Okanagan Symphony Orchestra review: Madmen come to the Okanagan

Anita Perry is a symphony reviewer living in the Okanagan.

Jeans 'n classics performed with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra in Penticton

The Okanagan Symphony Orchestra’s recent concert was both electrified and electrifying.

Madmen Across the Water featured the music of Elton John as performed by Jeans ’n Classics, a rock ensemble comprised of Jean Mellieur on vocals, Paul Mutzabaugh on piano, Daryl Stacey on electric bass and Jeff Christmas on drums.

The magic of the evening was tangible as classic rock musicians played side-by-side with classically trained musicians. It was an exciting and novel experience for many audience members, some of whom were listening to orchestral music for the first time.

Read more: OSO hosting music of Elton John

The evening at the Penticton concert began with a lush rendition of Funeral for a Friend, arranged by Jean’s ’n Classics founder Peter Brennan. Afterwards, lead vocalist and emcee Jean Mellieur humbly confessed that he was unable to sing due to illness. While this was certainly true, what followed was clearly set up as a rather scruffy-looking man in the front row volunteered to sing in Mellieur’s place. This “chance encounter” was in fact with renowned Kelowna actor Rick Worrall who, with only six hours to prepare, filled in for Mellieur on a handful of numbers, capably sliding into character and into tune. Worrall did an admirable job of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Daniel, and scaling the heights to hit high notes on Rocket Man, despite being sick himself the previous week.

A particular treat was the emergence of Maestra Rosemary Thomson as rock star, when she stepped in to sing three lovely ballades. Thomson illustrated her innate understanding of all genres of music and it was a delight to witness such versatility. Thanks were given to Denis Colpitts for stepping in to take the baton while Thomson crooned on stage.

Of course, no rock concert is complete without some audience participation. Those attending enthusiastically joined in Crocodile Rock, while violinists Denis Letourneau and Susan Schaffer jived on stage. Who knew classical musicians were capable of such fancy footwork?

Of the evening’s hits, Honky Cat was a particular highlight. Mellieur was able to belt out this song, and captured its quirky and fun character.  As well, his rendition of Madman Across the Water was capable and polished, and Your Song was heartfelt.

After intermission, the Kelowna Secondary School Chamber Choir joined the orchestra to provide beautiful backup vocals. The choir then sang an arrangement of Bring Him Home from the musical, Les Miserables accompanied by Mutzabaugh, and a lovely acapella version of Danny Boy under the direction of Sheila French.

Special kudos to Paul Mutzabaugh who, as a pianist in an Elton John concert, held the show together. Kudos as well to Katie Rife for her excellent and accurate xylophone and vibraphone playing. As always, the entire orchestra was tight and polished in spite of last minute rearranging for the evening’s performance.

Jeans ’n Classics played and sang from the heart, illustrating that a musician is a musician, no matter the genre or the instrument, whether electric or acoustic.  It was also a testament to the high quality of professional and amateur performers in the Okanagan that this concert went on as scheduled, in spite of changes and substitutions.  Congratulations to administration and performers alike for this successful event — well done!

Anita Perry is a concert reviewer living in the Okanagan.



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