Review by Danny Gaisin
Do the names ‘Dorsey; Goodman; Miller; Ellington; Shaw and Basie’ ring some reminiscent bells? If they do, you’re probably mature enough to remember the “Big Band Era” or SWING! As yours truly sits down to write this, my set of drum sticks ‘stolen’ from Gene Krupa, and some ancient pop-music trumpet sheets ‘borrowed’ from Eldridge are sitting on the desk, probably peering phantom-like over my shoulder. Incorporating 2/4 & 4/4 time; oversized orchestras and celebrity conductors; attending a ball or dance where any of these were performing was pure ‘crème de las crème apex society.
1935 to approximately 1946 saw the tail-end of the Great Depression; clouds of conflict that became WWII; and a period of adjustment to still-growing industry and a catch-up effort to supply retail product. Radio was the thing followed by record players and printed scores.
The Hamilton Philharmonic, under guest conductor Lucas Waldin, who bears a resemblance to ‘Sunny Ways’ (minus the dropped forelock); presented a memorable evening that recalled that period of social turmoil. From the opening orchestral collage of period reminiscence, the audience knew that they were on an aural time machine.
Cole Porter’s ‘Night & Day’ [ like the beat beat, beat of a tom-tom’] was given an eerily-true early Sinatra rendering by guest soloist Michael Vanhevel. In addition to his tenor voice, Vanhevel tributes the posture, phrasing and even mannerisms of ‘old Blue Eyes’. His post-interval interaction with the audience was certainly worthy of that period as well as today. In presenting Porter’s iconic ‘I’ve got you under my skin’; Vanhevel and Waldin omitted the 2nd chorus symbolic extended pause after “just the thought of you makes me STOP” that even couples on the dance floor knew to momentarily suspend their terpsing!
Meacham’s 1885 song ‘American Patrol’ that Glen Miller turned into a recruiting tool in 1943 was given a rather restrained opening but picked up the animation and excitement of the brief ‘Dixie’ & ‘Yankee doodle’ inclusions. Both these anthem-like inserts were presented with affection. Having Hamilton’s Royal Light Infantry Regimental Band enter and participate added an emotional high to both the work being performed and the evening itself.
Personal aside: it was 60 years ago to the day that this young & reckless teenager risked his British (Canadian) citizenship by donning the uniform (& oath in Hebrew) of the Haganah!
The homage to Irving Berlin was given a respectful rendering by the HPO and if pockets of vocalizing could be heard throughout the audience; knowing the lyrics to “No Business Like Show Business”; Alexander’s Ragtime Band; & “How deep is the Ocean”; it’s Understandable. Berlin’s famous “Always” poetry was used in my college grammar books as an example of ‘parallel construction’ (Not for just an hour, etc.). Waldin mentioned his own affinity for Louie Prima’s “Sing Sing Sing” and regretted its lack of popularity. Methinks it was because Prima wrote it strictly as orchestral with no lyrics for his Keeley Smith to interpret!
After intermission, selections from ‘Oklahoma’. Again I plead guilty to vocalizing every one of the seven selections. Can’t help it if we all know the details of that surrey; the descriptive ‘Beautiful Day’; the Farmer/Cowboy dichotomy; “not throwing bouquets” advice; and especially almost shouting that Oklahoma’s O.K.!
A dramatic rendering of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was followed by a dramatic performance of the contemporary paean to the 2nd World War’s 1012st Airborne – the TV show ‘Band of Brothers’. Vanhevel did a most credible interpretation of Darin’s ‘Beyond the Sea’, and his ‘Mack the Knife’ personal theme. Bit of trivia; the Lotte Lenya mentioned in the Lyrics refers to the wife of Kurt Weill who was the composer of 3-penny Opera from which the music was taken. She was also the shoe-knife’d killer -Rosa’ in 007’s ‘From Russia With Love’!
An evocative moment had to be the Medley from the CBC’s “Happy Gang”; muse Terry still recalls ‘the daily ‘March around the Table’ dutifully performed.
The orchestra seems to have reached a new high, technically, but especially in attitude. The amazing work by the brasses and definitely the contribution of percussionist Ernest Porthouse made this an especially memorable evening. The elongated drum duet/dialogue with a young RHLI drummer earned spontaneous & well-deserved applause. The HPO has come into its own and perhaps this might not be a bad time to suggest some recording work!