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PEI Symphony Orchestra

Review by David Malahoff

Symphony concert etiquette requires one not to applaud until all the movements of a piece are completed. But it would have taken 1000 pairs of handcuffs to prevent the capacity crowd at the Confederation Centre from reacting to Jamie Gatti’s riveting bass solo, and that was just the first crack in the etiquette wall. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

On Sunday February 11, the PEI Symphony Orchestra took the stage for its much anticipated Pops Goes The Island concert. Much anticipated because renowned jazz pianist Doug Riley and his Quartet were there to perform Mr. Riley’s “Prince Edward Island Suite.”

The skillful musicianship of the Quartet (Doug Riley, piano; Alan Dowling, drums; Jamie Gatti, bass; Chris Mitchell, saxophone) and some lush fills from the orchestra made the first two movements, “Dawn” and “Sunset”, intriguing atmospheric experiences.

But something special happened in the third movement, “Ceilidh.” The massed strings of the orchestra launched a spirited Celtic tune and then each member of the Quartet took turns to push the musicianship and energy level higher. When it was his turn, Jamie Gatti began making low droning notes on his stand-up bass mimicking a growling bagpipe. Then he was off. His fingers sliding up and down the bass delivering a memorable solo. Members of the orchestra could be seen craning their heads to trying to get a glimpse of his hands at work. When he finished the crowd answered with excited applause, even a few hoots and hollers. Mr. Riley and the orchestra then jumped back in for a high spirited finish. The audience elbowed aside symphony hall politesse again and gave the musicians a tremendous ovation.

In the final movement “Storm,” Mr. Riley’s piano was a powerful rhythmic engine always pushing the music forward with an irresistible swing. When the piece ended, the audience knew it had been witness to musicianship of the highest order. The “Prince Edward Island Suite” was the peak of the concert day.

The Quartet returned in the second half to play “Windows” by Chick Corea and Mr. Riley had the theatre bouncing with a solo number “Dr. Boogie,” a tribute to his first jazz piano heroes.

It wasn’t all jazz. Conductor James Mark had the orchestra open the concert impressively with the melody rich Slavonic Dances Op.46, Nos. 1­4 by Antonin Dvorak. Also on the program: “Bootleggers Tarantella” from Filumena by John Estacio; “Suite from the Charlottetown Festival” by John Fenwick, and the concert closed with “Raider’s March,” from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” by John Williams.

The only criticism: this was a long concert and at least one of the non-jazz pieces could have been dropped with no loss of quality to the line-up. Otherwise, it was Suite.

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