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Gorgeous Gershwin | VAMSO: A Review

The music of George Gershwin, operatic singing, an grand display of immense musical talent. Where could all of this be found? On May 15, I was lucky enough to attend the Gorgeous Gershwin concert hosted by the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra (VAMSO), which celebrated the music of George Gershwin, a composer whose work spans the 1920s and 1930s. His work with An American in Paris, Rhapsody in Blue, Cuban Overture, “Summertime,” and Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, were featured in the fabulous performance. George Gershwin was an American composer and pianist who only started playing piano at the age of eleven and went on to compose pieces in the span of a decade that are still recognized and appreciated today.

An hour before show time, the line starting at the doors of the Orpheum Theatre had already stretched half a block. My guest and I found our seats in the orchestra section and waited for the performance to begin. The orchestra, consisting mostly of high school age students, came out ten minutes before show time, and the sound of their practicing joined in with the audience chatter. The theatre was filled with the intermingling sounds of the strings, brass, and people talking over one another. The timpani boomed in the background in the company of the tinkling xylophone. Five minutes to show time, and the theatre was a buzz of noise. People rushed to their seats, waved their friends over to the acoustic sweet spots, and a father/son pair in row thirteen took a selfie. It was a good time, and the concert hadn’t even started.

Right at 2:00 pm, the lights dimmed and the audience went silent. The executive director of the Vancouver Academy of Music (VAM), Jospeh Elworthy, walked onstage, and the audience burst into applause. He introduced the orchestra and said, “Judging by the dress rehearsal, this may even turn into a party.” The bar had been set. After tuning, the lights finally went down, and Leslie Dala, the conductor, took his post, and the show began.

View of the stage before showtime.

The concert featured a survey of the work of George Gershwin, opening with An American in Paris, then going into Rhapsody in Blue. After an intermission, they played Cuban Overture, “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess featuring the vocal talent of Danielle Cyr, and finally, Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture.

An American in Paris created the sense of being on the streets of France, complete with the sounds of honking horns contrasting with the the melody of the other instruments. I especially enjoyed seeing the violin bows all moving in unison. After a slower section of the song, the music swelled into what I consider one of the most iconic and recognizable melodies in An American in Paris, starting with the trumpet. That melody was peppered throughout the rest of the song, and it is how they end with a bang. The musicians were amazing, and I didn’t hear a note out of place.

The second piece they played, Rhapsody in Blue, was a jazzy composition that was reminiscent of New York. The conductor’s post was moved, and a piano was pulled out to take its place. Leslie Dala took on the role of both conductor and pianist in this piece, cueing people with his head while his fingers were busy on the keys. His ability to conduct the orchestra while simultaneously tickling the ivories was both impressive and entertaining. The end featured his talent on the piano and a grand ending with the orchestra.

The maracas came in during the Cuban Overture, and the performance turned into the party Elworthy was talking about. The piece felt laid back and rhythmic, and I loved every bit of it. I found myself waiting for the shaking of the maracas and melody of the brass section to transport me to some exotic place away from the rain of Vancouver. The soprano singer, Danielle Cyr, came out in a beautiful red dress to sing “Summertime”, backed by the orchestra. Her operatic voice echoed throughout the theatre. The VAM Intermediate Symphony, students joined the VAMSO. The performance ended with Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture, with the bows in the air as the violins plucked the starting melody.

After the final piece, the orchestra was treated to a sudden and deserving wave of applause as the soloists and each section of the orchestra were recognized. All in all, I loved the show. Not only was the Gorgeous Gershwin a wonderful celebration of Gershwin’s music, but also a great showcase of the young musical talent in the Symphony Orchestra and Intermediate Symphony of the Vancouver Academy of Music. I was impressed and awed by the concert, and I look forward to future performances hosted the Vancouver Academy of Music.

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