Gershwin Galore! (a review)

It was a cold winter evening – frigid outside with the biting chill of January 15, the sun fast asleep long before the performance began. Traffic was heavy – headlights on, horns honking, street lamps dim in the dark – pond rippling with moonshine, reflecting the starlight in its glassy surface. The Sacramento Syncopators were here again, back at their favorite home venue – the main auditorium at Eskaton Village Carmichael – with both of the two pianos singing with anticipation, the big theater full of spectators eager for music. Last year’s Mostly Ragtime program had been a success; but this time the Syncopators came with something a little different, something a little more modern: Gershwin Galore – a program of Gershwin mixed with a handful of other contemporary composers, with a program sculpted to please.

The show kicked off with a fast-paced rendition of Gershwin’s first-ever instrumental composition, Rialto Ripples, soon followed by the seventeen minute, thirty-one page solo rendition of Gershwin’s hit Rhapsody in Blue (without the help of sheet music), as played by the emcee and host, Syncopators founder Alethea Sung-Miller. Richard Augustus Eriksson (“Augie”) followed up with his own gorgeous performance of Gershwin’s first and second preludes, and an improvised, two-person duet of Fats Waller’s iconic Ain’t Misbehavin’, where Arthur Eriksson joined in the fun, adding a saxophone to the mix.

Next up – the Syncopators’ lovely composer, music major and senior member, Britta MacDonell, brought an even more modern repertoire to the stage, with three of her own, beautiful compositions – Evening, Winter Walk, and For a Friend – followed by ragtime favorite Diego Bustamante’s gold-medal rendition of Eubie Blake’s classic Baltimore Todolo. Sarah Krulder, the angelic vocalist of the group, finished off with Gershwin’s famous Summertime from Porgy and Bess – a piece well-suited to fend off the winter cold – and Over the Rainbow from the hit Broadway musical version of The Wizard of Oz.

But that wasn’t all – the Syncopators, unbeknownst to the audience, had a surprise encore planned: a one hundred and seventy six key, forty finger, eight hand, four person, two piano improvisation of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag – with embellishments! Diego took the bass, playing the music as written, while Augie improvised the melody next to him, Arthur and Alethea manning the second piano across from the boys. In a whirlwind of music and notes, the encore ran from start to finish, and the Syncopators took one last, final bow, to the applause and approval of their wonderful audience.

And so the spectacle ended – for now. That’s all, folks! But stay tuned – the Syncopators have added two new members to their roster, and conspiring is the name of the game – you can bet they’ll be back soon with an even better plot this time! Till then, ta-ta!

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