Sunday, 11 September 2011

I Like a Gershwin Tune

Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra
Linder Auditorium, Jhb
25 August 2011
Conducted by: Bernhard Gueller
Piano: Nina Schumann

GERSHWIN: An American in Paris
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto, F major
COPLAND RODEO: Corral Nocturne
BERNSTEIN: West Side Story: Symphonic Dances

I do like a full orchestra and named my cat after Gershwin, so the final programme in the JPO's third season was an inviting one. Nina Schumann was Toto's lecturer and he had informed me a while back that this concert would be right up my alley, so off I went. I booked at the last minute and regretted not inviting my mom, who would have loved the huge (and busy!) percussion section. I get excited when I see a tuba (big sounds!), mom loves tambourines, gongs and xylophones. All were there on Thursday.

An American in Paris was evocative, big band stuff. I'm not sure what a Parisian taxi horn sounds like, but apparently Gershwin included these in the 1928 premier at Carnegie Hall. I felt as if I were suspended above a movie set, watching men with jauntily placed hats promenading along the Seine, women in elegant suits with siren-red lips and loooong cigarette holders sipping cafés, everyone feeling free, adventurous and in the mood for a party. Lots of percussion, trumpet and tuba parts. Happiness!

Then it was Nina's turn. I had seen her play before but not as a soloist. She looked fabulous in an orange dress and sailed through the concerto, a fantastic Gershwin tune. I was sitting in the balcony and sometimes battled to hear her over the orchestra but that's acoustics for you. I don't have the vocabulary or the expertise to describe her performance, suffice to say that I enjoyed it immensely and was amazed at how she pulled off all those tricky chords without huffing and puffing and bashing the piano down (I know some pianists can't help themselves but it's always a bit of a relief when you get someone who doesn't sounds like one of those grunting female tennis players - it's just distracting). Impressive stuff. For her encore, she played Summertime. Like Nessun Dorma and Turandot, I sometimes think this piece should also be played only as part of Porgy and Bess. Nina rescued it from hackneyed jadedness by playing a melodious arrangement that I think did more justice to the piece than the complex 'interpretations' given by some jazz singers. Thank you, Nina!

Copland's Rodeo was not as 'yee-ha!' as I thought it would be - in fact, compared to the Gerswhin pieces it was quite, er... laid-back? (Note to self: must learn some new adjectives for this blog). A pretty piece, actually. (Really must learn new adjectives!).

The Symphonic Dances had a classical pops feel to them but I suppose that's just because I know some of the songs so well. And we do like to see our orchestra having fun, clicking their fingers and shouting 'Mambo!' So it was a good choice to end the season with. The American in Joburg sitting next to me was delighted when the 'Mambo' section was played as an encore and shouted out enthusiastically when Bernhard Gueller, the conductor, allowed some audience participation. I wasn't sure if I should shout 'mambo' or 'rumble' (I don't know all the songs from the musical!) so I just smiled at him and enjoyed the moment.

God bless America!


Nina and her husband, Luis Magalhães, have released some wonderful CDs under their label TwoPianists Records. I love the cover designs, too. Have a look at

1 comment:

  1. OMG I am SO envious, I can ASSURE you. At the END of the DAY, yours was much much more diVINE than mine, I want to TELL you.