LA VERNE -- If the University of La Verne's goals include stretching the borders of the campus into the community, celebrating diversity and showing cultural connections, it achieved that and celebrated musical excellence while doing so with the staging of "Gospel Fusion: Gershwin and Beyond. "
On April 29, ULV President Devorah Lieberman and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Jonathan Reed welcomed a packed house to Morgan Auditorium to hear and be emotionally impressed with the masterful artistry of singers and musicians performing Negro spirituals, Jewish prayers, jazz, Tin Pan Alley tunes, Broadway hits and a rousing contemporary choral composition based on an ancient story of faith.
The concert grew out of a collaborations between Dr. Noreen Green, the internationally acclaimed founder, conductor and artistic director of the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, and Jeffrey Rouss, ULV's interim vice president of advancement. It was jointly staged by the university's Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and College of Arts and Sciences, Temple Beth Israel in Pomona, the symphony and the Jewish Federation.
Peerless performances featured ULV choral activities director James Calhoun and Cantor Judy Sofer conducting a mass choir of ULV Chamber Singers and the Kol HaEmek Chorale; jazz pianist and ULV Music Department chairman Reed Gratz with drummer Phillip Greenwood and bassist David Vorobyov; Temple Beth Israel Cantor Paul Buch; internationally renowned singer, composer and producer Karen Hart and ULV artist-in-residence Grace Zhao.
Lieberman said the concert showed the oftentimes un-noted connections of music penned and celebrated by two oppressed peoples. She promised people "an interesting and remarkable evening. "
And so it was - from the moment Green stepped on stage, reflected on the life of George Gershwin and playfully peeped over her shoulder singing "Swanee" while her baton still rhythmically waved for singers and musicians. Her body bounced through the song Gershwin plugged at a party Al Jolson attended.
Green talked about Gershwin's desire to write serious music, a dream that first came true in 1924 when bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned him to compose "Rhapsody In Blue. "
Her "Rhapsody" narrative was a teaser.
It was delightfully delayed by Buch's scintillating scats and Gullah-infused inflections on the "Porgy and Bess" classic "It Ain't Necessarily So" and a literally rocking version of Jester Hairston's "Elijah Rock" with the baritone voices providing the amazing bass lines distinguishing the traditional spiritual.
Green reflected on tribulations faced by enslaved and persecuted blacks and Jews. This led into "Keep Your Lamps," a haunting refrain about faith and fortitude. Gratz, musicians and singers bebopped on "The Jazz 150th." The Gratz Trio rocked the house with his arrangements of "All The Things You Are," "A Foggy Day" and "My Funny Valentine." Jeremy Eichberg's perfect tenor blessed "Kiddush. "
Influenced since childhood by black gospel, Hart's surprised everyone when she opened her mouth and melodies and rhythms common to the black church experience poured out with punch and power on "Judah and the Maccabees" and "Go Down Moses."
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