There are times when I’m out and about that I feel the Quad Cities are a great place to catch a symphony, listen to some jazz, or ponder art, and the most recent Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) pops concert left me in a state of cultural bliss.
Though not typical symphony fare, the 18th annual riverfront concert combined a teeming, receptive crowd with the right mixture of traditional favorites, musical medleys, and sassy symphonic jazz. Undoubtedly, the September 9 concert was especially strong because of the trumpet playing of Seattle native Allen Vizzuti.
To kick the concert off, Conductor Don Schleicher chose Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of the Nobles. The somewhat mercurial trumpet playing of last season was replaced with poignant and self-assured treatment. Plodding yet powerful, this piece offered the audience a “serious” calm before the musical bonanza that would follow.
Following Procession, the orchestra delved into two pieces that highlighted and took advantage of two strong areas in the QCSO. Clarinet Candy, as the name implies, utilized the symphony’s four clarinetists in a piece that was bouncy and irreverent. Following Clarinet Candy, the basses and other low instruments were featured in Them Basses, and as a fan of all low instruments, I was particularly pleased with this piece. In fact, the performance of the basses and cellos was not only acceptable but profound.
Toward the end of the first half of the concert, Maestro Schleicher introduced Vizzutti, a graduate of the Eastman School of Music who is accomplished in both the jazz and classical realm. In performances with symphonies and as a soloist, Vizzuti’s résumé is global in depth and breadth. This was evident in the piece Bullet Train (a selection from a larger piece entitled Rising Sun); Vizutti composed the piece to conjure the imagery and sensations felt and experienced while riding the bullet train in Japan. With contrasting smooth and jarring melodies, the piece darted around and glided like a train would. Vizzuti’s own trumpet playing was at times sleek and jagged.
Following Bullet Train, Vizzutti offered another original work, the American Jazz Suite. In two movements, the suite captured the essence and development of jazz music in America. At times, you could envision Vizzutti as someone capable of being Bix Beiderbecke and then in the next bar, he offered contemporary coolness.
After a brief intermission, the QCSO returned to offer the traditional but unequivocally recognizable overture from Rossini’s opera The Thieving Magpie. Vizzutti then came on stage, this time in a melon-colored blazer, and performed a series of pieces written or arranged for trumpet and orchestra.
Though all were well-played, Notte a Roma was the most surprising. Translated as A Night In Rome, the piece presented the audience with some of the smoothest and most sultry trumpet playing I have heard in two years. Further along, the QCSO and Vizzutti performed Sing, Sing, Sing. Despite being a big-band piece, this night the piece was played nicely by a big orchestra.
To end the concert, the QCSO offered what for many orchestras is the traditional close for pops concerts: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Richly romantic and chock full of emotion, the QCSO moved the piece deftly from its subtle beginning to the frenetic conclusion. The performance was capped off with raucous cannon fire and a spectacular fireworks display.
With beautiful weather and the lazy majesty of the Mississippi, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra performed a concert that complemented the environment well. At times sultry and at others serious, this year’s pops concert was a magnificent way to spend a warm Saturday evening and a delectable prelude to this season’s concert series.