Fab Four as The Beatles; Roger Ward premiere are highlights.
The way I see it, André Vener, the California Philharmonic Orchestra’s point man to hire musicians for their Cal Phil performances, and CEO of the Cal Phil Foundation, Victor Vener, must have been sitting in the office saying, “Hey, let’s play some Bach”, followed by “I know, let’s do B’s – The Beatles”.
There could hardly be any other explanation for combining Johann Sebastian Bach with the music of The Beatles—an almost 270 year spread between the two plus the obvious musical difference. But there it was on the program for Cal Phil’s second concert held on Saturday at the Arboretum in Arcadia and Sunday at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
I saw the performance at Disney Hall where the hall was almost full with an attending crowd ready for a concert of the Staples Center kind.
But this is the magic conductor. Music Director and conductor of the California Philharmonic, Victor Vener, uses a combination of popular and classical music to lure in a crowd consisting of mixed ages into the concert hall or to the outdoor Festival on the Green concerts. It is a delightful form of bait and switch. You come to hear something of a popular nature, but he throws top quality classical music with the high hope that some of it will stick and that you will return for more, finally begging for the classical music.
It is a technique that has drawn in large crowds for the last decade and indeed, Vener has delivered far beyond Music Appreciation 101. According to Vener, some 5,000 attended “Basically Beatles” at The Arboretum and there were over 2,000 at Disney Hall.
Vener ceded some, but hardly all, of his authority during The Beatles’ segment of the program to The Fab Four, a quartet of musicians that look remarkably like The Beatles, the record-breaking group that swept the world with their style and their music from 1960 on.
The Fab Four have worked assiduously at perfecting the Beatles’ music, sound and even movements of the famous group and are now hailed as the best Beatles cover band in the world. Although the Fab Four claims to perform Beatles’ songs with note-for-note perfection, they have fluffed up the arrangements presumably to match their voices and talents.
Andy Sarraf as Paul McCartney was suitably puckish, though strictly speaking, pitch challenged. Michael Amador as George Harrison was solid throughout with his guitar playing and very serious looking as was his alter ego. Rolo Sandoval as Ringo Starr was excellent on the drums.
Taking a solo turn, Ron McNeil as John Lennon (McNeil is president of Fab Four, Inc) dressed in a white suit, recalled Lennon in all his genius glory. It is hard to believe that the school mates from Liverpool, England, coming from difficult backgrounds, growing up around skiffle-bands (sort of like jug-bands, using cigar boxes and string for guitar and washboard for percussion) with no formal musical education would end up producing its boatload of money, awards and acclaim for its album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
It is estimated that over one billion records by The Beatles sold from 1960 to 1985 and that commercial success has continued for the past 24 years. The Fab Four did not perform the entire vast repertoire of The Beatles, but they reprised their work from early days to middle years to the later times reserving most time to “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album of 1967 that earned four Grammys in 1968. Andy Sarraf encored with “Hey Jude” in an effective ending to their performance.
Cal Phil, although it sent home a happy audience, many re-living their youth with hands held high swaying with cigarette lighters lit (okay, it was updated to cell phones with screens lighted—composer Roger Ward in front of us waving his cell phone with a flame pictured), still offered a good cross section of their work in a very long concert: 2 hour and 45 minute show including intermission.
Roger Allen Ward (he prefers roger allen ward but that is hard to get by our editor) has served as composer-in-residence for California Philharmonic for over a decade with premieres about every four years.
This year he has introduced the best he has ever written, his Symphony No. 1. The piece, in three movements, is written as a 12 minute work but stretched here to about 18 minutes.
Ward said he wrote for specific Cal Phil orchestra members giving principal chairs a chance to shine. Each instrument: cello, oboe, French horn, trumpet, viola, bass clarinet, clarinet, chimes, bassoon were brought in with glittering orchestration.
“I’ve tried to show each and every musician at their best, to draw on their strengths and to give them all challenges in the process,” Ward told me. While there are hints of Copland, Ives, and others, Ward’s works stand strongly as unique; his work here is both avant-garde and understandable.
By Bill Peters