefix its name with "Hilbert" in 1996). The song, a recorded snatch of which was played for the capacity audience, bears the cheeky title, "When You Want 'Em, You Can't Get 'Em, When You've Got 'Em, You Don't Want 'Em." A sentiment we can all get behind at certain points in life, I suspect.

Megan HIlty sang Cole Porter.
The Gershwin tidbit set up Lauderdale's guest appearance as soloist in "Rhapsody in Blue." Lauderdale brought to the piece an evocation (whether deliberate or not) of the song-plugger brashness of the Tin Pan Alley that Gershwin entered as a teenager. I prefer my "Rhapsody" performances with more accuracy and finesse, but the spirit of the piece from before it was considered a classical milestone was intact. The orchestral accompaniment followed suit with appropriate flair.

Gershwin in a different mood, and in his most mature phase, was represented by "My Man's Gone Now" from "Porgy and Bess." Brown's performance was exemplary, well-sung and thoughtfully acted as the lament of Serena for the loss of her husband in a fight with the villain Crown.  The Indianapolis soprano had earlier helped Everly open the concert with a generally straightforward performance of the national anthem.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was the first song I ever heard Megan Hilty sing, in a broadcast of the U.S. Open tennis final several years ago. She has the same knack in concert of putting vocal music across that she displayed for ceremonial purposes then. She represented Hoosier native Cole Porter in four songs, giving apparently full, authentic versions of "Anything Goes," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "So in Love," and, after some banter with Everly, "Always True to You in My Fashion." Hilty enunciated the text and lent it some extra twinkle, supported by excellent arrangements.

The other major songwriting Hoosier, Hoagy Carmichael, had a place on the program in an orchestral arrangement of "Stardust." It's been said that the two melodies that constitute this song cover the gamut of the classic American popular song: the wistful and the assertive. Both shone in this performance, which followed a clever Everly arrangement of movie themes in celebration of the theater's history. Bookended by Charlie Chaplin's "Smile," the pastiche included samples of "Lullaby of Broadway," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Psycho," "A Hard Day's Night" in the parade of hits.

The ISO's concertmaster, now clean-shaven, showed his panache as soloist in Saint-Saens' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso." De Pue's radiant performance appealingly balanced light and shade, though it was taken a mite too fast for everyone to seem quite comfortable. The other classical composition to make an appearance was "A Lincoln Portrait" by Aaron Copland, featuring Takei doing the solemn, thought-provoking narration, consisting mostly of the sixteenth president's golden words. A special treat was to get first exposure to the playing of the orchestra's newly hired principal trumpet, Conrad Jones.