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October 8, 2008 > A thrilling tribute to American music

A thrilling tribute to American music

Fremont Symphony's Pops Concert makes a splash

By Judy Salamon

On Saturday, September 27, the Fremont Symphony opened its 45th season with a rousing and moving pops concert. The program, conducted by music director David Sloss, paid homage to the genius of modern American composers and songwriters George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, Kurt Weill and Irving Berlin. The orchestra was joined by guest vocalists Trente Morant, Brian Keith Johnson, and a young soprano destined for stardom, NaGuanda Nobles. The nearly sold-out season opener attested to the growing popularity of the Fremont Symphony, which once again thrilled a loyal and enthusiastic audience.

The first half of the program featured mostly the orchestra, with such toe-tapping melodies as Gershwin's "Strike up the Band", and Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as well as the more pensive "Symphonic Nocturne" by Kurt Weill from the musical "Lady in the Dark." One of the most striking features of David Sloss' conducting was his control over the orchestra's surprisingly wide dynamic range. True to tradition, Sloss' characteristically entertaining introductions of each piece from the stage rendered them all the more accessible and appealing. Trente Morant and Keith Brian Johnson joined the orchestra for selections during the first portion of the program. The highlight of the evening, however, was the second half of the program consisting entirely of selections from Gershwin's great American opera, Porgy and Bess with NaGuanda Nobles as Bess, Keith Brian Johnson as Porgy, and Trente Morant as the colorful character Sportin' Life.

Morant engaged the audience from the moment he walked onto the stage with "All the Things You Are." It was not necessary to read the program notes to realize his background in musical theater and jazz. His style ranges from deep chest tones to falsetto. Clearly a master of improvisation and innovative phrasing, Trente Morant also showed off his conducting skills by leading the audience as the chorus in a comical rendition of "It Ain't Necessarily So."

Keith Brian Johnson's baritone voice is captivating in the lower registers and gripping in the upper extremes. He won audience's affection with a rather emotional "Ol' Man River" in the first half of the program, and as an endearing Porgy in the second.

But the public truly fell under the spell of NaGuanda Nobles from the first note of "Summertime" with a voice of blue-velvet-richness and silky brilliance. NaGuanda Nobles' control, expressiveness, and stage presence were all the signs of a great performer seasoned beyond her years. It is no wonder that she has won two prestigious vocal competitions in 2008 alone.

Once again, Fremont Symphony Orchestra has raised the bar by bringing artists of the highest caliber to Fremont for a truly memorable concert. Following this taste of opera on opening night, the symphony's next concert will be a fully-staged ballet - none other than Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" on December 5-7.

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