On May 15th, in the exquisite Orpheum Theatre, a receptive audience anticipated the final concert of the 2015/16 season of the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra (VAMSO). It was a celebration of the music of George Gershwin, the distinguished American composer who pioneered the fusion of jazz and classical music, and whose diverse and timeless compositions proved as fitting to the legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein as to the inimitable blues singer, Janis Joplin.
As the lights dimmed, the crowd hushed and Leslie Dala, Music Director of VAMSO took the podium. In moments, the opening measures of ‘An American in Paris’ danced to the rafters as the young musicians expertly swept the audience to the bustling sounds of the Champs Elysées, over to the bent notes of heartsick blues, and back again.
The next stop was 1924 New York. It was there that Gershwin wrote ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ for a New York concert performance that would be forever etched in time. Before sitting at the piano, Maestro Dala spoke of the event. He drew in the audience with a passionate depiction of the brilliant, innovative triumph of Gershwin’s pioneering fusion of classical music with elements of jazz vibrantly evident in ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. Effortlessly chasing note after note along the keys, Dala took us to the place where words can’t go.
VAMSO’s one hundred plus senior members continued to entertain, masterfully elevating and inspiring the audience with their talent and vigorous spirit. As a parting gift our experience culminated with a medley of musical highlights from Gershwin’s masterpiece, ‘Porgy and Bess’.
Each visit to the Orpheum Theatre evokes poignant, personal memories for me, at once captivating and mesmerizing. At the end of this performance, I reflected on how well both the Orpheum Theatre and Gershwin’s music provide a particular continuity to an ever-changing world. They seamlessly connect the old and the young in a shared artistic experience equally relevant to the great grandparents of yesteryear and the young performing musicians of today.
This concert underlined the importance of celebrating musical achievement in a worthy venue. How wise and forward thinking it was to preserve the magnificence of the Orpheum Theatre for future generations, and how wise and forward thinking it is to support the Vancouver Academy of Music and its talented, aspiring musicians.