Cleveland Concert Review

screenshot_2016-10-10-09-30-56This past Saturday (October 8th, 2016), I had the pleasure of attending another Jackie Evancho concert at Cleveland Playhouse Square Ohio Theater.  This would be my 9th Jackie concert to date.  I had also attended Jackie’s performance at Cleveland Playhouse Square Palace Theater back in 2013 when she was 13 years old.  I was very happy that the now 16 year old Jackie came back to Playhouse Square for another concert since this is very close to home for me.  The entire Playhouse Square performing arts district in Cleveland is a wonderful collection of theaters and is the largest performing arts center outside of New York City (as is claimed on the Playhouse Square Wikipedia page).  The Ohio Theater is a beautiful venue and I was told by the staff that it had just recently been renovated this past year (2016).  It is a smaller theater compared to the Palace.  Ohio theater has a capacity of 1000 seats compared to the Palace at roughly around 2700 seats.  My wife and I had 3rd row seats in the Center Orchestra section of the theater.  This has always been one of my favorite places to sit for a Jackie concert.  Unfortunately there was no photography or video recording permitted for this concert so I do not have any media to share in that regard.

One of the first things that I noticed regarding this concert was that there wasn’t a live orchestra present to accompany Jackie.  Instead, the stage was set with a piano, assorted candles and various flower bouquets coupled with subdued lighting.  I could tell that this was going to be a different experience from other Jackie concerts I have attended.  The last time I saw Jackie perform was in 2015 at Pittsburgh.  The entire Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was there to accompany her at that concert, so it was a stark contrast to see the stage set in a very minimalistic way with no orchestra for the Cleveland concert.  Although Jackie is more than capable of singing amazingly no matter who is accompanying her, I have to admit that I was hoping to see her perform with orchestra again.  There is a certain grandeur to see Jackie as the feature artist with an orchestra.  I must say that I did miss that.  For this concert, Jackie would be accompanied solely by her music director Peter Kiesewalter.  Peter uses an array of computer-managed backing tracks with his piano playing to provided the accompaniment for Jackie.  It is an interesting setup and I often wonder how it is all coordinated.  It does work well, but I think there is something amiss to not have a contingency of live musicians as the source of the accompaniment.  After-all, that is the reason it is called a live show.  But, one can say that Jackie is the main attraction and the absence of a live orchestral accompaniment puts the focus more on her.  The backing-track sound system gives the effect of live accompaniment and Peter does a great job coordinating his playing with Jackie and the backing-tracks.  I can’t say that I am completely in favor of this new setup, but it was still a treat to be able to see Jackie perform live.

There was one aspect of the concert that was a disappointment for me.  Considering that the Ohio Theater is a 1000 seat venue, I would estimate that there was probably only around three to four hundred in attendance.  This was probably one of the lowest-attended Jackie concerts I have ever been to.  It was heartbreaking to see such a small crowd show up for such a talented singer like Jackie.  I don’t know if something went awry with the promotion of this concert, but I can’t fathom why more people wouldn’t show up to hear Jackie sing.  Maybe the recognition of her accomplishment on AGT has faded from the memories of the people who once attended her concerts in the past.  Or maybe the novelty of seeing a younger Jackie was more of a draw than an older teenage Jackie.  I don’t think any reason is good enough, because hearing Jackie live in concert is an amazing experience and is still well worth the price of admission, no matter what her age.  Her voice is more powerful and more beautiful than ever!  She is still a phenomenon who sings well above her age of 16!  Her voice is so captivating and it is always a pleasure to witness how she soars over notes using such expressiveness that tugs at my emotions.  Sure, there are some differences in Jackie’s current concerts compared to the past…. Gone is the little girl who would playfully twirl, skip, and giggle while on stage; Gone is the splendor of seeing s small child commanding the respect of a full orchestra.  Young girls eventually grow up and Jackie is certainly no different.  She has now grown up into a beautiful young adult with poise and professionalism that is beyond her teenage years.  Jackie still has some playful banter with the audience, but on a different maturity level from when she was younger.  She knows how to reach her audience in a personal and humbly profound way.  Time moves on and Jackie moves along with it.  Each phase of her life will bring another new dynamic to the experience of following her career and I feel blessed to be able to witness a part of her journey through life these past 6 years and beyond.

