Saturday night, Ben Folds joined the South Bend Symphony Orchestra in celebrating the City’s 150th anniversary with a concert well-suited to fans of both classical and pop music.
The set went off to a rocking start with “Effington,” which Folds shared was one of many songs he spontaneously composed on stage. The orchestra was the rock band around him, taking the piano-rocker’s music to a grand level.
The crowd especially enjoyed the lively improvisation called “Rock this Bitch,” now a legendary song that began years ago with a heckle from the crowd. Now, the audience may throw down the gauntlet, so to speak, and Folds creates a new song on the spot.
Doing so with an orchestra is whole new kind of challenge but it came together beautifully. Maestro Tsung Yeh was a delight to watch as Folds created parts for each section, starting with the violas as they are “an overlooked instrument,” the french horns who can “decide among yourselves when you want to play,” “the trumpet’s going to take a solo whenever he feels like it,” “and the maestro will bring you in as he sees fit” — which got a roar of laughter from the crowd and an expression of surprise and delight from Maestro Tsung Yeh.
South Bend’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg stepped in on piano for another show highlight. He played for “Steven’s Last Night in Town” as Folds stepped to the mic. Folds remarked with respect that Mayor Pete insisted on picking one of the harder songs to play. Again, all delivered a flawless performance and the Mayor was treated with chants of “Pete! Pete! Pete!,” to which Folds remarked that should Pete ever quit his day job, he use being a rock star as a backup.
Folds puts on a lively performance, not just playing the pianos keys, but reaching inside to pluck its strings. He uses the whole stage to perform, dancing and keeping the audience guessing. Saturday’s concert was one of the brightest gems in the crown of what was truly a celebration for the history books.