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Orchestra shines with 'Starry' finale

The Rochester Symphony’s final concert of the season at Mayo Civic Center Saturday night was aptly named; it was indeed a "Starry Night" outside after the final notes had sounded.

The jazzy season-closer — 12 star-themed tunes written or especially arranged for singer Jackie Allen and her jazz trio — could as well have been called "star-struck." Everyone went away happy, sated by the classy and sophisticated menu and licking their chops for next season.

Adding to the "Starry Night" program, Lantz began each half of the evening with the orchestra alone. He set the hall’s upbeat mood with "International Dixieland Jamboree," a tastefully rousing three-song medley taken at a relaxed tempo.

A surprisingly moving and interesting visit back to the Starship Enterprise — "Star Trek through the Years" — announced the second half. Both choices — not terribly difficult, but well chosen and thoughtfully done — highlighted the orchestra’s warmly expressive strings, bullet-precise percussion and dexterous choral brass.

A pre-intermission treat was the winner of this year’s Aspiring Conductor fundraiser. Anne Judisch, a 50-year veteran of the orchestra, conducted the finale from Igor Stravinsky’s "Firebird." It was a triple win, as the audience, Judisch and orchestra all enjoyed it and gave their very best.

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Allen and her combo — Michael Kocour on piano, Hans Sturm on bass and Dane Richeson on percussion — were breathtaking. They made Presentation Hall as intimate as a smoky New York jazz club.

Her sultry fluidity bewitched her audience, which applauded and cheered vigorously at key points.

The orchestra’s challenge was to "accompany" Allen and her trio; dipping in and out of jazz combo riffs is no mean feat. Being unobtrusive is not easy, and the seamless grace and panache with which the orchestra managed its various transitions, and did so musically, was impressive.

A few stars stood out in this galaxy of songs. The opener, "Lazy Afternoon," showcased Richeson’s talents on the African Mbira, building to a languid, breathless quartet of utter dreaminess.

"Turnin’ Round," by bassist Sturm, was a brilliant rockin’ pun play, and "Do Wrong Shoes" was a sassy bluesy rant on the power of a woman’s best friend — stiletto heels.

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