symphony of the Americas James Brooks-Bruzzese / Jorge luis Prats Grenet / Chabrier / Gershwin / Moncayo / Shostakovich

A pianistic volcanic eruption rocked the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater on October 23 when Jorge Luis Prats was soloist with the Symphony of the Americas at the opening concert of its 20th anniversary season. Playing Dimitri Shostakovich’s unjustly neglected Piano Concerto No.2 in F Major, Prats was an incendiary force at the keyboard. This Cuban born pianist was absolutely fabulous!

Best known for the agonizing Mahlerian angst of his late symphonies and string quartets, Shostakovich also composed works in a lighter vein. His F Major Concerto suggests the quirky humor of his contemporary Serge Prokofiev. The piece is a bravura pianistic vehicle that only artists with fleet fingers and powerhouse technique dare attempt.

Prats displayed awesome technique wedded to dare devil command that ventures where other keyboard artists dare not tread. In the opening Allegro, Prats’ dazzling octaves and relentless rhythmic energy fired up the stage. The piece seemed to flow as if improvised at the moment of performance. Prats brought spontaneity and explosive force to every bar. Yet he turned poetic in the soulful Andante. In this moody, rhapsodic reverie (in the vein of Rachmaninoff), the pianist gave a dazzling display of crystalline tone, vibrant coloration, sensitivity of line, and quicksilver lightness. Prats attacked the Allegro finale full force, producing speed and volume that astounded the senses, offering finesse as well as velocity in a stellar reading of Shostakovich’s appealing 1957 score.

Symphony of the Americas artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese proved an agile partner and collaborator, obtaining vivacious, richly hued playing from the ensemble. Indeed the orchestra shone impressively throughout the evening, particularly the red hot brass and elegant winds.

In three pieces (Lamento Esclavo, Las Perlas de tu Boca, and Bariolage) by Eliseo Grenet (1893-1950), Brooks-Bruzzese and the orchestra evoked the sound of the Cuban big bands of the 1940’s and 50’s. Grenet’s Afro-Cuban tinged melodies recalled the work of his contemporary Gonzalo Roig, particularly in the sumptuous arrangements of Alfredo Munar (who doubled on piano).

In Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, Brooks-Bruzzese astutely pinpointed instrumental felicities amid the orchestral bustle. Marilyn Maingart’s silvery, pure toned flute solo was a stand out. The conductor elicited lightness of touch from the strings and rousing brass outbursts in Chabrier’s grandly aristocratic Fete Polonaise (from the opera Le Roi Malgre Lui). In the rollicking Huapango by Mexican composer Jose Pablo Moncayo, Brooks-Bruzzese maintained the score’s driving rhythm while displaying a rainbow of orchestral colors. The ensemble’s terrific percussion section had a field day in these Latin inspired pieces.

Prats turned to the music of Ernesto Lecuona (the Cuban Gershwin) for encores, playing four works – including You Are Always in My Heart and La Comparsa. His incredible technical facility, idiomatic musicality, and wit enlivened every note of these charming vignettes. The adoring audience (which awarded Prats repeated standing ovations) only dispersed after the orchestra left the stage. Prats’ exciting artistry and strong orchestral performance combined to make the Symphony of the Americas’ season opener a real winner!

Symphony of the Americas James Brooks-Bruzzese / Eugenia Zukerman / Katie Ott Dvorak / Mozart / Beethoven

The indefatigable James Brooks-Bruzzese took the stage of the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on April 17 for the final concert of the Symphony of the Americas’ 19th season. From the exuberant high spirits of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No.8 to the rousing encores, the concert aptly demonstrated this conductor’s formidable accomplishments. This orchestra is now a supple, precise ensemble that excels in a wide variety of repertoire.

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp is a gem. This score abounds with inspired melodies, subtle instrumental writing, and the sheer creative genius of the Salzburg wunderkind. Eugenia Zukerman was a stellar soloist. The dulcet hues of her crystalline flute embraced Mozart’s melismas with the soft beauty of incandescence. She essayed the soaring bel canto lines of the Andantino with the grace and flexibility of a superb chamber player. Her exhilarating reading of the Allegro finale capped a delightful performance.

Harpist Katie Ott’s playing was always stylish and deftly articulated. She blended with Zukerman’s sweet tones seamlessly. Brooks-Bruzzese’s moderate tempos and ingratiating support had the intimacy and warmth of fine chamber music. As an encore, Zukerman and Ott offered a Spanish tinged piece by the Frenchman Jacques Ibert, played with ravishing elegance and élan.

Brooks-Bruzzese’s strong, virile reading of Beethoven’s Symphony No.8 in F Major captured the joyous verve of this most sunny of symphonies by the master from Bonn. His alert, vigorous tempos in the opening Allegro vivace e con brio were rousing indeed. He captured the wit of the Allegretto scherzando with particularly suave playing from the strings. The orchestra’s horns shone resplendently in the trio section of the Tempo di Menuetto which flowed with disarming ease. In the concluding Allegro vivace, Brooks-Bruzzese balanced the humor and Mozartean orchestral felicities of this vivacious symphonic milestone.

