Grand Rapids Symphony Performance Reviews


GR Symphony, dancers sizzle

by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk | The Grand Rapids Press

Friday January 16, 2009, 11:41 PM

GRAND RAPIDS -- It's a long way from here to Havana.

And in mid-January, it would be, oh, so sweet if Caribbean breezes were blowing this way.

But it was hot, hot, hot at DeVos Performance Hall on Friday for the Grand Rapids Symphony's Pops Series show titled "Hot! Hot! Hot! A Night at the Copa."

This was something different.

Guest artist Victor Vanacore, pianist, composer and raconteur, led the orchestra in a program with more Latin dances than you can shake a stick at, featuring a pair of dancers to shake a leg throughout.
Jennifer and Andrzej Przybyl perform the samba with the Grand Rapids Symphony Pops Series concert

Some 1,117 were in the audience to enjoy Andrzej and Jennifer Przybyl, husband and wife, dancing the cha-cha, jitterbug and Latin hustle.

Vanacore created the show flavored with bits of music by Leonard Bernstein, Carlos Santana, George Gershwin, Gloria Estefan, Aaron Copland, Chic Corea and many more -- thus proving the old adage, if you steal from one it's plagiarism, but if you steal from many, it's masterful research.

Pondering how the Grammy Award-winning arranger put the pieces together could boggle the mind. Rewriting "Rhapsody in Blue" as a Brazilian samba or casting "Fanfare for the Common Man" as a salsa wouldn't have occurred to Gershwin or Copland in their wildest dreams.

Victor Vanacore directs the Grand Rapids Symphony in its Pops Series show, "Hot! Hot! Hot!
A Night at the Copa.
The Grand Rapids Symphony, clearly enjoying the wild ride, gave an impressive performance, especially given just a single rehearsal to pull it together. They did a nice job with an Isaac Albeniz Tango in D major and blew the roof off with a medley titled "Viva El Mambo."

The Przybyls, professional dancers and competition champions from Detroit, were mesmerizing with the merengue and scorching with the mambo among nine dances, not to mention seven eye-catching costume changes for Jennifer Przybyl.

Friday's audience had a good time, clapping along with the theme from "American Bandstand" and enjoying the encore, a disco medley including "I Will Survive" and "Last Dance."

Vanacore was here in 2006, in a lower-key capacity, at the Grand Rapids Symphony's Picnic Pops with vocalist Steve Lippia and a swinging show titled "Simply Sinatra."

This one was simply sizzling.

From Audience Members' iReviews:

After attending last Friday's Grand Rapids Symphony "Hot! Hot! Hot! A Night at the Copa," I dusted my guitar off after nearly 22 years in storage.

Featured that evening was Latin music and dancing, with tunes arranged and conducted by Grammy Award Winner, Victor Vanacore. Professional dancers Andrzej and Jennifer Przybyl, husband and wife from the Detroit area, "wowed" us with the salsa, merengue, mambo, cha-cha, tango and samba! It was spectacular to see them with their perfectly executed dancing. I did not witness a mis-step the entire evening and Betsy enjoyed Jennifer's costumes!

My favorite pieces of the evening were: Vanacore's arrangements of the Star Spangled Banner, Oye Como Va (Santana), Jarabe Tapatio (Mexican Hat Dance) and South Beach Soul. The encore was a fun medley of "I Will Survive," "The Last Dance," and "YMCA!" I learned so much listening to Mr. Vanacore chat between pieces. He was intelligent, funny, and extremely talented! Program notes outlined his career accomplishments which include: keyboardist, arranger and conductor for the Jackson Five back in the 70's, along with directing, arranging and touring with such greats as Johnny Mathis, Barry Manilow and Ray Charles. Impressive!!

That's it for today's post. I'm off to practice my guitar.

We decided to risk the change in dynamics and took the boys along to Saturday night's not-to-miss performance.  Victor Vanacore, a Grammy winning composer, conductor, and pianist, who has worked with Ray Charles, The Jackson 5, Johnny Mathis, and Barry Manilow, brought his show of salsa and mambo music to our little corner of the world.  He wowed us with his enthusiasm and energy.  He inspired us with his dedication and excitement.  He made us want to move to the Caribbean to hear more of this delightful sound.  

