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Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra conducts Soul Legends concert

By Troy Hasselman, Feburary 14, 2019

As conductor Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser pointed out towards the end of the performance of Soul Legends: From Isaac Hayes to Marvin Gaye with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, orchestral arrangements have always been a part of soul music. From the wall-of-sound-style production flourishes of Motown Records, the soaring strings of Isaac Hayes’s early LPs with Stax Records to the swirling horns and orchestration of Philadelphia soul, the concept of an orchestra performing soul hits is highly fitting.

What set apart the Feb. 9 performance from a simple retread of popular songs was the wide breadth of genres and time periods covered throughout the night. Soul, funk, R&B, disco and pop were all tethered together by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra under Bartholomew-Poyser’s guiding hand and with the help of the group Jeans n’ Classics, lead by singer Gavin Hope.

Bartholomew-Poyser is a Calgary-born conductor who graduated from William Aberhart High School and the University of Calgary. He taught in the city for several years before becoming a conductor with orchestras across the country. Bartholomew-Poyser made his Calgary debut with the Feb. 9 show, which proved to be a highly memorable and impactive performance in front of an incredibly receptive and enthusiastic crowd.

The evening began with an energetic rendition of Prince’s hit “1999” with the orchestration adding an extra layer of sound to compliment the synthesizer-based backbone of the song. From there, the performance ran through a series of recognizable classics from across different eras, including Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’s “Ooh Baby, Baby” and Outkast’s “Hey Ya.”

Hope kept a high-energy level throughout the performance by hitting a range of dances from the moonwalk to the floss and entertaining the audience with witty between-song banter, even challenging Bartholomew-Poyser to a flossing contest at one point in the show.

Hope’s virtuosic singing carried through the different styles and eras covered through the performance from his deep-baritone on Isaac Hayes’s “Theme from Shaft” to the falsetto of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” to his faithful reproduction of Luther Vandross’s velvet-laced vocals on “A House is Not a Home.” His vocals were supported by the superb harmonizing of fellow vocalists Rique Franks, Stephanie Martin and Kathryn Rose, along with the rest of the Jeans n’ Classics band.

The orchestra also proved highly adept at staying faithful to the originals while adding a new dimension to the songs produced, having a chance to showcase their prowess during a “Soul Train” medley and in the whirling string-sections of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.”

The audience remained engaged throughout the performance as they tried to match the energy and enthusiasm of the performers onstage. At several points in the show there were multiple audience members dancing in their chairs and in the aisles, as well as singing along throughout and shining their phone flashlights during the slower songs.

The performance of Soul Legends was highly memorable with all aspects of the performance contributing to its success.

For more information about upcoming events at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra or to buy tickets, visit their website.

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