Monday, June 2, 2014

Ben Folds and the Contemporary Youth Orchestra (#FoldsCYO)

Zak and Sarah (arr. Iain Grandage)
Smoke (arr. Michael Pigneguy)
Jesusland (arr. Michael Pigneguy)
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (Ohio Premiere; orchestrated by Joachim Horsley and Ben Folds)
Landed (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Fred Jones Part 2 (arr. Iain Grandage)
Steven's Last Night (arr. Graeme Lyall)
Effington (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Cologne (arr. Jim Gray)
Annie Waits (are. James Ledger)
+Rock This Hall (aka Rock This B**ch) 
The Luckiest (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Not the Same (arr. Paul Buckmaster)
Brick (arr. Paul Buck master)
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (arr. Iain Grandage)
Narcolepsy (are. James Ledger)
Plus encores. 
All songs by Ben Folds
Liza Grossman,  conductor; Ben Folds, piano. 

Last time I attended a CYO show the headliner was someone I had never heard of (Jon Anderson) and it was thoroughly enjoyable -- so when I heard this season was featuring a an artist I not only had heard of, but liked, I knew I had to buy tickets. So after a day in the office (my first in the past two weeks and my last for this week, but that's another story) Rachel and I headed to Severance Hall and once again I found myself perched in the front of Box 3. 

The first three pieces on the program were good, but not quite great -- I think the orchestra and Mr. Folds were struggling to find the right balance and the result was a little muddy (Rachel thoughtTh that Mr. Folds voice hadn't quite warmed up). The fourth piece on the program, a concerto for piano and orchestra was well delivered and interesting but its length seemed a little ouof place for a program otherwise overflowing with shorter pieces. 

The program turned a bend and really picked up steam starting with Landed with a shimmering piano introduction and excellent balance. Likewise, both Fred Jones Part 2 (about a newspaperman being forced out at the beginning of the traditional journalism downturn - a "waltz, as all sad songs about someone loosing their job should be:") and Steven's Last Night (a big-band-swing-feeling piece written for a recording engineer who was leaving town -- but had had another going away party a week prior) were beautiful works of collaborative art -- and Mr, Folds's introduction to the pieces was particularly entertaining. 

After intermission the program resumed with what has become my favorite Ben Folds piece -- Effington --- and the glorious opening phrase tonight voiced by three CYO members ("If there's a God, he's laughing at us and our football team" -- which could be Cleveland's anthem right there) and the on-stage improvisation of the piece in Normal, Illinois (Effington was a actually a misrecollection of Effingham) 

Continuing in the thread of on-stage composition, Cologne was also initially improvised on stage -- with Mr. Folds under the weather and with doctor-prescribed codeine (to which he commented that falling off stage head-first with a five foot drop and performing with a concussion was more enjoyable than the codeine-affected performance) and is also a favorite piece of mine. I was initially apprehensive that the live performance wouldn't live up to my "favorite" version (the "Piano Orchestra" version, putting aside the creepy German music video) -- but those fears were quickly assuaged with a rich and full bodied performance. 

In between Annie Waits and The Luckiest was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen or heard on stage -- best titled Rock this Hall or Rock This B--ch -- Mr Folds improvised a piece leveraging all 116 musicians on the stage, bringing in one section at a time and occasionally changing his mind. I'm sure that this will wind up on YouTube within days (if it's not already there).

The rest of the program was equally enjoyable, but I have an early flight tomorrow so I will leave my commentary here. It was, to say the least, an amazingly awesome show and I am blown away by the talent of the musicians, Ms. Grossman, and Mr. Folds. 


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