The Boston Pops really know how to open a new season at Symphony Hall. There's a wonderful cocktail party before the concert with delicious hors d'oeuvre and drinks. Then the actual concert hall is awash with attractive pastel lighting and projections of butterflies all about the auditorium. It's definitely springtime in Boston and once Maestro Keith Lockhart steps up to the podium, the music begins as America's most beloved orchestra plays and delights the sell-out crowd.
Starting with Boyer's delightful "Silver Fanfare" and continuing with works by Herold, Rimsky-Korsakov and Gershwin, the audience relished every moment of the concert and joined in during the SOUND OF MUSIC sing-along that closed the first part of the program. The second half was devoted mostly to Broadway's Linda Eder, who wowed the crowd with her Judy Garland tribute and impressed everyone with her powerful and supple vocalizing. It was a remarkable evening.
In a phone conversation two days prior to the event, Lockhart sounded slightly fatigued. He'd just returned to Boston from Abu Dhabi from where he conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra, for which he's been appointed Chief Conductor. It was a concert that featured Broadway's Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley who performed songs from KISS ME KATE, FOLLIES, SOUTH PACIFIC and other Broadway classics, while the orchestra excited the place with what is frequently referred to as "The Symphonic Dances" from WEST SIDE STORY. It was a well-received performance but such travels keep Lockhart on-the-go. "It's hard to hit a moving target," he quipped.
Looking ahead to the 2011 Pops season, Lockhart becomes extremely excited despite his jet lag: "I think it's a very strong season this year. It's a lot of the things that we normally do but there's a wonderful, wide variety of genres and they cross every American musical boundary that you can think of. We go from bluegrass to R&B to Broadway to Gospel. Everything seems to fall in there and we'll have many great artists performing with us. We'll also have a lot of the Boston Pops Orchestra featured in the concerts this year to show them off a bit."
Speaking of Linda Eder, the maestro's admiration for her becomes very evident. "She's been with us a good deal over the years. She'll be doing a tribute to Judy Garland, who was one of the great voices of our time and age. Quite frankly, she was one of the great voices of all time." Eder is also an audience favorite because the Opening Night crowd cheered her first appearance on the stage and was enthusiastic in their applause after every one of her numbers. One person in the crowd was heard to say,"This woman must have six foot lungs!" Allowing for hyperbole, that was an apt description of Eder's vocal skills.
"We're also emphasizing the fact that the Pops is and always has been an interactive experience where everybody gets to make music," continued the conductor. "We'll be having sing-alongs in many of our concerts throughout the season. We're kind of getting everyone actively involved in performing with the Pops." It seems to be effective because at the SOUND OF MUSIC segment on Opening Night, several people showed up dressed as their favorite characters. There were girls in dirndl skirts, boys in lederhosen, several nuns (of varying religious orders), a Captain Von Trapp in a smoking jacket, and a would-be Maria--who toted a guitar case with her. The sing-along prompted a great response from the crowd, many of whom were still singing snippets from the Rodgers and Hammerstein score during intermission.
One of the most novel segments of the May 11th concert was the video montage of "Over The Rainbow" that was shown above the orchestra as Lockhart led a sweeping rendition of the Harold Arlen tune. Months prior to the event, a message went out over Facebook and other social networking sites for people of various talents--and equally varying musical skills-- to submit videos of themselves singing this beloved tune. "There are certain songs that have crossed all boundaries and everyone knows. We asked Pops fans to give us their best few bars of 'Over the Rainbow' and the video is a pastiche of these different renditions and takes on a classic tune." As edited by Supan Deb, the end result was remarkable; featuring people from various places across the nation singing their own versions of the song-there was even a girl dressed as Dorothy sitting in what appeared to be a wheat field warbling to good advantage.