We were banking on this delightfulness, of course.  We hoped that by taking them to hear salsa and mambo, we'd up the odds of them actually enjoying the show, much more so than if we took them to a traditional night with straight-up classical tunes.  It was the perfect opportunity to ease them in with something a little more uptempo and fun.  Our youngest plays my old steel drum band CD endlessly, so we knew he'd like it.  Our eldest loved it, too.  He's taken piano for years and is learning the drums at school, so he has a good deal of appreciation for just how much practice goes into getting those notes exactly right.  Our second son pretty much just endured it, dropping his head to his hands every now and then, wondering when this was all going to end.  Because we're not above a little bribery, we indulged him with Sierra Mist and lifesavers at intermission.  This simple act went a long way towards boosting his spirits and may have given us another chance at taking him again.

In the end, however, there was an entirely unexpected bonus to the night.  As we watched Victor Vanacore play and lead and thoroughly enjoy himself, my eldest son remarked "I think he's having the most fun of anyone here." I think he was right.  You couldn't help but to be awed by this man's verve.  He loves his job, he loves his job, he loves his job.  It was that evident.  I'm fairly certain that given the choice to go back and do it all over again, he'd end up in exactly the same place.

The opportunity to see that lesson in practice--find your passion, follow your dream, develop your strengths--was priceless.  Our boys didn't have to listen to a lecture from us about the value of finding your passion.  They saw it with their own eyes.  We didn't sit them down and say "Work hard boys.  Follow your hearts and you will find your calling."  Nope.  We didn't have to say a thing.  As our boys sat there watching and listening, they got to experience Victor Vanacore radiate love for his profession first-hand.  They heard him talk about the early struggles and they heard him talk about winning a Grammy.  And they watched him conduct and play with joy that was palpable. Thank you Mr. Vanacore.  That lesson alone was worth every bit of cajoling it took to get the oxfords buttoned, the khakis worn, and the loafers on.

It has been years since I've been to the symphony. I loved to go when I lived in Portland. I took my boys to the kids' concert series there when they were little-The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, OR. Loved it. Then, we moved to Paducah, KY and I remember going a few times. The concert hall there was incredibly cold and drafty as I recall and had seats that were so uncomfortable you almost couldn't sit through a performance! DeVos place in Grand Rapids is very nice, however, and I had no idea what a treat I was in for!

This performance was part of the Fox Motors Pops series, guest conducted by Victor Vanacore, themed Hot!Hot!Hot! Night at the Copa. I am now obsessed with Victor Vanacore. He's high energy, talented, happy, fun, and just a spectacular pianist and performer.

Such personality! Mr. Vanacore knows how to connect on a deeper level with an audience. You can tell that he loves his work. He has a good time doing what he does. I can honestly say that I've never had a better or more lively time at the symphony! Victor Vanacore has worked with Ray Charles, Barry Manilow, Johnny Mathis, the Jackson Five, and many more big names. Google him sometime and you will be impressed with all that he has done! The guy's a genius. The program included music by Carlos Santana, Gloria Estefan, Chick Corea, and many other greats which Mr. Vanacore has tweaked and arranged brilliantly.

I was just enthralled! Believe me, I will be watching and listening for his work from now on! Mr. Vanacore does have a CD out called American Standard Time. Check it out!

To top it all off, two extremely gifted dancers, Andrzej and Jennifer Przybyl, husband and wife, National Champions from Detroit, mesmerized all of us throughout the concert with their Latin dance moves. Oh, they were hot, hot, hot!!! If you love watching Dancing With the Stars, you would have gone completely crazy for these two! It was eyecandy of the highest caliber! The combination of glorious sound and the magnificent dancing were nearly orgasmic...hehe! I'll never tell..

.All of that rapture built up a powerful appetite. So, Patricia and I capped off the day with a scrumptious meal at Red Lobster. Haven't been there in ages. Not sure how many points that added up to be-yikes! Made it back to the Little House on the Frozen Tundra. Surrounded by my dogs and cats and warmed by a rip-roaring fire, I think I'll call it a night! Hopefully tonight I can finally finish reading The Shack. News at 11.

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