Cole Porter Celebration: a bygone era of music and opulence

Lia Weitzel and Daniel Comarmond from the Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus

The glitz and glamour of the 1920s will come alive on Sydney Harbour when the Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus and Orchestra celebrates the music of Cole Porter this week.

Under the inspired guidance of conductor Brett Weymark some of America’s most famous tunes will be performed in a concert that captures the bygone era of New York Upper East Side apartments and decadent cocktail parties.

A wide selection of Cole Porter’s greatest hits will be performed with a large chorus, a full orchestra and a line-up of musical theatre stars over two rich performances.

Young soloists – baritone Rob Mallett, mezzo soprano Kerrie Anne Greenland, tenor Caleb Vines and soprano Julie Lea Goodwin – join the much feted Festival Chorus and Orchestra to belt out classics such as  “I Get a Kick Out of You” “Night and Day”, “Anything Goes”, “Begin the Beguine” and “Blow Gabriel Blow”.

Ranked as of one of the world’s greatest composers, Porter’s witty lyrics, poignant emotions and wonderful melodies have become favourites worldwide.

“Porter’s melodies are addictive,” says Rob Mallet who has recently toured nationally as Buck in Hot Shoe Shuffle. “The wit in his lyrics is magical and relevant today. I feel as rich as he was when I sing them. “

Mezzo soprano Kerrie Anne Greenland rates him as her favourite composer of all time.  “His lyrics are timeless, sophisticated and witty and I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to sing some of his best work.”

Conductor Brett Wemark

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs music director and conductor Brett Weymark said the Cole Porter Celebration repeats the union of musical theatre and choral music that was so successful at the Sydney Opera House in May last year.

“In our foray last year into musical theatre we did Rodgers & Hammerstein with My Favourite Things. The audience loved it so we are doing another glamorous glitzy concert with a big orchestra but we chose Cole Porter this year, “ Weymark said. “Cole Porter’s songs are a record of time of decadence and exuberance. They are urbane, witty and at times, darn right rude.”

And this kind of concert is a “very different beast”.

“It’s much less like a formal concert where no-one applauds until the end. There’s a lot more glitz and glamour and the performers engage more with each number.

“This has a different energy – it’s pure entertainment. For this the soloists really have to grab the audience’s attention. We have to remember that it’s also about the lyrics and we don’t want the music to get in the way.”

The versatile choir is not at all thrown from being in Melbourne one day performing an orchestral symphonic choral work such as a Requiem and the next day tackling 1920s to 1950s jazz. It just requires adding a “little bit of swing”.

“We all have a little background in jazz. All musicians would need to have been living in a vacuum if they didn’t know this music. For this concert it’s about the style that is so unique to Cole Porter,” Weymark said. “It’s about going back to the beginning of the big American jazz bands and tapping into that tradition.”

But this challenge is what makes it so much fun for Weymark who has spent a lot of time before rehearsals thinking about what might come up and how he should approach it as conductor.

“Because it is jazz, instrumentalists need to play a little melody and you need to conduct it in a more free flowing way – you don’t conduct it like you would conduct baroque music. Jazz does not have a conductor so the musicians need to listen to each other a bit more.”

The Cole Porter Celebration is at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, on Thursday September 19 at 8pm and Saturday September 21 at 2pm. For more information and to book visit the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs website.


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