The music Jackie performed  consisted of many of the songs that she has sung in the past on her CDs titled Dream With Me, Songs From The Silver Screen, and Awakening.  Jackie also sang some new songs that were recorded this past summer and shared with fans via music videos on YouTube.  Although Jackie released a total of five new music videos this past year, she only performed two of the new songs from those videos at the concert.  This included Safe and Sound and Writings On The Wall.  The new songs that were absent from the set-list were All of The Stars, Apocalypse, and Coming Home.  I was really hoping to hear Jackie perform the song Apocalypse because it was an original song that was written just for her and it is very well done.  I am not quite sure why it wasn’t included on the program.  However, Jackie did perform a couple of new songs from her upcoming CD (soon to be released in the early part of 2017) that I had never heard before, so it was a treat to get a sneak peek at these songs.  The two new songs that she sung were a cover of Coldplay’s “Fix You” and a new original song titled “Think About Me.”   Although I don’t really care for the original Coldplay version of “Fix You,”  I really liked Jackie’s version of the song.  It isn’t unusual for Jackie to take an existing song and make it better with her exquisite vocals and her musical interpretation of the song.  The song “Think About Me” was very good too, but I think “Fix You” was more of my favorite.  Of course it was certainly wonderful to hear Jackie perform all of her past CD songs too.  There are so many great songs from her CD repertoire that it is hard to pick favorites.  However, for the first time, I got the chance to experience Jackie performing a very special song that is near and dear to me, and that is “Nessun Dorma.”  This song started me becoming a fan when I first saw the recording on YouTube of Jackie singing it for her PBS Great Performances special back in 2011.  I was so captivated at how she sang this song that I was moved to tears (as is the case with many of Jackie’s songs).  I described this in detail on my very first blog entry titled Why Do I Admire Jackie Evancho.  So, it was a huge treat for me to finally get to hear Jackie sing Nessun Dorma live.  Her performance of it was magnificent!

The entire experience of being at a Jackie Evancho concert is one-of-a-kind and it is always something that I will cherish each time I am fortunate to be able to attend.  This concert was no different in that regard.   I have said this before, but it can’t be said enough.  If you ever have the opportunity to see Jackie Evancho perform live in concert, do not pass it up!  She is enchanting, charming, and has a voice that will melt your heart.  Be sure to visit Jackie’s YouTube Channel and official website to find out more about her.

Advertisements

A new “Awakening” has begun

0a58a-10494853_10201201010827628_2705648538131479816_n255b1255dJackie Evancho has just released her 6th CD titled “Awakening.”  I had the privilege of receiving my copy of the CD a little over a week before the September 23rd release date.  I had pre-ordered my copy of the CD from Jackie Evancho’s website when the CD release date was announced.  I was pleasantly surprised when I received the e-mail notification that my CD had shipped and would arrive by September 15th.  Turns out, the shipping of the CD was more timely than the shipping tracking-number had indicated.  Instead of receiving the CD on the 15th, I actually received it on the 12th.  Needless to say, I was very excited that this highly anticipated CD was now in my possession.  I couldn’t wait to play it.

Keep in mind, that I had heard the songs on “Awakening” when I attended the Longwood Gardens live PBS filming back on August 21st.  However, after the concert, the only way I could hear the music again was in my mind.  I would have to wait for the CD in order to listen to the music again.  As of September 12th, the wait was over.

Once I started listening to the CD, I was immediately transported back to Longwood.  The memories of the emotions that swept over me the first time I heard this music all came back to life once again.  This time though, I could listen to the music as often as I wanted, and believe me…, I am listening often!

When listening to Awakening I would suggest using a good quality audio system to get the full impact of all the lush accompaniment that is combined with Jackie’s exquisite vocals.  Jackie’s voice has a very pure and rounded sound that is magnificently complimented by the orchestral and electronic accompaniment that is part of each track.  Both Jackie and the accompaniments combine for a truly breathtaking listening experience.  Awakening is of the utmost quality and is definitely worth purchasing.  I would even go so far as to say it is probably the best album that Jackie Evancho has put out, and that is saying a lot considering how high the bar was raised with her previous albums.

My overall impression of the CD is that it is masterfully done.  The quality of the audio, the orchestration, and of course Jackie’s singing are superb!  You can tell that a lot of work went into its production.  One key point is that the Awakening CD was NOT produced using Auto-Tune –  meaning that what you hear on the CD is Jackie’s pure voice unaltered by digital tuning to correct for pitch, which is commonly used in the music recording industry.  Keeping that in mind, if someone was unaware that auto-tune wasn’t used, you would never suspect it because Jackie’s pitches are spot on target.

