It was probably the first time in classical music history that anyone has taken 41 minutes to perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
That American masterpiece can usually be dispatched in less than 20 minutes. But at the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s Concerts in the Garden performance in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden on Sunday night, the jazzy work for piano and orchestra was sent into overtime by a power failure that darkened the stage and silenced the sound system.
“You can’t play it if you can’t see it,” guest conductor Jeff Tyzik shouted to those within earshot of the stage, alluding to the musicians who could not read their scores because the lights on their music stands had gone out along with everything else.
The power outage, which FWSO officials said occurred for unknown reasons, could hardly have happened at a worse time. Tyzik, the orchestra and pianist Andrew Staupe were in the midst of an electrifying (probably a poor choice of words) performance of the famous 1924 work, which was the centerpiece of an all-Gershwin concert dubbed “Gershwin in the Garden,” when all fell dark and quiet. There was then an 18-minute pause while the backup electrical system warmed up.
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“I never thought I would play ‘Rhapsody in Blackout,’ ” quipped Staupe when he returned to the bench to complete the piece once the lights and sound returned.
Before the power failure, the performance was a joy to behold. Tyzik’s attention to detail provided a reading of the work that vividly revealed the parts of the whole. A number of the symphony players distinguished themselves at various points, especially in the wind and brass sections. And Staupe utilized a slightly darker tone than is usually heard in this piece, which resulted in a bit more heft, while he also maintained an appropriate playfulness in his approach.
After the unplanned break, Tyzik and Staupe gamely picked up where they had left off and offered the final six minutes of the piece. But by that point, the thrill was gone.
Then the less-than-fascinating rhythms of the concert were further upset when a 20-minute intermission was taken as planned, even though we all felt we had just done that.
It was especially a shame that the technical glitch had to mar this concert, which was one of the rare CITG performances that promised something close to what we might hear the symphony do at Bass Hall. Tyzik and the orchestra worked extremely well together throughout the concert, which was presented under absolutely perfect weather conditions (unlike Friday night’s series-opening concert, for which concertgoers had to tromp through muddy, swampy grounds).
But at least there was no lack of power when the other guest artist on the program, musical theater singer Doug LaBrecque, held forth. He was featured on several of Gershwin’s better-known songs, and was most impressive in They Can’t Take That Away From Me and Swanee. He sold both of those numbers with real verve.
The concert also featured two overtures from Gershwin musicals, Girl Crazy and Funny Face, and the concert work Cuban Overture. All the works on the program were appealing, and the concise and informative introductions added by Tyzik made them even more interesting.
Also deserving kudos was the crowd of about 2,000 (an unusually large attendance for a Sunday performance), which took the power failure in stride and stayed with the concert through the brief fireworks display that accompanied the closing Cuban Overture.
The only surprise of the evening (other than our cast into darkness) was that the well-traveled Staupe was introduced as making his Fort Worth debut in this concert. Before Sunday night, I was certain that every pianist who had advanced beyond Chopsticks had played in the city at some time or another.
Concerts in the Garden
- Through July 4
- Fort Worth Botanic Garden
- 8:15 p.m. (Gates open at 6:30 p.m.)
- $22-$60 (Children under 10 admitted free to lawn area)
- 817-665-6000; www.fwsymphony.org
- Next Concert: Friday, The Music of Pink Floyd