When a venue lures audiences with the promise of experiencing a performance by one of country’s most celebrated pianists, it’s reasonable to expect that that artist will be provided with a decent instrument and appropriate presentation for their performance. Not so for the recent performance by Simon Tedeschi and George Washingmachine.
Summertime – a celebration of Gershwin favourites was presented in the B, Queanbeyan’s glamorous new entertainment venue, previously known as the Bicentennial Hall but now repurposed and newly renovated at the cost of some millions into a comfortable multi-purpose venue.
The B has a seating capacity almost double that of the nearby Q, making it an attractive venue for touring shows.
Simon Tedeschi is acknowledged as one of the country’s most accomplished classical pianists and a celebrated interpreter of the music of George Gershwin.
This was his first ever Queanbeyan concert, for which he had teamed with George Washingmachine, a brilliant jazz violinist who had forged much of his early music career in Canberra. No wonder it drew a large audience to the B.
Extraordinarily however, on entering the theatre the audience was confronted with the sight of a stage bare except for the tiny electronic instrument which looked like a child’s toy piano, a violin on a stand, two microphones and spaghetti of electric wires running around the stage.
Many assumed the tiny piano was some sort of joke which would be explained when the show began.
But as Tedeschi and Washingmachine took the stage, and it became obvious that a rather uncomfortable looking Tedeschi was going to use this instrument for his performance, a sense of bemusement settled over the theatre.
Not only did the instrument look ridiculous, it soon became obvious that its lack of dynamic, tonal and mechanical qualities would seriously compromise Tedeschi’s ability to display his undoubted pianistic brilliance for which he is justly famed.
This no doubt accounted for the luke-warm reception given the opening item, a bouncy version of They All Laughed.
However, sensing the disquiet, Washingmachine quickly stepped in and with some amiable banter, corny jokes and reminiscence about early Queanbeyan and Canberra, soon had the audience relaxed and eating out of his hands.
The pair then launched into a dazzling arrangement of I Got Rhythm, which they followed with a little known response by Irving Berlin, entitled He Ain’t Got Rhythm.
They followed this with a superb arrangement of Gershwin’s Summertime with Washingmachine contributing some moody vocals proving that in addition to being an accomplished jazz violinist he was also a consummate jazz vocalist.
Washingmachine then left the stage to Tedeschi, who bravely ignored the deficiencies of his instrument to somehow wrestle from it a dazzling rendition of the famous Rhapsody in Blue. An heroic effort that was rewarded with enthusiastic applause.
He and Washingmachine combined again for a delightful swing version of But Not For Me, which they followed with a romantic interpretation of Embraceable You before launching into a virtuosic arrangement of S’Wonderful during which Tedeschi demonstrated his mastery of classical styles by interpolating passages in the styles of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Sartie and others.
A rousing hot jazz tribute to Duke Ellington rounded out what should have been a triumphant program, but which was regrettably marred by poor presentation which included the inappropriate instrument and distracting rock-show lighting.
Hopefully Queanbeyan will be the only city to endure this bizarre experience and the management of the B will give more thought as to how it presents artists of the calibre of Tedeschi and Washingmachine. This effort respected neither the artists nor their audience.
Summertime – a celebration of Gershwin favourites
The B, 253 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan
Performance: Friday 3 December 2021
Image: Simon Tedeschi and George Washingmachine (supplied)
Review: Bill Stephens OAM