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Review: SIMON SINGS PORGY AND BESS at Des Moines Symphony: A Jubilant Evening of Beautiful Music

Review: SIMON SINGS PORGY AND BESS at Des Moines Symphony: A Jubilant Evening of Beautiful Music

It is always a jubilant evening when I get to see the Des Moines Symphony, and their most recent concert was no different. I had the pleasure of attending the Saturday evening performance of "Simon Sings Porgy and Bess" and was treated to an evening of stunning music. One thing I appreciate about the Des Moines Symphony is the balance of repertoire with both familiar and new music, and this performance was no exception.

Maestro Joseph Guinta has led the Des Moines Symphony for 30 years. The animation he has when directing shows his joy and understanding of the music. It shows the joy and understanding he has of the music. He is also a conductor who is full of knowledge. I appreciate that he always has gems of information he provides that seems to tie all the pieces together and fits them into the overall theme of the season.

The evening opened with "Festive Overture" by Dmitri Shostakovich. There is something special about a song opening with the brass section that always grabs my attention. That may partially come from having played trombone through high school. The "Festive Overture" was the perfect way to start the evening. One of the things I appreciated about the song is that it highlights almost every section in the symphony.

The symphony continued with two arias to give the audience a glimpse of what was to come after the intermission. First was "Il Lacerato Spirito" from the opera "Simon Boccanegra" by Giuseppe Verdi. It was such a treat hearing Simon Estes sing this song. One of the gems of information Joseph Giunta shared was that this song was one of the first arias Simon Estes had learned while he was studying at Julliard which gave a personal insight to the audience. Simon didn't just sing the aria, he became the character onstage and sang as though he was in the opera.

The second aria we got the pleasure to hear was "Aint it a Pretty Night" from "Susannah" by Carlisle Floyd. This was another glimpse into the second part of the evening as it was sung by the stunning Janice Chandler-Eteme. She gave a beautiful performance of the song and had the audience in the palm of her hand the entire time she sang.

As the evening continued, we were treated to our dose of Leonard Bernstein for the night with his beautiful "Chichester Psalms." The "Chichester Psalms" takes the audience on a musical journey that shows the brilliance of Bernstein. Similarly to the Shostakovich "Festive Overture", this grabbed my attention by starting with the Symphony's brass section. This time it was the powerful Nordic Choir from Luther College under the direction of Andrew Last. The opening was an absolute joy to listen to, which is very fitting as the text used is one of the most joyous Psalms.

The second movement may have been my favorite movement of the piece because it showed the genius of Bernstein with a balance of peaceful music with 23rd Psalm sung with a boy soprano and part way through goes to tumultuous music with the 2nd psalm. The 23rd Psalm was sung beautifully by boy soprano Anthony Petruconis. I was impressed at how powerful of a voice Anthony had. It is not the voice you would expect to hear from a 5th-grade student. He showed such control and restraint as he sang.

There is nothing more jubilant to me than hearing a choir and symphony perform together. I must give Maestro Giunta credit for honoring all of the amazing college choirs in Iowa. Each season he usually has at least one choral piece and he usually asks different choirs each time. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to hear many choirs I would not have otherwise heard. These performances make such an impact on the students that get to perform. I still remember in 2003 when the choir I was in was invited to sing Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

The evening ended with selections from George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess." While the audience was enthusiastic and grateful for the music earlier in the evening, the response to this section showed it was what the audience felt was the main event of the night. Unlike most pieces at a symphony where they do each movement and then the audience claps, the audience couldn't help but applaud after every song. What impressed me most about this was that I felt like I was at a production of "Porgy and Bess" thanks to the amazing performances by Simon Estes and Janice Chandler-Eteme. They both had great chemistry and played well off each other. My favorite part had to be Simon Estes singing "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'". I found myself smiling from the moment he started singing.

Overall, this was another beautiful evening of music, which you can always expect when going to a concert with the Des Moines Symphony. The wide range of music gave everyone at the concert something they could enjoy. The symphony has two not to be missed concerts coming up in May. On May 11, they will be presenting Brian Stokes Mitchell and Megan Hilty in Concert. This is the 5th collaboration with Des Moines Performing Arts to bring in some of the best singers from Broadway. Megan Hilty played Glinda in "Wicked" and was also seen on the small screen as Ivy Lynn in "Smash." Brian Stokes Mitchell has been in some of the most well-known shows on Broadway such as "Man of La Mancha" and "Ragtime." He has also provided his voice on the big screen as the singing voice for Jethro in "The Prince of Egypt." This will be an evening of music you won't want to miss.

Then the symphony will close their season with "Season Finale: West Side Story." This will be on May 18 and 19. Besides selections from Bernstein's "West Side Story," the evening will also feature music by Rossini and Respighi. A highlight of the first half will be a performance by Korngold's "Violin Concerto in D Major" featuring guest violinist Philippe Quint in his return to the Des Moines Symphony.

To purchase tickets to the Des Moines Symphony concerts, visit

The Des Moines Symphony has also announced their 2019-2020 Season

Des Moines Symphony MasterWorks Concerts

Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky
September 21-22

Symphony in Sculpture
October 12-13

Grieg and Dvorak
November 9-10

Mendelssohn and Brahms
February 8-9

Carmina Burana
March 14-15

April in Paris
April 18-19

Season Finale: The Firebird
May 9-10

Des Moines Symphony Pops Concerts
Pops; Havana Nights
October 26

Home Alone In Concert
November 30-December 1

NYE Pops: Cirque at the Symphony
December 31

Bernadette Peters in Concert
April 4

To find out more about the Des Moines Symphony and all their upcoming events visit

From This Author - DC Felton

David Felton has been involved in theatre since his middle school production of The Wizard of Oz. Throughout high school he stayed onstage, and once he got to college he started exploring thebackst... (read more about this author)

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