The Phoenix Symphony will be offering a number of performances to get your summer started on a high note.
The first is “The Rat Pack!” April 27-29 at the Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix, which celebrates the music of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin. The 90-minute show features three Broadway veterans as they croon the classics of the Rat Pack, accompanied by an orchestra comprised of nearly 70 musicians and led by conductor Joseph Young.
“It’s not just the orchestra plays and the singers sing — there’s going to be a lot of interaction between the orchestra, singers and the audience to get them back into that kind of smoky, bar scene with these singers,” Young said. “I think it’s a lot of fun and it’s a different kind of experience if you haven’t seen this kind of show with the orchestra.”
This is Young’s second season with the Phoenix Symphony, having been a conductor at both John Hopkins University and the Buffalo Philharmonic in Buffalo, N.Y. He rehearsed with the soloists on Thursday and the orchestra for a mere two hours the morning of the show, which is both thrilling and daunting for Young.
“The only challenge is there’s a lot of music,” Young said. “I didn’t grow up in that era and a lot of conductors may not even need to look at the music or listen to the music because they know the songs so well. For me, I actually have to listen to the original recordings of the songs and really get to know some of (them).”
A few of his favorite songs from the show include “Black Magic” and “Mr. Bojangles” by Sammy Davis Jr., along with Sinatra’s “My Way,” which will be performed by all three soloists. Young believes the Rat Pack and their songs transcend age and appeal to many generations of people.
“I think the best part of it is it’s really music,” Young said. “This is music that’s not using any electronics or electric guitar — it’s just pure music, and I’m glad that this is a show everyone can relate to. They’re really going to bring us back to that time.”
Another big event is the two-week Rachmaninoff Festival beginning May 3, with performances at both the Symphony Hall and Scottsdale Center for the Arts. The festival will feature five concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a classical Russian composer at the turn of the 20th century.
“They’re among the most known pieces of music among classical music works,” Phoenix Symphony Music Director Michael Christie said. “The pieces are for that highly athletic, big, kind of weighty piano-playing technique. They just have this lush, compulsive lyricism that people go gaga over.”
The concertos will be played by Olga Kern, an award-winning Russian pianist who has played the works of Rachmaninoff across the country. She holds the distinction of being a Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner and has been widely lauded for her talent.
“The response, even years afterward, people are still buzzing about what she does with these pieces,” Christie said. “I think she’s renowned for playing this music, and she just has that pathos for this kind of music. The fact that she has done this before successfully is just the stamp of approval that this is a workable idea.”
Like “The Rat Pack!” performances before it, Christie believes that audiences will have a strong emotional response to the music of Rachmaninoff. He says the festival is a wonderful showing of what the Phoenix Symphony has to offer and hopes that audiences will continue to support their work.
“Even though it’s very big music and everybody on stage really has to give a lot, audience members still feel a very personal connection to it,” Christie said. “I think if there were lyrics to these pieces, they’d be very tender, very caressing and very probing lyrics in a way, like they could really dig into someone and the depths of their emotions.
“I think people’s imaginations really light up when they hear these pieces because of what he’s written and I think it’s really why he’s stood the test of time.”
For more information about the Phoenix Symphony or to purchase tickets, visit www.phoenixsymphony.org or call (602) 495-1999.