Looking beyond the technical aspects of the CD, I cannot help but write about the emotional impact that this music has on me.  Jackie’s music on her previous CDs has had a reputation of causing grown adults to shed tears (myself included) because it can have such an emotional impact (Sometimes referred to as “The Jackie Effect”).  I find myself almost unexpectedly getting misty-eyed without warning at random times when I listen to various songs.  Each song has a way of touching on various emotions that lie within me that get “awakened” when I hear certain lyrics or melodies that trigger these reactions.  The emotional tug is overwhelming at times and it causes me at times to let out a big sigh after hearing a song – almost as if my breath has literally been taken away.  Jackie’s music is not something I just listen to, it is something that I experience on a personal and emotional level.  That should be what music does to a person.  It should be more than just listening to a catchy tune that sounds appealing; It should take hold of us, causing moments to pause and reflect on how it affects us on a personal level.  I believe that Awakening does that!  I find myself yearning to hear it again and again, almost as if it touches a part of my soul that needs it – sort of like a warm security blanket on a cold winter night.  No other singer has ever had this type of impact on me before.  I wrestle with it at times, wondering why… why does Jackie’s music do this to me?  I thought maybe Awakening wouldn’t have this effect on me and yet there it is again – that indescribable feeling of knowing that there is something good that is coming out of Jackie.  Because of my faith, I know that it is the presence of God answering Jackie’s prayers to lovingly sing with her because she has asked Him to do so.

At this time I will give my impressions for each song on the CD.  I know that everyone has different musical tastes and I am sure that my impressions of each song may not be the same as what others may think.  All of the songs on the CD are very appealing to me, but I will admit that I do have some favorites that I prefer.  I will not attempt to order the songs by preference because my favorites change quite often each time I listen to the CD.  Instead, I will list them in the order that they appear on the CD along with my personal impressions of each song.

Think of Me (from The Phantom of the Opera)  – This song was released as a single before the Awakening CD was released.  It has been promoted quite a bit and even has a music video associated with it..  Jackie Evancho has always tried to feature a song from “Phantom of the Opera” on each of her CDs because the musical contains many of her favorite songs and is the influence behind why she started singing.  Jackie is tremendous on this track and the cadenza that she does at the end is a fabulous climax to the piece.

Your Love (from Once Upon a Time in the West) – One of my favorite songs on the CD.  The song itself is hauntingly beautiful.  Jackie has an astonishing way of incorporating her soothing voice to the demanding range that is required to sing this song.  I find myself getting misty-eyed many times when I hear it.  The emotional tug of the music can be overwhelming at times!   Although the lyrics are somewhat of a love song, I’ve thought that they could also be interpreted as expressing one’s love of God too.  Perhaps that is why it affects me in such an emotional way.

Je t’aime (from Pure) – When I saw the track list before I received the CD, this song is one that I wasn’t very excited about until I heard Jackie’s version of it (Jackie has a way of doing that to me).  Although the English translation of the French lyrics are a bit odd, I find myself liking this song a lot because it is so masterfully done.  The rich accompaniment coupled with Jackie’s outstanding way she sings in French is very impressive.  I would have to say that this song ranks as one of my top favorites on the CD.

Take Me There – An original song that was specifically written for Jackie Evancho by Johan Oberholzer. The song has an upbeat accompaniment that has somewhat of a Pop sound to it.  The song starts out slow and eventually builds to a moving beat that rhythmically pulses with Jackie’s exquisitely smooth vocals.  This is one song that I would hope would be a candidate for radio air-play on a Soft Rock or Pop station.

Open Fields of Grace – This song has hints of a Scottish or Irish ballad.  It has a certain graceful feel to it (as is indicated by the title).  The song has a deep meaning of longing to be with a lost loved-one who has passed from this world into the “Open Fields of Grace.”  Some would label this song as a “dirge” but I feel that term doesn’t give this song justice.  Instead, I would refer to it as a spiritual walk in paradise when our time on this world has passed to the next, leaving behind all of our suffering and troubles.

Ave Maria  (attributed to Giulio Caccini, music by Vladimir Vavilov) – I admire this song choice for the CD because of my faith.    It is one of my top favorites on the CD.  The song is  heavenly not only for the Blessed Virgin Mother for whom the song is titled, but for the beautiful way that Jackie sings it.

