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Terell Stafford Jazzes up Temple Premieres

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fourth stream La banda Bill Cunliffe (World Premiere)
Ansel Adams: America, Dave & Chris Brubeck
Temple University Symphony Orchestra & Combined Choirs,
Luis Biava, Alan Harler, conducting
Terell Stafford, trumpet,
Verizon Hall, March 21, 2010
Alice Tully Hall, April 9, 2010

We’s so used to cheering the Curtis prodigies, we forget how good the Temple music students are. Until we hear them play full out, burnished, something like Barber’s Essay No. 2, Op. 17, rousing, burnished, and eureka, after all these kids, who are their teachers? Members of the Philadelphia Orchestra! Sunday Temple Symphony and Combined Choirs impressed a crowd at Verizon under maestros Luis Biava and Alan Harler. When jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford got up to play, the house was over the moon.

Grammy artist Stafford was the soloist in fourth stream…La Banda, Bill Cunliffe’s world premiere. He’s also a Grammy artist. Stafford’s horn can make anything sound over the moon but La Banda (which has a jazz quartet fronting the orchestra) is strong. It swings. Having Luis Biava to conduct doesn’t hurt. To its influences of Django, John Lewis, and Dizzy, La Banda adds claves, Latin percussion. Cunliffe smartly keeps different strains of music separate, nothing messy – at first. Great solo riffs for trumpet, but not until the themes have been announced. There’s a beautiful theme for cellos, which played it well. Stafford’s tone is long and pure and gold. Then, a blizzard of tones. But never shrill. He was Sunday’s mentor-hero.

The fizzle was Ansel Adams: America the commission a handful of orchestras (Stockton to Baltimore ) have paid $12 grand apiece to premiere (Additionally, a $15,000 grant. Temple alum, concert pianist and philanthropist Susan Carson who lives in Northern California brokered the deal which is written up in Symphony Magazine. The Stockton Symphony realized many benefits from the commission, according to the Symphony article. ) Jazz legend Dave Brubeck wrote the tunes, his son Chris arranged them. The score is a pastiche for 100 photographs by the late master. Snatches of waltz time, a little syncopation; the Brubecks said Bach and Chopin are influences since Adams wanted to become a concert pianist. These composers aren’t much in evidence in the soupy score. There is little to suggest musical depth or visual: the artist who caught Yosemite’s grandeur. The video projections (two screens above the stage) lack sophistication. No dissolves or fades. The slideshows on my Apple are dazzle. A friend pointed out: There might have been restrictions from the estate on how the photographs are. Still:

Stafford’s solos in La Banda better expressed Ansel Adams’ aesthetic eloquence.
Andrea Clearfield’s The Golem Psalms is a Passover tale for baritone, chorus and orchestra. Golem Tales shimmers with color, and the chorus enunciated Ellen Frankel’s text perfectly But I was weary by the 5th of its 7 parts. Baritone Sanford Sylvan was masterful and so was Alan Harler who is retiring after 30 years. Harler will be missed.

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