By Jerome Langston
“We were a Jackson 5 type of family,” says singer Michael Lynche, regarding the impact of Motown music on his childhood growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, back in the eighties and early nineties. Michael’s entire nuclear family—there were 4 kids, performed together throughout Florida, and his mother played plenty of Motown records in their home.
Since first gaining fame on the ninth season of American Idol where he finished in 4th place, Michael has released music and toured internationally, performing with a number of major music acts. He’s also become known for his collaborations with American conductor and arranger, Jeff Tyzik, which has led to many guest vocalist performances with prestigious orchestras throughout North America, including the Calgary Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Michael is coming to Chrysler Hall this month for Dancing in the Street: The Music of Motown, which is part of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s POPs concert series that will continue on to the Ferguson Center the following day. Featuring the work of conductor Gonzalo Farias, who is VSO’s Assistant Conductor, as well as vocalists including Michael, and the remarkably talented Chester Gregory, the program will showcase some brilliant orchestral arrangements of Motown classics, including “My Girl” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Hits by Marvin Gaye are also on the set list, which allows Michael to perform the work of his favorite Motown artist, with special concentration on the young Marvin period. “Marvin…he’s my guy when it comes to Motown,” says the Florida native who is now based in New York City.
In addition to Marvin, stand-out hits by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Mary Wells will be showcased during the Virginia Symphony performances.
The music of Motown Records, which was founded in Detroit, Michigan by the young, talented and extremely ambitious, Berry Gordy Jr., at the beginning of 1959, is arguably the most impactful popular music of the entire 20th century. Countless hits by a wide spectrum of African-American artists, many of whom would become some of the most successful recording artists in music history, have made the Motown sound iconic. And its impact upon popular culture, and even civil rights, is now considered legendary.
That impact also extended well beyond America. Conductor Gonzalo Farias was born and raised in Chile, where he began piano studies at the remarkably young age of five. He recalls that his mother was particularly a fan of Motown legend, Lionel Richie, who will also have a hit or two showcased in the program. “It makes you remember good times with other people. That’s what I get out of the music―it’s just really fun,” says Gonzalo, regarding the music of Motown. He also believes that the timing of the Chrysler Hall show, which is on Black Friday, should heighten the feeling of nostalgia.
Though he’s a conductor, Gonzalo really loves music in general, and people. “I was attracted to conducting mostly because of people,” he says. Conducting orchestras allows for a lot of collaborating, and connecting with a range of different musicians and others. “When you’re in front of the orchestra, and you’re making music together—I hope everybody could have this experience―it’s the most rewarding feeling ever, really.”
In his role as Assistant Conductor, Gonzalo has only been with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra since July, but he has already learned a lot from the great JoAnn Falletta, VSO’s longtime music director, who after decades spent conducting and recording with much success, will bring her tenure with VSO to an end in 2020. “It’s been very inspiring to see her, and have her advice, and work with her this year,” he says.
“She’s been very supportive to everybody—to kind of, keep going with the process,” says Gonzalo, whose graduate studies includes time at the New England Conservatory. Under JoAnn’s leadership, VSO has gained national acclaim―and even made celebrated debuts at New York City’s Carnegie Hall and DC’s Kennedy Center.
The music of Motown concert performances should make for an easy sell to both Southside and Peninsula audiences. Lovers of popular music from the sixties through part of the eighties should have much to enjoy both evenings. Or as Michael Lynche says, early on in our conversation regarding this classic American music, “It’s hard to go wrong with Motown.”
WANT TO GO?
Dancing in the Streets: The Music of Motown
November 23, Chrysler Hall
November 24, Ferguson Center