PEORIA, IL -- The famed Ramsey Lewis Trio, a superb jazz group, played with the Peoria Symphony Orchestra at the Sept. 17 opening concert of its 2016-17 season, creating a brilliant evening of fusion rarely seen anywhere.
The concert opened with Lewis' Concerto for Jazz Trio and Orchestra, a 45-minute romantic piece of mostly soft jazz with symphonic sounds. Traditional classical music rules were suspended, as the Peoria Civic Center theater audience clapped between movements and after jazz improvisations within the symphony from the trio members. Lewis is the pianist.
The piece received the first of three standing ovations during the evening. Audience members praised the concerto during the intermission. The percussion sounds were great, said one. "He has a beautiful touch on the keyboard."
"It was very impressive," said Linda Ringsby. "I told my daughter I'm going to hear real musicians tonight, nothing electronic."
"I was entranced," said Dan Callahan.
After the intermission, conductor/music director George Stelluto interviewed Lewis briefly, and Lewis told of growing up in Chicago where he began learning music as a child. He attended a public high school, he said, which offered many different musical and arts groups, even ballet. "I don't know what happened to the public schools in terms of the arts," he said.
Stelluto responded, "this is a testament to the great education that was publicly funded, thank you," to applause.
The next three pieces were selected by Lewis, who had classical music training, Stelluto said. They were Romance No. 2 in F Major for Violin and Orchestra by Beethoven, then the Etude Op. 25. No. 1 by Chopin featuring piano soloist Elizabeth Lindqwister.
She is a Richwood High School senior and apparent musical prodigy. She received a standing ovation, and for an encore played Chopin's flashy and difficult Impromptu Fantasy.
That was followed by Ravel's Mother Goose Suite - The Fairy Garden.
To top off the evening, Lewis and his trio then did a lengthy jazz set with pieces including Satin Doll by Duke Ellington; Body and Soul; a medley of several jazz pieces, a blues piece and a gospel piece, all done with expertise and interesting jazz styles. A third standing ovation ensued.
It was a most interesting and memorable concert.
-- Elaine Hopkins
(Note -- the program misstated Ravel's birth and death dates. He lived from 1875 - 1937.)