Memories (from The Silent Force) – This song has somewhat of a Celtic sound to it at times.  It has a flowing rhythmic beat to it.  The song somewhat reminds me of  the style of music that is commonly sung by Sarah Brightman, although it was originally sung by the Dutch symphonic metal/rock band Within Temptation.  Jackie does a marvelous rendition of this song and stays true to the original style of the song.

The Rains of Castamere (from Game of Thrones) – I will admit that I am somewhat unfamiliar with the TV show “Game of Thrones” in which the song is associated.  It is my understanding that this is a very popular TV series on HBO.  I sense some varied deep emotions in this song.   It starts out with a mysterious overtone – sort of like it is pulling you in and you cannot resist its spell.  Next, there is a sense of sadness to the music – such as if it is a portraying a tragedy of sorts.  Then, there are glimpses of hope, that are countered by the shadows of distress.  This is how I hear the story that the music conveys to me.  If I were to just read the lyrics I wouldn’t have those emotional connections.  To me, that is the true essence of a good quality musical performance – something that touches me deeply where I am emotionally mesmerized with what I am hearing.  THAT is what I get from Jackie’s voice.  Her voice is so pure, it is almost scary as to how much it reaches into my soul.  It is quite bewildering to say the least!

Dormi Jesu – One of my favorite songs on the CD being more on the classical side.  It is sung in Latin.  I believe this particular song highly showcases Jackie’s musical talent.  She sings the song so fluently with gorgeous nuances in vocal and lyrical interpretation.  If I were to “show off” Jackie to my friends, I would probably start with this piece.

Vocalise (from “Fourteen Songs”, Op. 34 – Sergei Rachmaninoff ) – For those unfamiliar with this song or the title it is a term for a song without lyrics.  One might think that a song without lyrics should be easy, but this song is far from easy.  Clearly this has to be one of the most difficult and challenging pieces for Jackie to sing.    When I hear this song I am amazed at the difficulty level that would be required to sing it.  The scoring of the orchestral accompaniment must present many challenges for a singer to find reference pitches for all of the complex interval changes that occur within the music.  It really is astonishing how well Jackie (who was 13 at the time of the recording) was able to absolutely nail this song like a seasoned adult pro with years of vocal experience.  It shows just how much Jackie has matured and grown as a musician.

With or Without You (from The Joshua Tree, music by U2) –  A song originally made famous by the rock band U2.  Although Jackie does a wonderful job singing this song and that she has indicated that it is one of her favorites to sing, I will admit that I am not as emotionally connected to this song as some of the others.  It isn’t that I don’t care for the song, I just don’t feel like it showcases Jackie’s talents as well as the other songs on the CD.  A lot of it probably boils down to personal taste.  I have heard some fans say that it is at the top of their favorites list.  If you are more inclined to lean more on the Pop side of Classical Crossover (CC) music, then this song will likely appeal to you as well.  I tend to lean more towards the classical side of the CC genre.

Made to Dream (music and lyrics by Jean-Pierre Steyn) – An original song written specifically for Jackie.  The lyrics to this song seem like they tell Jackie’s story.  I usually pay more attention to the music than the lyrics of songs (it’s how I’m wired), but in the case of Made To Dream, the lyrics are almost as if Jackie is revealing her inner-self.  Jackie has conveyed her ambition of living out her dream to sing for the enjoyment of others.  This song tenderly conveys the fruition of her dreams taking flight and that she was made to dream.  Perhaps that is how Jackie is wired.

In conclusion:

Jackie has referred to the title of her Awakening CD as a reflection of her “awakening” as an artist and person.  I believe that she certainly has done that.  Although Jackie’s prior CDs are outstanding, it is clear that her new CD is indeed a reflection of Jackie taking her artistic talents to a whole new level.  I encourage anyone reading this blog to get yourself a copy of this CD and hear it for yourself, for my words in this blog cannot possibly give this music the justice that it deserves.

Awakening is now available for purchase on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon, as well as other retail stores.

Note that a bonus Christmas CD with Awakening is also available exclusively at Wal-Mart.  Stay tuned to this blog for an addendum to this review when we get closer to the Christmas season.

Finally, here are some video clips to whet your appetite for Awakening:

To view more of my favorite Jackie Evancho videos, check out my YouTube playlist.

Keep in mind that I am NOT a paid promoter of Jackie Evancho..  The opinions expressed in this review are my own personal thoughts and expressions regarding Jackie and her music.  I have made every attempt to post accurate information whenever possible.

Follow me @JEAdmirer on Twitter