Reviewed by Barb Van Atta
Saturday night (Nov. 9), the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra turned The Forum in Binghamton into the world’s largest supper club as, with its “Simone, Ellington & Parks” concert, it seamlessly moved between the worlds of jazz and traditional classical music.
And, as Maestro Daniel Hege said, the orchestra proved that it could “swing.”
The strings have long been the BPO’s pride and joy, and they again acquitted themselves admirably, but this was the brass, woodwind and percussion sections time to shine.
Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige: Suite is a lengthy symphonic work blending influences of jazz and gospel. It frequently is not performed in its entirety.
The BPO opened with all three segments of the Black portion (“Work Song,” “Come Sunday” and “Light”), then returned to the piece in the second half of the concert for the “West Indian Dance’ segment of Brown. My particular favorites were the melodic sweetness of “Come Sunday” and the danceable percussiveness of the “West Indian Dance,” launched by principal percussionist Sam Lazzara on snare drum.
Both “Dance” and “Rosa Parks Boulevard” from Michael Daugherty’s Motor City Triptych called for expert work by the brass. Trombonists Hal Reynolds (substitute principal), Nathan Raboy and Christopher Mann all had their solo moments, not unlike instrumentalists in Ellington era big bands. Trumpeters Ben Aldridge and Jud Spena ably supported their substitute principal, the incomparable Frank Campos. (And you thought he only had chops for baroque!)
The concert program was an eclectic mix of styles and media, including spoken word. Salka Valerio, a Binghamton resident and community advocate, gave an inspired reading of James Weldon Johnson’s poem The Creation. Former Broome County Arts Council Executive Director Sharon Ball reminisced about how she drew inspiration from the life and work of singer/songwriter/civil rights activist Nina Simone.
Simone’s legacy was represented by three songs not written by her but often associated with her: “Don’t Let Me Be Understood,” “I Loves You, Porgy” and “Feeling Good.” Jazz vocalist Ayana Del Valle found every nuance of the music, which was skillfully arranged for the orchestra by Santino DeAngelo. Both Del Valle and DeAngelo grew up in Broome County and have strong fan bases here.
The concert ended with a rousing rendition of James P. Johnson’s Victory Stride, featuring a jazzy solo turn by principal clarinetist Paul WonJin Cho.
The combination of local guest stars and atypical programming appeared to have brought some new faces to the Philharmonic. Hege, Del Valle and DeAngelo all thanked the audience members and encouraged them to return for one (or more) of the Philharmonic’s more traditional concerts this season celebrating the life of Beethoven. I hope they do.