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ISO's Songs of Romance 

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click to enlarge Conductor Steve Hackman
  • Conductor Steve Hackman

From Verdi to Tchaikovsky, conductor Steve Hackman and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra players presented a richly nuanced program last weekend representing love in its many splendor-ed variations. In choosing works that "tell a story," Hackman conducted for visual as much as listening pleasure. One could allow the mind to wander over landscapes and the heart to reach into memories.

The theme of 'fate/destiny' was set with the opening three ominous chords of Verdi's Overture to La forza del destino, leading to the violas' pointillist imagery and violins' shimmer, and then to brass blasts as a capsule of life with its promise of love and realities of longing and loss.

Hackman's arrangement bringing Delibes' "Flower Duet" from Lakme into Piaf's "La Vie en rose" featured the harp as the instrument of the gods transporting us into the closing puff of Pan as we hang in silent balance. And then we were thrust into Puccini's La Boheme Fantasy with its foreboding and bustle, followed by the calmness of Debussy's "Bruyeres." Hackman's arrangement for orchestra from the original solo piano work adds color to this poetic love of nature.

Guest harmonica soloist Michael K. Runyan added to the Debussy moment with a sweet lyrical interpretation of "Clair de lune." Runyan also offered a nostalgic "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's as a tribute to composer/harmonica player Richard Hayman, who died Feb. 4.

Selections from The Phantom of the Opera closed the first half of the program, and music from Guys and Dolls carried us into the second half, which also featured Elton John's "Your Song" (in a Fred Barton arrangement) and Richard Rodgers' "My Funny Valentine" from Babes in Arms (in Ralph Hermann's expansive show tune arrangement). The latter brought to mind my recent hearing of a smoky version of the song by Carmel-based song stylist Blair Clark at the Jazz Kitchen.

Listening to the beautifully modulated expressiveness of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, Overture Fantasy, brought to mind Dance Kaleidoscope's signature work to this music that conjures up the awakening of love at the instant sun's first rays skim past moon's lingering glow.

Perhaps in a desire to dispel doom with hopefulness, the interlude that will linger most for me from this fine concert is Gustav Mahler's magnificent Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp Minor, which does not fall trippingly from our tongues yet as an expression of tender-most love belongs in the innermost recesses of our hearts.

Hackman conducted and the ISO players delivered this intimate tone poem for harp and strings with sweeping lyricism - passion on the wing of a bird, waft of a leaf, stir of a ripple, sweep of clouds. The colors are lush violet, tender green, full moon white. This rare, savoring performance of heart stopping one-ness with the magic of unity, for me resonated with Krzysztof Urbanski's aesthetic of a modulated orchestral sound. Meaning comes with leaning forward to catch the phrase.

And then Hackman changed clothes and appeared in the lobby for a 'piano-man dueling session' with Rob Steidel. It was Valentine's Day. We moved to mid-20th century pop songs and went out into the frigid temperature.

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