Turning to the Pops repertoire, Brooks-Bruzzese unfurled a swinging version of John Kander’s New York, New York and a stirring rendition of Sousa’s perennial Stars and Stripes Forever, played with sterling musicianship as well as fervor.

Symphony of the Americas James Brooks-Bruzzese / Chin Kim / Gershwin Mendelssohn / Schubert

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.6 may be the least played of that master’s symphonies. That made the felicitous performance by the Symphony of the Americas under the baton of James Brooks-Bruzzese on February 20 at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater all the more revelatory. Schubert was greatly influenced by the opera buffas of Gioacchino Rossini which were all the rage in the Vienna of 1816. Brooks-Bruzzese delivered Italianate charm aplenty in Schubert’s delightful “little C Major” symphony (as differentiated from the composer’s 9th Symphony – “the Great C Major”).

The conductor infused the opening movement with Rossinian brio. Wonderfully precise and nuanced string playing was a pleasure to hear. Colorful woodwinds captured the wit and sudden minor key modulations with aplomb. The bewitching Andante was spun with elegant charm. Brooks-Bruzzese vividly conveyed the Haydnesque humor of the Scherzo Presto. Schubert’s quirky finale was rendered with invigorating élan. The stylishness and instrumental clarity of the entire performance were utterly delightful.

In a program that featured works by three composers who lived only into their thirties, Korean violinist Chin Kim was soloist in Mendelssohn’s eternal Violin Concerto in E Minor. Kim’s interpretation did not lack passion or romantic impetuosity but his tone was small and harsh. In the final movement he handled the lightning fire pyrotechnics astutely. Brooks-Bruzzese offered protean accompaniment.

The conductor opened the program with an arrangement by Robert McBride of the Overture to the musical Girl Crazy by George Gershwin. The orchestra’s snappy, dashing performance had the quintessential sound of a great Broadway pit ensemble.

James Brook-Bruzzese / Enrique Graf / Ciro Symphony of the Americas Fodore Mozart / Poulenc/Walton / Gutierrez / Magallanes Ctystalline Lightness

James Brooks-Bruzzese’s Symphony of the Americas has rarely sounded better than at its opening concert of the season on October 24 at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater. A generous program of Latin tinged pieces, a jazzy French soufflé, and a Florida premiere made for delightful musical fare.

The Uruguayan born pianist Enrique Graf was the evening’s star soloist in more ways than one. Graf, an old fashioned virtuoso, possesses a formidable keyboard technique. The most demanding scores hold no terrors for him. A pupil of Leon Fleisher, Graf counts the First Prize in the prestigious William Kapell International Competition among his awards.

In Ravel’s Concerto in G Major, Graf attacked the opening Allegramente with the kind of darting virtuosity and stylistic command that spells great pianism. Eschewing sentimentality, Graf brought Mozartean simplicity of line and phrase to the Adagio assai. (Ravel considered Mozart and Saint-Saens his models for this score; Graf was stylistically apt.) The final Presto brimmed with jazzy effervescence and torrents of virtuosity. Brooks-Bruzzese provided rhythmically energetic, stellar support. The orchestra offered suave playing with particularly brilliant flute and trumpet solos. Charlene Conner’s harp glistened in an extended solo turn in the first movement.

Graf is a faculty member of the College of Charleston. Fellow faculty member Edward Hart wrote his Tidal Concerto for Graf. This sweeping work is a richly romantic piano showpiece with strong roots in the Tchaikovsky-Rachmaninoff tradition. The work’s opening movement – Ebb – represents the composer at his most imaginative. Austere opening chords (with strong percussive underpinnings) lead to a surging orchestral peroration. A jazz inspired principal theme suggests Dave Brubeck. The final movement – Flood – is grandly cinematic in a quasi Miklos Rozsa manner. Hart’s score is superbly crafted and immediately appealing. It is also a bravura vehicle par excellence. Graf brought conviction, pianistic fireworks, and tremendous passion to every bar. The Symphony of the Americas players offered crackling accompaniment with particularly lush string tone and a rhythmically incisive percussion battery.

Brooks-Bruzzese led an exhilarating account of Two Dances from the ballet score The Three Cornered Hat by Manuel de Falla. The Neighbor’s Dance throbbed with Andalusian color. Sparkling strings and elegant woodwinds weaved a magical spell. Brooks-Bruzzese turned up the heat for The Miller’s Dance which overflowed with instrumental pastels and visceral excitement. The Ritual Fire Dance from Falla’s El Amor Brujo had intensity to spare.

Best of all was Brooks-Bruzzese’s invigorating performance of Emmanuel Chabrier’s Espana Rhapsody. While Chabrier’s output was comparatively small, he was a superb composer. The conductor reveled in Chabrier’s evocation of Spain. Lush, brilliant bursts of orchestral coloration personified the Symphony of the Americas’ terrific performance.

As an encore, Brooks-Bruzzese led a lively, elegantly sculpted rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Blue Tango – a wonderful bon-bon to conclude a festive evening of music.

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    Symphony Of The Americas

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    Ft. Lauderdale, Florida 33306
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