Reginald R. Robinson is a brilliant pianist and composer, in a genre that he seems to have almost entirely to himself these days: ragtime. The best way to catch up on this Chicago musician’s work is to buy his compilation Reflections — two CDs and one DVD — from his website, www.reginaldrrobinson.com. You’ll get the discs directly from Robinson himself, with an autograph. Robinson takes the style of ragtime composers who were popular at the turn of the 20th century, most notably Scott Joplin, and devises his own ingenious songs evoking that era.
Last week, Robinson performed with the Chicago Sinfonietta performed in concerts at Chicago Symphony Center (or Orchestra Hall, if you will) and Dominican University. I saw the performance Jan. 17 at Orchestra Hall, and it was quite a joy to see and hear Robinson’s ragtime syncopations mixing with a full orchestra in the piece titled Concerto for a Genius — featuring four of Robinson’s songs arranged for orchestra by Orbert Davis. As a hybrid of classical music and a form of “popular music” (although how “popular” really is ragtime?), it was reminiscent of the jazzy classical works of George Gershwin. Here’s a video of a performance of the concerto’s first part, “Mr. Murphy’s Blues,” in 2008 at the Auditorium Theatre:
If anything, I would’ve liked to hear Robinson’s piano more prominent in the arrangement. After the concerto, Robinson performed a mid-concert encore, playing a rollicking solo piece on the piano. His virtuosity in this little piece was astounding.
The concert by Robinson and Davis was the highlight of the concert’s first half, but it was aptly followed by a lovely performance of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, a concert version of his opera/musical, featuring passionate and impressive singing by Lisa Daltirus, Chauncey Packer and Donnie Ray Albert, plus the massed voices of the Chicago Community Choir. It felt like a classical concert melded with a gospel-song revival session. The concert was on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and so it seemed fitting that it concluded with Chicago Sinfonietta Music Director Paul Freeman leading the singers, musicians and audience in a stirring rendition of “We Shall Overcome.”
(Photo courtesy of Reginald R. Robinson’s website.)