The final “big” concert of the 2013 Savannah Music Festival was an imaginative blend of classical and jazz. Conductor Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, in their eighth consecutive SMF performance, played three-quarters of the Saturday afternoon show with their usual grace and finesse – but the drawing card was the world premiere of Marcus Roberts’ Spirit of the Blues: Piano Concerto in C minor.
With Jason Marsalis on drums, and bassist Rodney Jordan – the regular members of the Marcus Roberts Trio – the composer was stationed in front of the 70-piece orchestra, seated at a grand piano on the Johnny Mercer Theatre stage.
The three-movement concerto paid homage to the blues – something one doesn’t hear a lot of in symphonic works – with plenty of seventh chords, blue motifs and cleverly rounded edges. Much of the piece was reminiscent of Gershwin, particularly his “folk opera” Porgy and Bess, although Roberts’ lifelong immersion in modern jazz meant the music rarely stayed in one place for too long.
The second movement began quietly, with just Roberts’ dexterous keyboard work, before the orchestra approached from the rear and sent the delicate melodies in a different direction.
Ambitious and dynamic, Spirit of the Blues sometimes seemed to jam too much into its measures; particularly near the end of the piece, things bordered on chaotic.
Still, it was enjoyable, and as always the thrill of experiencing a live orchestra performance, with the added bonus of a brilliant soloist, sharpened just about all of the flats. To coin a phrase.
There’s nothing quite so nice as being in the room with 70-odd musicians playing live, as one, the music rattling in your chest and stirring deep emotions and colors inside. And the fact that they do it without any electronics is a real thing of beauty.
Well, hardly any electronics. Jordan’s bass amp was positioned at the front of the stage, next to Marsalis’ drum kit.
But I didn’t hear a single note from the bassist, for the duration of the performance. Are you listening, SMF sound guys?