Acclaim
Bill Westmoreland

It is hard to believe that Frank Sinatra has been dead for more than 20 years. But Saturday night on stage at Judson Erne Auditorium, “ol’ blue eyes was back” — at least in spirit — with the thrilling performance of Tony DeSare and the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.

In a concert frequently punctuated by cheers, whistles and thunderous applause and concluding with four encores, Sinatra and Beyond! was a memorable evening that surpassed DeSare’s two previous performances in Columbus in 2015 and in 2017. It was an exciting opening to the orchestra’s 33rd season, promising a remarkable year of music making in Columbus.

The ensemble opened the concert with a medley of Sinatra hits “Salute to Ol’ Blue Eyes” arranged by John Moss which showcased a strong brass section, soaring strings, a fine trumpet solo by Jay Ellsmore and a driving percussion that would be always present throughout the concert but never overpowering. After a few brief comments by Maestro Bowden, the musicians launched into the Theme from Star Wars composed by the king of symphonic orchestra movie music, John Williams.

Then the real king of the evening appeared onstage as New York City’s Tony DeSare took the center spotlight to began a string of musical moments that rocked the auditorium song after song from classics, to rock and roll, to Tin Pan Alley and even a couple of original songs composed by DeSare himself.

Opening with “Day In, Day Out” with music by Rube Bloom and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, followed by “Come Fly with Me” with music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Sammy Cahn, and “Luck Be a Lady” from “Guys and Dolls” by Frank Loesser, DeSare and the orchestra collaborated beautifully in these symphonic treatments of popular music standards. In fact, the musicians played with such authority and full bodied resonance that at times I felt surrounded by their sound as if I were wearing headphones or listening to a digitally enhanced recording.

Because of this, at times the orchestra dominated the sound when DeSare should have been the main focus which occasionally covered his words particularly after some incredibly and almost flawlessly played instrumental interludes. Perhaps if the Philharmonic would have subtly shaded their volume after these interludes, this minor flaw could have been corrected.

The standard “Just in Time” from the musical “Bells Are Ringing” with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Camden & Green featured DeSare and the members of his own band, Edward Decker, guitar, Dylan Shamat, bass and Michael Klopp, drums. Here, after DeSare sang the tune, each member of the band was featured in an improvisational moment including DeSare on piano.

The outstanding talent of these four fine musicians crated an intimate musical moment in the concert contrasting with the larger symphonic moments and set up the first of DeSare original compositions. “How Will I Say I Love You” introduced with a story featuring Paul McCartney showcased DeSare’s own creativity beyond his ability to recreate the classics and demonstrated some of the most sensitive and subtle musical phrasings of the concert. Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” with saxophone soloist Heidi Radtke, and Sinatra’s signature tune “My Way” with lyrics by Paul Anka brought the first act to a close leaving most of the audience amazed that an hour had already passed and cheering for more.

The second act picked up exactly where the first ended with the Cole Porter standard “Night and Day” and then Erwin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year.” In this ballad, DeSare demonstrated his growing maturity as a storyteller using his laid back vocal style to invite the audience to journey with him through the story of the song. This continued with his conversational banter with the audience between songs and then in his piano stylings on the Irving Berlin classic “I Love a Piano.” Incorporating “boogie woogie” Gershwin melodies and another Berlin hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” DeSare had them cheering for more again and again.

This opening concert of the Philharmonic’s 33rd season contained the three main elements that have shaped the growth and development of this musical gem in the Columbus community: outstanding world class guest artists, rapturous artistically performed repertoire and leadership from the podium that is both collaborative and inspirational.

J. Kevin Butler is a graduate of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and was a high school choral director for more than 20 years. He is currently director of music for the First United Methodist Church of Columbus.

J. Kevin Butler, The Republic
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