Yarilo’s S’Wonderful Rhapsody in Blue

Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

After a two week stay in Buenos Aires with my Rosemary I felt nostalgia for it as soon as we returned to Vancouver. While there, my friend Fernando Velásquez who works at the Teatro Colón offered us two tickets. We were short on time so I declined his kind offer. The music played by the Orchesta Sinfónica de Buenos Aires was a program of 19th century music that did not excite me.

Much is said about how boring Vancouver is and how it is a cultural wasteland. Those who have this opinion perhaps do not get out at night to explore what our city has to offer.

Consider the Yarilo Contemporary Music Society’s program last night at the Orpheum Annex which was the third and last of a series commemorating the 75th anniversary of the salvation of Bulgarian Jews.

Many Bulgarians were in attendance including one of the performers, Kristian Alexander who plays and played a mean jazz piano.

Had jazz enthusiasts been informed of this concert (sadly our conventional media radio, TV and newspapers are in sad decline) they would have enjoyed one of the best ever (that I have heard) renditions of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The folks from Yarilo with pianists Jane Hayes, Anna Levy and clarinettist François Houle combined Gershwin’s orchestration for two pianos with one for piano and clarinet.

François Houle answered my question 1:30 PM:

Did you people combine the two piano version with the one piano and clarinet version of the Rhapsody? Not too important but I am about to write my blog and would like to have my facts straight and accurate.

3:45 PM

Kinda. There are all sorts of arrangements of the rhapsody. We just basically assigned the main themes to the instruments available. The iconic clarinet lines played on the clarinet, obviously, but also some of the brass and other various parts were spread around the three pianos and the clarinet…

If you consider that perhaps one of the best reasons to listen the Rhapsody in Blue (up there with Ravel’s part for trombone in his Bolero) is the dazzling clarinet beginning, imagine having the clarinet being a sharing star with two pianos!

But that was not all. Behind the two Steinways there was another piano (Kristian Alexandrov), a set of drums (Joel Fountain) and a stand-up bass (Brent Gubbels). There was also a dashing blonde wearing a pair of black pumps that made me feel 30 years younger.

This quartet at certain sections of the Rhapsody (the explanation for the method used “a re-envisioning” taken care by Alexandrov) would subtly come in (as the two pianists and clarinets went silent) to play five Gershwin classics: Summertime, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, Someone to Watch Over Me, S’Wonderful and I Got Rhythm. Except for I Got Rhythm where Houle sat in an improvised on the tune, the other songs were performed by Shannon Gaye whom I noticed had a stellar talent in placing her microphone so that her singing was sweet (when it needed to be) and big (when that was the case). Summertime to me seemed fresh not only because of her singing but because I was dazzled by Alexandrov’s jazz piano.

Opening the program (and in honour of all those Jewish composers of Broadway and not Broadway) was Paul Schoenfield’s 1990 Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. It had a generous amount of Klezmer sound and I felt that at any moment I would stand up and attempt to imitate (out of context as it is Greek!) Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek. It was here that I noticed Houle’s lovely clarinet, a rich brown with golden keys. My friend alto saxophonist Gavin Waker (who knows almost anything as if he had known of this concert he would have been there) told me a local man makes these clarinets.

For me just about any concert in Pyatt Hall (not far from the Annex) and the Orpheum Annex are always rich in sound, intimace, surprise and wonder.

Joan Blackman, Jane Hayes, Anna Levy and François Houle

If only my folks at the Colón would take notice as well as those in this city who say it is boring.

I had but one disappointment, Jane Hayes Steinway escaped unscathed the evening’s performance. Hayes will never let me forget (and I thank her for this) that the piano is an instrument of percussion. My apology to fine bassist (and singe, too!) Brent Gubbels that from my seat he was always blocked from my view.

Kristian Alexandrov

Shannon Gaye & Kristian Alexandrov

Jane Hayes

Link to: Yarilo’s S’Wonderul Rhapsody in Blue

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.



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