‘What you are about to hear is not exactly Gershwin,” artistic director of The Revolution Orchestra Zohar Sharon told the audience gathered at the Israeli Opera, “but it was made in his spirit.”
“It is this spirit,” he added, “which will hover in the air tonight like a kaleidoscope of colorful butterflies.”
Electric guitarist Yonatan Albalak, with a backward-facing baseball cap, met Ester Rada on stage for a powerful interpretation of “I Loves You Porgy.” Rada, wearing a pink suit, has a stunning, powerful voice able to travel the entire gamut of emotions, from joy at having found love, to self-doubt.
In the context of the Porgy and Bess opera, the music is a telltale sign of the ruination ahead. The woman singing it, Bess, is pleading with Porgy to save her from the dark pull of an abusive man (Crown). Hence the ominous “He’s going to be like dying, Porgy… when he comes I know I’ll have to go.”
Emotional pain had been dialed down a little
The emotional pain here had been dialed down a little, a lot if we compare this performance to the iconic 1959 Nina Simone recording, but what has been dialed up, way up, are the happy parts. Stage lights become soft purple and everyone on stage is having a great time with the music, as do the people in the seats.
This, perhaps, is the raison d’être of the Revolution Orchestra: To offer an audience already somewhat familiar with music a fun, highly accessible way to enjoy it, thanks to some of the greatest working musicians in the country today. It is a highly successful format which has been going strong for 20 years.
When cellist Maya Belsitzman takes the stage, she shares with the audience how, when the Revolution Orchestra began, she performed with them a project celebrating music from the movies.
As she began an erringly emotional adaptation of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” it was striking to realize how Gershwin’s immense talent lived in conflict with an awful dread. All the abundance the world offers, The way you hold your knife/ the way you’ve changed my life, can’t protect from the loss about to come. They can’t take that away from me, but who will?
GERSHWIN DIED young, before his 39th birthday, before the Second World War, before the Holocaust. There had been other immensely talented American composers working around his time. It was the sweetness of his genius, a young man blessed with terrific success when the American century was just getting started, coupled with the myth-making power of the Hollywood studios at a much more innocent time, which made that miracle possible.
Wearing a gray suit and scatting, pianist Guy Mintus took the audience with him on a playful grand celebration of Gershwin. Mintus, who performed “Rhapsody in Blue” with the Bayerische Philharmonie five years ago, is an engaging performer who taps the piano and engages the audience in calls and responses.
Given to mark 70 years to Leonard Bernstein’s performance in which he conducted the same work with an orchestra of former Jewish concentration camp inmates in Landsberg, the 2018 performance was (rightfully so) a tad more straight-faced than the one Mintus gave.
His delivery, perhaps the most American-flavored among the performers, and musical mastery allowed us to enjoy a playful, grand celebration, of “It Ain’t Necessarily So.”
All the musical talents returned onstage for a final encore of “Summertime” and the audience, grateful and appreciative, stood up and honored them – and Gershwin – with thunderous applause.
Gershwin – The Revolution Version will return on Wed, November 22, at the Haifa Auditorium (Call 04 8377777 to book), Thursday, November 23, at the Israeli Opera Tel Aviv (Call 02 6927777 to book), Saturday, November 25, at the Herzliya Hall of the Arts (Call 09 9729999 to book) and on Sunday, November 26 at Jerusalem Theater (Call 02 5605755 to book). NIS 130 to NIS 226 per ticket. 90 min performance, no intermission.