The sixth season of the Henry Mancini Institute summer concert programs opened Friday night with a tribute to the organization's founder, Jack Elliott. It was an appropriate way to kick off a monthlong sequence of seminars, master classes, private study and free concerts for the program's 84 scholarship musicians from 62 U.S. cities and 15 countries.
Elliott, who died last year, established the organization in an effort to answer the primary question of what it takes to make a living as a professional musician in today's complex world. And his belief that the answer lies in providing young professionals with the tools to gain access to the multitude of contemporary musical genres was the underlying principle driving the successful achievements of HMI under his musical direction.
Saturday's program, in addition to showcasing some of Elliott's own music (something he never did for himself during his leadership tenure), made a mild effort to follow the same path. Works by Claus Ogerman, Dave Grusin and Patrick Williams (the institute's new music director) combined with the premiere of a composition by HMI participating composer Kyle Newmaster, an arrangement of Django Reinhardt's "Nuages" by pianist Roger Kellaway and Elliott's setting of some works by Louis Moreau Gottschalk to embrace elements of jazz, film and pop with a slight seasoning of classical music.
Virtually everything was performed with stylish enthusiasm by the youthful HMI Orchestra, which may be the finest ensemble in the institute's history.
With barely a week of rehearsing under their belts, they moved through the varied program with barely a misstep, capturing the dark, layered string textures of the second movement from Ogerman's "Lyric Suite" (which featured the fine flute work of Hubert Laws), jauntily romping thought the Gottschalk piece, and closing with a rousing, enthusiastic rendering of Mancini's theme from "Peter Gunn."
In addition to Laws and Kellaway, other headliners included pianist Grusin, guitarist Lee Ritenour and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta in a warm performance of Grusin's "Three Cowboy Songs," and the superb young violinist Yue Deng's interpretation of "Nuages."
The real stars of the concert, however, were the HMI Orchestra members. Were Elliott still alive, he undoubtedly would have sensed the high skill levels of this year's players, and raised the bar of his programming accordingly