Tonight, conductor Larry Rachleff and the Rhode Island Philharmonic paid tribute to immigrant composers during its Ravishing Rachmaninoff concert at The VETS. 

When Rachleff took the stage to lead the orchestra in a rousing rendition of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's Carnival Overture, op.92, B 169, it quickly became apparent that we were watching a skilled maestro as he set the tempo of the ensemble.

As I looked around the theater, the audience watched with rapt attention to the composition and by the end of it, the crowd enthusiastically met the final note with deafening applause.

Rachleff then introduced us to the cabaret music of German composer Kurt Weill, which was sung by the very talented mezzo soprano, Susan Lorette Dunn (who also happens to be Rachleff's wife). "This performance will have limited amplification, like it did in the 1940s when these songs were written," Rachleff said.

Still, even as Dunn belted out torch songs like "A Stranger Here Myself" and "One Life to Live," it was clear that she didn't need much help in the amplification department. Her voice resonated throughout the theater, strong and clear.

My personal favorite was Dunn's performance of "The Saga of Jenny" from the Broadway musical Lady in the Dark, which was written with lyricist Ira Gershwin in 1941. It tells the story of a woman who lived and died by her own rules. Even now, 74 years after it was originally written, the song still seems very modern despite its jazzy roots.

The pièce de résistance, however, was saved for after intermission. Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, op.45 brings together the full body of his work in a triumphant bookend to a career of masterful music that is by turns as beautiful as it is dynamic.

The entire concert was brilliantly conceived, and the audience was in good hands as Rachleff took us on a journey from these immigrant composers' humble beginnings to the end of their careers, when they had all come to America and continued their life's work.

The casual listener was able to attend this evening's performance without much, if any knowledge about the work they would hear, and yet Rachleff joyfully taught all of us just a bit more about the music he so clearly loves.

So even if you may not think that classical music is for you, give it a chance on Saturday, April 11 when Rachleff returns to The VETS with Boléro! I promise if you give yourself over to it, the music will truly carry you away.

For more information about the Rhode Island Philharmonic, visit its home on the web for details about its other programs and upcoming season.

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