The audience in Erne Auditorium had no idea that as the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic concert began Saturday, they would be treated to a musical journey beginning at sunrise, riding a donkey through the Grand Canyon, surviving a thunderstorm and along the way meeting three monster musicians — Nicholas Kendall, Ranaan Meyer and Zachary De Pue, known as Time for Three (Tf3).
It was a terrific trip.
The concert began with the almost inaudible strains of the Philharmonic in “Sunrise” by Ferde Grofé from the “Grand Canyon Suite.” As both the sound of the orchestra and the intensity of the lighting grew to full, our journey was underway. Hopping aboard our “donkey” vividly portrayed by concertmaster Benjamin Hoffman and several other soloists in “On the Trail,” also from the “Grand Canyon Suite,” we barely had time to catch our breath before meeting Time for Three.
From there on, it was a race to the finish to keep up with our world-traveling guests.
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Time for Three is not your typical concert hall trio. Composed of two violins and a double bass, they appear more as three dudes in a band, but their musical virtuosity and incredible stage energy quickly won the approval of the audience.
From the toe-tapping “Orange Blossom Special” to pop star Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Johannes Brahms’ “Hungarian Rhapsody,” Tf3 moved effortlessly from one musical genre to another without missing a beat.
Whether playing bluegrass, jazz or melodies from the American musical theater, Tf3 demonstrated incredible musical technique as well as stylistic authenticity and integrity.
Tf3 performs like a thunderstorm moving across the American plain. Members’ boundless energy and electrifying personalities filled the auditorium and moved the normally reserved concert audience to cheers, whistles and thunderous applause.
As they physically embodied their music with sharp, angular and crisp motions almost immediately followed by sweeping, linear almost balletic movements, Tf3’s infectious stage presence and passionate interpretation swept up both the audience and orchestra into a whirlwind performance.
With their lightning bolt comedic pauses and driving rhythm often provided by Meyer pounding, beating and slapping his bass, Tf3 kept audience members at rapt attention and literally on the edge of their seats as almost half the audience rewarded them and the orchestra with an intermission standing ovation.
The second half of the evening continued at its breakneck speed with a beautiful rending of the folk song “Shenandoah” into what they called a Foxdown that had the audience cheering for more. The Philharmonic kept up the pace with a rousing rendition of “Cloudburst,” complete with wind machine. Tf3 constantly demonstrated their individual musical abilities while exhibiting an incredible collaborative give and take.
This collaboration spilled over into their work with the orchestra as maestro David Bowden expertly maneuvered 50-plus musicians through constantly changing tempos and musical styles. This collaboration and intricate communication was maintained through intense eye contact between Bowden and the members of Tf3 and also as the performers themselves turned to the orchestra to maintain this personal connection.
This sensitivity and oneness of musical purpose was extremely evident in the beautiful “Hallelujah,” theme from the movie “Shrek.”
After a thunderous standing ovation to end the concert, Tf3 returned to the stage for two encores. The first, a hilarious and audience-pleasing rendition of why violinists Kendall and De Pue must always play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” — although some of the comedy was lost as their vocal microphones were not quite loud enough for all of the text to be heard over the orchestra and audience.
Tf3 brought the evening to a beautiful close with a purely acoustic rendering of “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles. After all the energy and excitement, this final quiet moment was an exclamation point of musical sensitivity.
From sunrise to “sunset,” this was a Columbus Indiana Philharmonic concert long to be remembered. Hopefully, the rest of this year’s musical journey with the Phil will be as terrific.
J. Kevin Butler is a graduate of the IU Jacobs School of Music and was a high school choral director for more than 20 years. He serves as director of music for First United Methodist Church of Columbus.