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    Concert review: Opus One a hit with Lucero

    Indie rockers close season with success

    By Jon W. Sparks - The Commercial Appeal -

    Opus One’s final concert of the season, performing with indie roots rockers Lucero, continued one thing it does consistently — break new ground.

    Thursday night’s concert at Minglewood Hall was what has now become a standard mix of programming, giving definition to Opus One as it closes out its third season.

    As before, Opus One relies on the extraordinary arranging talents of Sam Shoup and Jonathan Kirkscey. They split Lucero’s tunes and carved out arrangements that incorporated a fine symphonic sound.

    Shoup (arranging “Sounds of the City,” “What Else Would You Have Me Be” and “My Best Girl“) and Kirkscey (“Summer Song,” “I Can’t Stand to Leave You,” “Fistful of Tears,” “Last Pale Light in the West” and “That Much Further West“) understand classical music and local sounds so well that the mixes never sound trite or bland.

    Doing what Opus One does — collaborating and taking the show into unconventional venues — has risks. The sound is sometimes a casualty and Minglewood Hall, while good for Lucero, wasn’t friendly to the symphonic elements. The strings coming through the system sounded harsh, but as one musician said, at least you could hear them. True enough, as other performance spaces have killed the strings almost entirely.

    On the other hand, Minglewood does provide a nice light show.

    Opus One usually dispenses with a conductor, but the Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s associate conductor Stilian Kirov led the ensemble this time — sometimes the stage setup mandates having someone you can see at all times. Kirov led Opus One in a brisk Stravinsky’s “Ragtime” for 11 instruments — the oldest work on the program.

    A couple of other works done as Lucero was offstage were particularly intriguing. “String Circle,” Movements 1 and 5 by Kenji Bunch, was introduced to Memphis as a terrific and lively 2005 work.

    One of the most satisfying offerings of the evening was “Mad Cow” by David Carlisle, a percussion duet performed by MSO percussionist Carlisle and his wife, Adrienne Park, who is better known as the symphony’s principal pianist.

    The piece is inventive and captivating, a smart selection of styles ranging from Sumatran music to bebop and performed on a fairly amazing array of percussion: drums for sure, plus copper pipes, ceramic bowls, Chinese cymbals and gongs, an African djembe, and plenty more.

    This week, Opus One got a nice mention in a report by the Wall Street Journal on classical music organizations doing unconventional programming to bring in a new level of fans.

    It’s an acknowledgement that invention and collaboration are necessary to nurture audiences.

    Opus One will be announcing its new season soon. It’s an experiment and experience that is a clear success.