Conductor Bob Bernhardt & Ben Folds
The Ben Folds Orchestra Experience
Conductor, Bob Bernhardt
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
L.O. WOW! That about sums up the incredible evening of music that I got to share with thousands of others at Whitney Hall Saturday night.
If you are not familiar with Ben Folds let me introduce you. Aside from being a multi-platinum selling singer/songwriter and producer, he is also well known and respected as a composer and collaborator. His credits go well beyond the pop hits that he is known for including Doc Pomus and You Don’t Know Me, a duet with Regina Spektor.
As a self-made musician, having learned to play piano just by listening to the recordings of Billy Joel and Elton John, he made it evident that he has an affinity for the sounds and abilities of many instruments, thus his collaborations with orchestras throughout the world. And let me say this, we need more musicians like Mr. Folds.
As I sat and listened to our Louisville Orchestra and Mr. Folds work in tandem, not to mention the octet that Mr. Folds brought with him to fill in harmonies and percussion to add more “oomph”, I was awed. From the first strike of chords on the piano for Effington I knew that we were in for a ride. And believe me, you didn’t want to be buckled in for this one.
‘High energy’ barely scratches the surface of the evening and Mr. Folds’ piano abilities are something to behold. I dare say that he has pianos in recuperative states after each concert. Throughout the evening I heard and watched Mr. Folds extend the reach of what a piano is able to do and with much enthusiasm. So much so that he paused and took Band-Aids off his fingers, explaining to the audience that he plays so hard that if he didn’t cushion his fingertips that he would lose fingernails more often than he already does. He wasn’t kidding.
The rapport that Mr. Folds has with the audience almost makes you feel like you are in a more intimate setting, including effortless joking around and even a bit of cursing from time to time. Of course his fans expect this of him and several times I heard calls from the audience stating, “well, that sounded pretty good” or “that didn’t sound too bad”.
One of the inside jokes among those that follow Mr. Folds is when someone shouts out “Rock This Bitch”. As it was explained to those that were not familiar with the story, a heckler shouted that out at a concert and from that time on Mr. Folds had pledged to improvise a new version, on the spot. Let me tell you, this was musicianship and collaboration unlike I had seen or heard in a while. After spotting the gentleman who made the call, Mr. Folds asked some questions and came to name his newly improvised song, Broke Ass Man. He walked away from the piano for a second, while the orchestra looked around and when he returned he began to play around with some chords. Within seconds he assigned a chord progression to woodwinds, starting at Concert G and arpeggios, with a pulsing beat from percussion, quickly building up to the bottom strings, to brass to top strings. Of course through it all there were a few what he would consider missteps and would quickly correct them and before you knew it there was a new song, complete with a brave saxophone solo. Yes, that was special.
Mr. Folds’ inspiration for his songs can be the usual and oftentimes unique, but they are rarely boring. His compositions are not for the beginner and that is one of the reasons he is so respected. He often credits the Louisville Orchestra for their musicianship, even saying while most of us were out learning how to drive or going on double dates to the movies, musicians were holed up in their bedrooms, mastering their craft and/or instrument, as is evident in each and every member’s musicality. I absolutely agree.
One of the highlights for me personally was his Piano Concerto Movement No. 3. I wanted all of the movements. His comedic, yet not-far-from-the-truth, explanation of what a concerto is will stick with me for a while. I may even have to borrow it for a class one day. The Concerto utilized every person on the stage and got your heart beating and your toe tapping. At times it was reminiscent of The Beatles’ A Day in the Life.
Shortly before his encore, Mr. Folds told the audience of the importance of the orchestra and its contribution to civilization. That an orchestra and the Arts are central and have great importance to our culture and he has the hope that his music opens a pathway for more audiences to fill the concert hall and instill even better musicians.
I believe that it is starting to happen Ben.
The Ben Folds Orchestra Experience
January 31, 2015
Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Broadway
Louisville, KY 40202
[box_light]Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.[/box_light]