January 22, 2020

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WSO's chutzpah pays off on Broadway

Pops concert shows symphony's skill

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/11/2014 (1901 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It takes a certain chutzpah to reinvent iconic songs from the Great White Way.

Yet Steinbach's pride, jazz pianist/arranger/vocalist Mike Janzen, now based in Toronto, not only has the skill and craftsmanship, but moreover the imagination, artistry and courage of his convictions to pull it off in spades.

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's latest Pops concert Reimagining Broadway led by WSO resident conductor Julian Pellicano featured Canadian vocalist Sarah Slean, who joined Janzen onstage with jazz bassist George Koller and drummer Davide DiRenzo.

Friday night's program offered a baker's dozen of hot-off-the-press orchestral arrangements — almost all exclusively world premierès — created by Janzen especially for the occasion and in turn, inspired by his acclaimed CD Try to Remember.

The show's opening medley, albeit rather baldly titled Overture provided the first taste of Janzen's brilliant, textural orchestrations that teem with wit and colour. Audiences might well remember his numerous fine arrangements for Winnipeg-based Steve Bell's symphony shows inaugurated here in 2006, for which he performs, records and tours.

They might also recall hearing the tantalizing sneak peek of Mary Poppins's Chim Chim Cheree during one of those Bell shows back in December 2012. That high-octane piece made its appearance again, thankfully, however it became surpassed by a new barnburner: Mein Herr (Cabaret) performed by Slean.

The gifted chanteuse would have been right at home in Berlin's Kit Kat Klub. She brought her full theatricality to bore, crisply biting out its words that only grew in intensity as the piece reached it climax. Janzen's choice to set this as a driving tango became a startling revelation. Kudos also to WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig for her virtuosic violin opening solo that sets up the number.

By contrast, Slean also performed Somewhere (West Side Story) with aching longing — as well as a music stand that did, unfortunately, become a distraction as well as barrier to her otherwise communicative performance. We also heard sweetly rendered Edelweiss with the singer's lyrical phrasing creating long suspended tones, before bursting into My Favourite Things (The Sound of Music). Another highlight proved to be I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables), heard during the program's second half.

A rollicking rendition of Consider Yourself (Oliver) also surprised. Here, we had muted brass galumphing through their way through a short prelude evoking New Orleans's Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The fact that Janzen is able to morph from the early roots of jazz to a hard-driving funk number attests to his rich imaginative skill.

The Mike Janzen Trio was also given its own moment to shine with You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile (Annie). It's always a treat to hear superb musicians doing what they do best, we had three onstage in this wonderful ensemble.

Janzen treated us to an encore of If I Only Had a Brain (The Wizard of Oz) performed — astonishingly — with oven mitts. You have to see this to believe it — as this gifted jazz player truly cooked on his keys. Finally, Slean ended with quintessential song for all time, Somewhere Over the Rainbow from that same show that she performed with limpid longing.

The concert repeats tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, 2 p.m. at the Centennial Concert Hall.



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