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A break with tradition

The Philharmonics swingin' New Years Eve


Thomas Wilson toasts the new year in the Philharmonics - New Years Eve: A Century of Celebration - JANE MCBEE
  • Jane McBee
  • Thomas Wilson toasts the new year in the Philharmonics New Years Eve: A Century of Celebration

Not many orchestras would have the audacity to attempt a monumental retrospective of American jazz, big band and Broadway compositions; even fewer ensembles would have the personnel to orchestrate such an ambitious endeavor. But leave it to the Colorado Springs Philharmonic to once again shatter all your preconceptions. On New Years Eve, the Philharmonic will swing to life under the direction of Thomas Wilson, with special guests Lawrence Leighton Smith and Amy Sue Hardy, in a grand gesture of repertory bliss -- a two-hour-long jaunt down memory lane featuring the best American music of the past hundred years.

This program certainly represents a wide panorama of American music, said Wilson. The challenge of having to swing, bop and groove would pose a pretty big problem for most symphonies, but not for our philharmonic.

While most orchestras nationwide settle for a relatively hackneyed New Years Eve tradition, namely what Wilson calls the Viennese program, consisting of a whole lot of Strauss, with a couple traditional things worked in, New Years Eve with the Philharmonic promises to offer an intricately woven mlange of styles and moods, channeled through a distinctly American sense of optimism.

You can hear a conversation going on between the different composers featured in this program. The progression of American music, from big band to jazz and Broadway, all the way up to the birth of rock n roll and beyond, said Wilson. Its such a colorful and diverse story.

And yet, this is a musical story whose breadth and scope stretch the bounds of conventional wisdom. Without amazing players and soloists, I cant imagine taking on this kind of project, said Wilson. Stylistically, its very rare to see an orchestra play a program this broad, but were hoping that its warmly received by our New Years Eve audience. Featuring the works of Richard Rogers, Leroy Anderson, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim and a slew of others, the program will include plenty of familiar melodies, offset by vintage jazz and instrumental virtuosity.

The retrospective nature of the program is certainly not lost on Maestro Smith, the philharmonics legendary conductor, who will dust off his beloved jazz chops as the featured pianist on New Years Eve. Performing the final movement of Gershwins Concerto in F and a number of orchestrated jazz excerpts, the concert is a subtle opportunity for Smith to relive his youth.

I played piano in a jazz group in high school. In New York, I spent some time behind the piano at a little bar on Broadway and 96th, just playing for tips, said Smith. This program, this repertoire, really brings back some memories. Before he gave up jazz piano in order to concentrate on conducting, Smith modeled his style on the distinctive playing of Oscar Peterson, whom he considers a big influence. My piano playing owes a great deal to Oscar, and attentive listeners might still be able to hear a bit of that on New Years Eve -- though I certainly dont improvise as much, he said.

So how do you get a whole orchestra of classically trained musicians to suddenly play jazz? Smith says the trick is to be as loose as possible.

Were hoping to connect with our audience on a different level, on a sentimental level, while still offering a great musical performance, said Smith. The program seems ambitious, but were not just leaving it to the gods.

-- Joe Kuzma

capsule New Years Eve: A Century of Celebration

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic with Thomas Wilson, conductor; Amy Sue Hardy, vocals; Lawrence Leighton Smith, piano

Friday, Dec. 31, 2004 , 8 p.m.

Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.

$12-$50; Call 520-SHOW.

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