By Bill Peters
The Glendale Renaissance Orchestra started the second concert of its inaugural season with a strong beat set firmly by Victor Venacore, guest conductor for a night of pops music.
Leading both the Renaissance Orchestra and his touring group of musicians and singers, the personable arranger/conductor/pianist presented "Red White and Blues, The Star Spangled Rhythms of America". And as the music kept coming, the beat just got better in the two-hour show at Glendale's Americana at Brand on Thursday night.
Vanacore and his group of five back-up musicians and two singers melded smoothly with the mostly pick-up local freelancers that made up the Renaissance Orchestra. The good-sized crowd enjoyed the outdoor concert from seats located in the Americana central park to hear a scrapbook of pops hits that straddled 60 years with music arranged by the conductor.
The mélange incorporated musical favorites in styles that ranged from Detroit soul and early rock to TV theme songs, a Glenn Miller hit and a Jackson 5 medley. With a solid beat from drummer Simon Carroll, the program opened with Barry Manilow's hit "Bandstand Boogie" featuring singers Alexx Daye and Tony Galla.
Daye, whose voice has a sultry timbre, came on strong in all the various styles but her Diahann Carroll tunes showed what she can do. Her solo in the South Beach Soul singing songs of Gloria Estefan kept the audience toe-tapping.
Tony Galla maintained a good quality voice in all his numbers with his "Mack the Knife" solo a standout. Likewise his "Jailhouse Rock" was a hit with the crowd as Galla suggested Elvis but kept his personal style. The two singers basically stood at the side of the band and performed as back-up singers world do. It is an effective tool because it kept the music at the forefront and allowed the memories of the old hits to sink in. They both maintained strong singing personalities in spite of the obvious parodies.
Vanacore has presented this program around the country with some of the nation's leading symphonic orchestras. His traveling corps of musicians included Jim Studer, keyboard; Lou Schoch, bass; Simon Carroll, drums; Victor Vanacore, III, Latin percussion; and Thom Rotella, jazz guitar.
As a conductor, Vanacore is super-casual (he gulped water from a plastic bottle while at the podium), and is very funny, in a really nice kind of way. He is also a strict taskmaster when it comes to orchestra leadership. He didn't ask the orchestra, but rather required them to follow his accurate beat, communicating directions to the musicians in a very stern manner. The result was some fine playing even with, as Vanacore reported to the audience, little rehearsal. Everything worked fine, although "Stars and Stripes Forever" could have used a bit more polish. .
By the end of the evening, Vanacore had the audience literally dancing in the aisles. A medley of disco tunes brought a contingent of young couples plus a few from the senior set to the front of the stage where their enthusiastic dancing added even more zip to the evening.
BILL PETERS has reviewed the classical music scene in Southern California since 1998.