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KZNPO CONCERT: JUNE 21 2007 (article first published : 2007-06-23)

A popular programme of twentieth century American music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein drew a big audience to the Durban City Hall for this concert by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was an appropriate finale for the visiting American conductor Leslie B. Dunner, who was completing a short season with the orchestra. The five works played are all conspicuous for their vivid orchestration, and maestro Dunner and a very big orchestra, about 80 players in all, extracted full value from the music.

The main item was Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with one of South Africa’s best pianists, Christopher Duigan, as soloist. The work was taken at high speed, presumably with the intention of breathing new life into the old war horse, and the pianist’s hands flew across the keyboard in a dazzling display of rapid octaves, runs and chords. It was exciting, and much to the taste of the audience, judging by the applause.

Earlier the orchestra played Gershwin’s Cuban Overture, the conductor (and some of the players) swaying to the seductive beat of the rumba, followed by the same composer’s An American in Paris, probably best known in its film version with Gene Kelly, but a substantial work in its own right, depicting with great skill the streets and scenes of Paris (in Gershwin’s time, the nineteen-twenties).

Leonard Bernstein was represented by two of his best-known compositions: the three brief dances called On the Town and West Side Story: Symphonic Dances. West Side Story is of course a musical show in which the Romeo and Juliet story is adapted for use as a modern drama involving gangsters in New York. These Symphonic Dances encapsulate the story in about 25 minutes of brilliant orchestral music alternating between violence and romance. In its own way the work is really captivating, and the orchestra responded splendidly to Leslie Dunner’s urgent leadership, with particularly fine playing by the brass and woodwind sections.

The programme obviously attracted many people who are not regular concert-goers. One hopes that, encouraged and emboldened by this experience, they will come again and try a symphony concert next time. - Michael Green




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