Sunday, March 6, 2011

Same Musicians, Different Songs

It isn't often that you can see two musicians perform with the Richmond Symphony and then head to Gallery 5 and see the same two perform in a rock band. But it happens.

But eating usually proceeds music, so I met my couple date at The Empress, a place they'd never been and one I always enjoy.

The Mr. of the couple ordered a bottle of the La Pere La Grolle Beaujolais for our drinking pleasure. The amuse bouche was a cheese wafer stuffed with chopped zucchini and peppers in pico de gallo. Very nice.

After an arugula salad with chick peas, Fontina cheese and pine nuts, I ordered the grilled rosemary lamb chops, crispy horseradish cheddar polenta cakes and roasted grape tomatoes. Is there anything better than gnawing medium rare lamb chops down to the bones? The female half of the couple referred to this as "eating Henry the Eighth style."

Couple dining guarantees extra dessert and tonight was no exception. We told our server not to even bother telling us any of the non-chocolate options and wound up with the chocolate banana crepes and the ginger/chili chocolate pate.

Call us crude, but there was finger-swiping involved to get the last of the chocolate filling off the crepe plate. I didn't say I was proud about it, but it sure was good.

We found a prime parking space at Fifth and Main and enjoyed the balmy walk to CenterStage. We'd barely taken our seats when the lights went down and some of the old men began dozing.

The first piece came courtesy of the Sphinx Organization,a group dedicated to getting more black and Latino composers symphonically performed.

Tonight's was by Haitian-American Daniel Bernard Roumain, also known as DBR, and was based on the 21-second dance between Ellen deGeneres and Barack Obama in 2007. TV-oblivious one that I am, I hadn't even known such a thing had happened.

Conductor Steven Smith introduced the piece, "Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents for Orchestra" by saying, "Fundamentally, this is a dance piece, so if you feel like it, get up and dance in the aisles."

The piece was interesting, by turn great and just okay. Let's say it was Shaft meets Pink Floyd meets Sufjan Stevens and that should give you some idea of the range of the piece. Sadly, no one danced.

The second piece, "Concerto for Trumpet" featured guest trumpeter Thomas Hooten of the Atlanta Symphony. Although written in 1948 by Tomasi, it had a decidedly 1950s feel and was over in the blink of an eye. What, intermission already?

Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 6 in B Minor" was the last thing the composer wrote before dying and an example of High Romanticism in classical music. It also confounded the audience who was never sure exactly what was going on.

A rousing round of applause burst out between movements (a no-no) and yet, when the symphony ended, there was a delayed reaction before the crowd knew to clap. Part of that may have been the way it ended with a whimper rather than the usual big symphonic bang.

As the woman behind me noted to her husband afterwards, "Well that certainly didn't follow the usual format of a symphony!" And while that was true, a lot of the appeal of tonight's program was the oddness of it.

My couple date was kind enough to drop me at Gallery 5 on the way home. I walked in shortly after Horsehead had begun their raucous rock set. Only the suit jackets the band wears give away that they're not straight out of 1975.

I'd missed Harsh Realm's set, but saw band member Jamie and asked him how it had gone. Apparently, the crowd was small and mostly confused about their full-on passionate Iggy Pop-like style. I was sorry to have missed that.

Eventually the handsome Matt, bassist for the Symphony, arrived minus his tux and I got a chance to ask him about the program he'd just played and I'd just heard. His favorite had been the Tchaikovsky for its sweeping romanticism.

Shortly afterwards, more symphony musicians arrived, recognizable for the instruments strapped to their backs, for music of a very different kind. I talked to them, too, to see what their take on the program had been and all agreed that Tchaikovsky was the hands-down favorite. Symphony musicians! They're so predictable.

With bassist Matt and symphony violinist Treesa finally in the house, Prabir and the Goldrush could start their set. Tonight was Prabir's birthday, so the show was even more lively than usual with toasting and drinking and tributes on stage.

Original material soon enough gave way to Beatles covers and guests on stage, including Amanda Robinson, director of Gallery 5, and Kevin Inge of Horsehead. They closed with "I am the Walrus," and it got no more dancers on the floor than "Dancers, Dreamers and Presidents for Orchestra" had.

Not that it mattered to the band. They were up there going at it, all of them singing, swigging and obviously having a great time.

Rock musicians! They're so predictable.


  1. Haha - Karen! Yes!! I'm so glad someone got to be at both of those events in the same night. So fun. :)

  2. Could I have been the only one besides the musicians? You're right, the evening was a lot of fun!