CYO 50: James Morrison AM; Saturday, November 11, 2017; 7.30pm Llewellyn Hall
Canberra Youth Orchestra's final concert in the year of their 50th anniversary will be one that the audience and young musicians will always remember for the joyousness and generosity of the collaboration with the James Morrison Quartet. Jazz legend James Morrison radiated warmth and played with inspirational, breath-taking musicianship, demonstrating the true meaning of leadership.
Opening with An American in Paris, the CYO demonstrated how far they have come this year in developing their united intellectual approach to 20th and 21st century music. The performance was spacious and intelligent, with a beautiful solo from Chayla Ueckert-Smith to send a shaft of musical sunlight into the compositional portrait based on Gershwin's experiences in Paris. The brass and percussion sections acquitted themselves well in a demanding score, wherein the composer relies upon these musicians to provide the streetscape sounds that underpin the emotional sensations expressed by the strings and woodwinds.
James Morrison was joined by his two towering sons, Harry on bass and William on guitar and drummer Patrick Danao and the ensemble gave impressive performances . Beginning with a trumpet solo in Judy Bailey's arrangement of Miles Davis's All Blues, the quartet met the CYO with an enthusiastic exchange of thematic material. Morrison picked up the trombone to swing through Enchanted, then entertained the audience on the rotary valve playing Joe Chindamo's arrangement of Thelonius Monk's haunting Round Midnight. Morrison's own arrangement of Tizl and Ellington's Caravan, orchestrated by Sean O'Boyle, enticed the CYO into a spirited performance of this iconic work to end the first half of the concert.
Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring was the one weaker performance of the evening, and I would question the choice of this lengthy and rarefied work. It didn't seem appropriate to add into the demanding program. The woodwinds relished the challenges of their solos and the beginning of the work was evocative and beautiful, but I felt that the interpretation lost focus.
Not so the committed playing in Mood Indigo, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, and My Funny Valentine. Morrison leapt from soprano sax, to trombone and then flugelhorn, supported by the orchestra as they adroitly navigated tempo changes, tricky syncopation and coiling chromaticism and joined by Zach Raffan to perform a beautifully intimate conversational version of Valentine. Morrison's piano solo, Love is a Many Splendored Thing had the young musicians enthralled.
Morrison and Raffan and the supporting musicians brought the evening to a climax with their spirited, combative treatment of Duke Ellington's El Gato. More a duel than a duet, the audience was transfixed by the soaring, squealing notes in the battle for the highest pitch. Conductor Leonard Weiss and dedicated organisational team along with the 90-strong orchestra (with a few alumni included) can be well-pleased with a splendid finish to the 2017, 50th anniversary orchestral series.