Darin Atwater’s Soulful Symphony celebrated their 15th anniversary with two sold-out performances at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, MD Friday and Saturday, Nov. 27 & 28. The audience, like the symphony was a diverse mix.
Founder and artistic director of Soulful Symphony, Atwater conducted an array of songs that ran the spectrum from gospel to jazz and R&B. Kicking off the winter season for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Emmy Award-winning, pianist, composer, conductor and cultural advocate for the arts celebrated the symphony’s anniversary with a show that was nothing short of extraordinary.
The concert kicked off with several songs from the Emmy winning “Song in a Strange Land” including “A City Called Heaven” and “Let My People Go.” The range of the singers and musical excellence of the orchestra was on full display as familiar spirituals came alive. The soothing strings, the power choir, the pulsating brass all came together with a dynamic rhythm section to make each note and each song an excursion into a musical wonderland, making old things new again.
There was a nice surprise and change of pace when Christian hip hop artist Swoope came to the stage. Swoope injected a healthy dose of hip hop with “Brown” and “Black Boy,” echoing the sentiments of the current climate. Atwater seems to know just how to blend all genres seamlessly and create a well-crafted tapestry that one can’t help but be drawn into.
Fresh off his sterling performance at the Kennedy Center in “Appomattox,” Soloman Howard wowed the audience with Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” The song, interpreted in Howard’s rich bass voice lent itself to a modern day interpretation without losing any of the flavor of the original. Tenor Kenneth Alston seemed to enjoy his rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” as much as the audience did.
R&B and jazz artist Ledisi set the room ablaze with her tribute to Nina Simone. Ledisi, who credits Simone as one of her major influences, performed a set that turned into a tour de force. The Grammy-nominated singer seemed to invoke the essence of Simone’s musical style on songs that included “Feeling Good,” I Love You Porgy,” “I Put A Spell on You” and others. Her longtime musical director and pianist Antoine Walker accompanied her. Needless to say, the performance resulted in several standing ovations for Ledisi who is probably one of the most purest of singers who has mastered her craft.
The night ended with a gospel set from “Somebody Say Amen.” It is here where there was another seamless shift from the soulful, jazz infused tribute to the sacred and the audience was more than willing to follow the musical trajectory. The hall was transformed into a sanctuary with hand claps and shouts of “amen” and “hallelujah!”
Darin Atwater is a musical genius and bridge builder as he lies musical planks that close the chasm between genres and wraps it all up in a neat bow and delivers a soulful symphony that lingers long after the final note is played.