Berkeley Symphony blurs lines between jazz and classical

Christopher Rountree
San Francisco Chronicle

The combination of jazz and classical music can come about in a number of different ways. A composer might, roughly speaking, take an existing classical sensibility and graft jazz strains onto it, or conversely transmute an essentially jazz conception into classical dimensions.

The compelling concert program put on by the Berkeley Symphony on Sunday, March 24, offered examples of both — as well as pointing up, yet again, how limiting such dichotomies are.

Performing in UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall under guest conductor Christopher Rountree, the orchestra joined forces with the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble for two deftly matched examples of blurred stylistic boundaries. One was “Black, Brown and Beige,” Duke Ellington’s jazz tone poem in the orchestral version by Maurice Peress; the other was Sofia Gubaidulina’s “Concerto for Two Orchestras,” also known as “Concerto for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Band.”

Together, these works gave the audience plenty to listen to and chew on — thoughts about the nature of stylistic categories and about the outcome of blurring those boundaries. And Rountree, a Los Angeles musician who’s an adventurous boundary-buster himself, elicited vigorous, suave performances from all the assembled musicians.
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