Symphonic Fusion: Broadway Spectacular: the Music of Rodgers & Hammerstein
Sunday, November 13, 2016 2:00 p.m.
After the week we’ve just experienced (lost Leonard/gained Trump), I think we all needed a great blast of positive energy in the form of a musical love in, and Symphony Nova Scotia gave it to us with this afternoon’s Rodgers & Hammerstein show. It could actually have been renamed the We Love You, Howard Cable concert, as the orchestra played arrangements by the beloved late conductor and close friend of SNS in the show he never got to attend. Howard Cable died at age 95 last March, and his amazing career spanned more than seven decades. He worked with all the greats from Ella Fitzgerald to Richard Rodgers, and this concert had been planned to give him a chance to talk about that collaboration.
The orchestra was in good hands with guest conductor Greg Burton, who, touchingly, had been lent Howard’s baton for the concerts by Howard’s companion, Lori Fox Rossi, who travelled from Toronto for the concerts. Several pre-recorded videos of Howard introducing the pieces with some movie scene excerpts also added poignancy, as did violist Binnie Brennan’s remarks at the top of the concert. She spoke warmly about her more than 40 years (since youth orchestra days one imagines) of playing Howard’s brilliant arrangements, and expressed the love and mutual admiration that Howard and SNS shared over their many years of concerts at the Cohn.
The videos gave Howard a chance to talk about the works he’d programmed, including selections by Rodgers and Hart and then later works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, including all the well-loved movie, Broadway and TV hits like The King and I, Carousel, South Pacific and more, and a few lesser-known gems from State Fair and No Strings (a little ditty called Maine).
The concert opened with an Overture of Rodgers and Hart greats including The Lady is the Tramp and Manhattan, and was followed with a lovely woodwind solos and ensemble playing in Bewitched (Pal Joey). Not to be outdone, the celli and violas sounded darkly gorgeous on the opening of My Funny Valentine (Babes in Arms), up next, and then June Kim gave a beautiful oboe solo in front of the band in My Romance (Jumbo). Howard Cable liked spreading the solos around and featuring his favorite instruments (which seems to have been all of them) and his masterful arrangements sounded sparkling and fresh. No wonder he was deemed the “Mozart of Canada,” sharing with the genius composer some messy penmanship, according to conductor Burton. Burton praised SNS Librarian Jim Eager for fixing up Howard’s well–known “chicken scratching.”
Howard spoke of his ability to get arrangements down easily and quickly, something which endeared him to Richard Rodgers when he met him in New York back in the day, who asked, “let’s see what you can do.” Clearly he did all right, as these great classics were published by music publishing giant Chappell Group Library.
The Oklahoma medley began with a delicate waltz from the lower strings and woodwinds and then added layers of brass, percussion and violins for a grand old yippee aye eh ending, the tune tossing around the orchestra in trademark Howard Cable style. His love of brass instruments was evident in Bali Hai (South Pacific) with a trio of trumpeters standing for their brilliant entry. Principal Cellist Norm Adams soloed on the lovely Some Enchanted Evening, and then the trombones and tuba gave us the very happy-sounding Happy Talk.
The first half ended with Carousel Waltz (Carousel), with the tympani (D’Arcy Grey subbing in for Michael Baker), drums and spiccato violins making for a bouncy trampoline-like opening, setting the stage for a build up that ended the first half with a big flourish.
After intermission there were more beautiful melodies, including a great flute solo and English horn in the March of the Siamese Children (The King and I) and a wonderful French horn section in It Might as Well be Spring.
For an encore, Greg introduced the very last piece that Howard Cable wrote, for this show, his arrangement of Getting to Know You (The King and I). Dear Howard completed the score, sent it to his copyist, and didn’t wake up the next day to hear it.
Truly, there was and always will be a very special connection between Symphony Nova Scotia (who Howard called “the most versatile orchestra in Canada”) and the genius of Howard Cable.
We also got to hear his famous Newfoundland Rhapsody, something he was asked by the CBC to work on in 1947, with the hopes that in a couple of years, the independent colony would agree to join Canada. As we head into Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations next year, I can think of no one more representative of Canadian music than our very own Mozart, Howard Cable.
Rest in peace, Howard, and thanks for the memories.