Ben Folds @ Vicar Street by Kieran FrostBen Folds at the National Concert Hall, July 11th 2014.

When a popular rock musician announces his intention to premiere his new piano concerto, and warns that musicologists and fans of classical music will probably hate it, they must realise just how dangerously enticing this will be to a classical reviewer. And so, naturally, some of us at GoldenPlec were more than curious to catch the Irish premiere of Ben Folds‘ piano concerto.

However, before all that, Folds opens the show with a selection of songs, reworked to include the chamber orchestra which joins him on stage this evening. Effington offers the first glimpse into this new orchestral world, but leaves much to be desired. The usual lustre and power an orchestra usually adds to a song is absent, leaving the reworking lacking overall. Thankfully, Smoke drastically improves the situation. The orchestral opening is enchanting, with the orchestra proving their worth in the setting.

The beginning of the highly anticipated Piano Concerto sees Folds spend a moment explain the form of this style of work, as well as some of his inspirations. As the orchestra throw themselves into the first movement, a highly Gershwin-ian and highly entertaining style emerges; however, with the completion of the first idea, the concerto slowly but surely moves towards the less predictable. As it progresses through movements two and three, an over-riding feeling of film music takes over as it loses the initial character and charm. Overall, however, credit is due to Folds for his convincing first venture into the form.

Returning to his trademark style of music, Folds and the ensemble explode into Stephen’s Last Night In Time. Full of upbeat charm and jazzy sound, the Folds/orchestra combination really shine here.

After a brief interval, Folds returns with Zac and Sara, which sees the crowd suddenly, become far more vocal. Another highlight appears in the charming Fred Jones Part I, in which a softer side of Folds emerges. Pausing to give an impassioned speech about the importance of the Symphony Orchestra in every town, and the work he is doing by including the orchestra in popular music (a notion which in itself requires far more discussion), Brick, quickly followed by One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces bring the night’s music to a suitably pleasant close.

With three standing ovations and two encores, Folds has clearly pleased his audience this evening, regardless of the few inconsistencies in his performance. It is his wit and stage presence that truly make the difference here, and his audience love him for it. The addition of the orchestra has both enhanced and hindered, but overall proves itself a worthy venture for the musician, with some well-orchestrated and entertaining reworks of some classic Folds tunes emerging from the mix.