By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Muse-ique; Rachael Worby, conductor
Saturday, July 14, 2012 • Caltech’s Beckman Mall, Pasadena
Next performances: Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval joined conductor Rachael and Muse-ique in the ensemble's program last night at Caltech's Beckman Mall.
One of the surprising Southern California classical music discoveries last summer was Caltech’s Beckman Mall (aka The Olive Grove — the lawn just south of Beckman Auditorium and between two multistory concrete buildings) as an intimate outdoor music venue with a sound-chamber feel. Muse-ique, the new ensemble formed by former Pasadena Pops music director Rachael Worby, unveiled it last year and this summer they’re back for two concerts, the first of which was last night.
Muse-que is unique because Worby is unique. From the quirky printed program (8.75” by 4”, loose-leaf, held together by a metal brad) to the evening’s format (90 minutes without an intermission), to the casual feel (the 36 orchestral musicians dressed in casual clothes, many of them standing throughout the concert), Muse-ique is a mash-up of musical genres and performers with Worby weaving multiple threads throughout the hour and a half. If something doesn’t turn out quite as she expected, she shrugs, chuckles and moves on. Although well choreographed, the evening has the feel of an informal jam session.
The main solo focus was Cuban-born trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, whose contributions included a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie (Sandoval has just released a new CD entitled Dear Dizzy, Every Day I Think of You, a tribute to the legendary trumpeter whom Sandoval called one of his mentors). Sandoval recounted how he first met Gillespie in Cuba and then sang wistfully and played with verve the title song from his new CD. He also tossed off a 45-second bebop vocal riff (shades of Bobby McFerrin), was less-than-sparkling as soloist in portions of Johann Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto, and concluded with a solo rendition of God Bless America.
The evening wasn’t all music. Actress Zilah Mendoza introduced the Gillespie set with her heart-felt rendition of the 1994 poem by Joy Jones, They Called Him Dizzy, But the Man Had Plenty Sense. Brian Brophy, head of Caltech’s Theater Arts, opened the evening with a rap offering that fused science with art (“We’re the ones using academically eligible students,” he joked of his department, a subtle dig at the school having incurred NCAA sanctions for using students on sports teams that didn’t meet that organization’s definition of eligibility). As is her wont, Worby held things together with distinctive commentary that melded educational tidbits with humor.
Although the amplification didn’t help the orchestra’s sound much, Violinist Roger Wilkie, Violist Shawn Mann, Keyboardist Alan Steinberger and Percussionist Jason Goodman delivered spiffy solo offerings throughout the evening.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.