(Back to the Reviews Page)


February cold hit by Latin heat

Published Saturday February 11, 2012


February cold hit by Latin heat

By Todd von Kampen
WORLD-HERALD Correspondent

Lola, as children of the Disco Age will recall, could merengue and do the cha-cha. And though Omaha Symphony audiences will not hear Barry Manilow's "Copacabana" this weekend, the verse from that song says much about the delightful program they will hear and see.

"Hot! Hot! Hot!" — the symphony's pre-Valentine's Day concert — warmed a bitterly cold evening Friday with 15 spicy samples of dance music from the Caribbean and Latin America. In the process, guest conductor and pianist Victor Vanacore exposed the underlying beat that continuously renewed the Latin influence in American popular music from the 1950s into the 1990s.

Meanwhile, the husband-and-wife dance team of Andrzej and Jennifer Przybyl added their own vivid flavors as they expertly glided and twirled through one sultry dance after another. Omaha-area residents can taste the resulting south-of-the border brew at the Holland Performing Arts Center again at 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday.

The orchestrations by Vanacore, a Grammy-winning arranger and musical director, brought a succession of pop-music images to mind: Desi Arnaz (Ricky Ricardo in "I Love Lucy") from the 1950s, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass in the 1960s, the U.S. disco stars of the 1970s and Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine in the 1980s.

Swap out "disco" with that style's original name — the "Latin hustle" — and the connective tissue becomes even more audible. That fact was one of many interesting tidbits offered by Vanacore, who wears his love of music on his sleeve through an easy rapport with the audience and a relaxed, smiling yet passionate presence at the piano.

He sprung several musical surprises, beginning with a swinging version of Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" that segued into the 1980s hit "Hot Hot Hot." The midcentury jazz standard "What a Difference a Day Makes" became "La diferencia que hace un dia!" with a merengue beat. The slow, romantic section of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" became the basis for "Samba in Blue."

Vanacore's musical choices should remind listeners how easily one can spot the iconic Spanish melodies and cadences but how difficult it can be to separate their sometimes subtle variations for particular dances. Ditto with the dances, though the popularity of "Dancing With the Stars" undoubtedly will make that task easier for concertgoers who also are fans of the show.

The Przybyls took the stage every other song, including the encore of "Disco at the Pops." While Polish native Andrzej stuck with a black shirt, pants and shoes throughout, Jennifer dazzled the eyes with a succession of brightly colored dance outfits — red, black, yellow, blue, brown and gold and finally pinkish red.

Concertgoers will enjoy a succession of musical solos and duets from both local performers and Vanacore's traveling colleagues. One of the latter, trumpeter Joseph Scannella, announced bullfight-inspired passages in two numbers with a clear, strong tone. Symphony violinists Ann Beebe and Keith Plenert, meanwhile, evoked the romance of a Spanish or South American countryside in Isaac Albeniz's "Tango in D Major."

Guest percussionists J.B. Ferguson and Joey Gulizia, both of Omaha, were featured on a broad range of rhythm instruments. Rounding out Vanacore's backup band were electric bassist Lou Shoch and the conductor's son, drummer Victor Vanacore III.

"Hot! Hot! Hot!" should remind Omahans once more of the impressive virtuosity of styles that makes their symphony such a valuable asset.

Copyright ©2012 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved.


(Back to the Reviews Page)