I was seated towards the back of the Robert Frost Auditorium, almost mesmerized. Listening to the artistry of Reno Behnken playing the Piano Concerto in D major by Hayden, accompanied by the AVPA String Ensemble, a very small voice behind me said what everyone was thinking; “I like dat music, I like dat music a lot.” While the accompanying parent quieted the little boy, he was only observing the obvious.
It was a moment to savor melody, and the String Ensemble’s opening numbers, both premiers by composer and AVPA faculty member Chris Thomas featured beautiful solos. Nikki Muller took on ‘The Rest is Peace” as the first number, and Oliver Berliner gave voice to “Only in Dreams.” Excellently conducted by Dr. Tania Fleischer, the Hayden Concerto completed the String Ensemble’s section of the evening, and the crowd went wild for Behnken’s combination of alacrity, accuracy and flair.
The AVPA Chamber Singers gave voice to works by Benjamin Britten, Brent Pierce, and closed with a charming Halloween favorite, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by John Williams, featuring Elana Pilch’s considerable piano skills. Conducted by the remarkable Ms. Danielle Koplinka-Loehr, the singers used their talents in ways that were soft, strong and sweet.
The always amazing Jazz Ensemble got into musical costume with “The Pink Panther” by Henri Mancini, and vocalist Lisa Michel cast her own beautiful spell over “”Bewitched” by Rodgers & Hart. Stevie Wonder’s great “Superstition” closed the show for the Ensmble, and then the Jazz Combo took over with the theme from “Ghostbusters,” punching out high notes with big brass and even bigger breath.
The final act for the original evening brought out the Concert Band, and they got to premier the final Chris Thomas number of the night, “Clown Castle” and then brought it all home with the favorite dance number, “Time Warp” from the Rockie Horror Show.
Elaine Behnken, the president of the AVPA board, offered “Kudos to Dr. Spano, Dr. Fleischer, Danielle Koplinka-Loehr, Chris Thomas, Tim Juliano, Dr. David Brennan and all of the students in the music department for an amazing night. I [heard many comments] praising the evening from the decor of the theatre, to the inspiring performances, to the choice of pieces, and to the palpable and contagious enjoyment of the musicians.”
From a first time out, this may have to become an annual occasion to get a bit of Halloween singing and stomping a few days early.
Photo Credit – Dr. Tony Spano