Review: Lily & Madeleine, Time for Three, Tony Styxx with the ISO

January 24, 2014
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A warning to anyone over the age of 40: If you go to an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Happy Hour concert you are likely to feel like the oldest person in Hilbert Circle Theatre.

And that’s just fine with me.

Happy-Hour7.jpg Photos by Thomas Russo.

Caring about the future of symphonic music in Indianapolis means more than just hoping that younger audiences discover its pleasures. It means encouraging efforts to actually put the music in front of those elusive desirable demographics. And the ISO Happy Hour concerts—including the sell-out one on Jan. 23—seems to be doing just that.

You could argue that a significant percentage of the crowd was there for the socializing and the food and drink samples courtesy of Harry & Izzy, Stella Artois, Starbucks, White Castle (yes, White Castle) and more.  And you could argue that a high percentage of those who were there for the music came for rising star guest performers Lily & Madeleine.

But both arguments are irrelevant. The fact is, an audience was attracted and it got a chance to hear a terrific concert ornamented by ethereal pop and hip-hop but held together by the strength and talent of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. When it came time to offer applause, the cheers for the Symphony players were as loud as those for the guests. As sweet as it sounded.

So what happened?

Happy-Hour13.jpg Photos by Thomas Russo.

Well, the ISO lead things off with what at first seemed like a surprising choice—the slow, atmospheric, ultimately majestic “Nimrod” section of Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” But it proved an elegant tone-setter that segued neatly into a set for Lily & Madeleine and the ISO. The teen duo—whose debut album on Asthmatic Kitty Records has garnered international attention—paired “Back to the River” with “In the Middle,” following with “And Tonight” and “You Got Out,” where they were joined by Time for Three bassist Ranaan Meyer. Sometimes when folk and symphonic music join forces (see Nanci Griffith and others), an orchestra can add an air of pretense, reducing instead of enhancing the original. Only in “You Got Out” did it seem like they were gilding the, well, you know.

Tony Styxx took over for the next section of the concert and while his “Refuge” and “Grand Opening” were marred by muddy acoustics, the pairing of Meyer’s “Sundays” and Styxx’s “Wedding Vows” poem proved a sweet duo. Even stronger: Styxx, in beatbox mode, joined Time for Three for a breathtaking take on Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.”

Time for Three took the spotlight for its bouncy “Ecuador,” neatly turning the stage back over to the ISO for an aggressive take on the “Mambo” from “West Side Story.” All returned for a concert-closing version of Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” with edited lyrics. Even still, the small percentage of older folks in the audience may have squirmed a bit to hear the young performers repeating Kanye’s “We going all the way this time.” As sweet as it sounded.

Happy-Hour12.jpg Photos by Thomas Russo.
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  • "But both arguments are irrelevant."
    No they are not. While it is is indeed great that the Happy Hour events are wildly successful and draw a younger demographic, if they don't convert any of those folks to attendees at other ISO non Happy-Hour events, they may as well have been sponsored by an arts group in town. The Symphony has to build an audience base that includes younger attendees for its main concert offerings not just Happy Hour events if it is going to remain a viable and sustainable classical music option for Indy residents in the decades to come.

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