Carolina Philharmonic's Pops Concert Garners Praise
A wonderful tradition, begun in Boston at the end of the 19th century, has been imported locally by Maestro David Michael Wolff.
On Friday night he concluded the Carolina Philharmonic's first season of Pinehurst Summer Pops concerts with "Hollywood meets Broadway and La Scala." Over the past couple of months Wolff's programs have honored the Boston Pops' objective of performing some contemporary, popular music along with the usual fare of classical selections.
And what marvelous music it was, performed by a full orchestra of more than 40 musicians. The evening began with a rousing performance of the "Overture" to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," a piece as exuberant and frenetic as "the day of madness" the opera dramatizes and, for that matter, its brilliant composer himself.
Mascagni's "Intermezzo" from Cavellaria Rusticana slowed down the pace with its richly melodic evocation of Sicilian rural life, giving relief from the opera's sexual infidelities and forestalling the violent explosions to come.
The more traditional symphonic program concluded with an unusual operatic selection, the "Humming Chorus" from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly." The haunting, ominous piece occurs on the night before the scoundrel Pinkerton returns to Japan, finally to break Butterfly's heart and precipitate her suicide.
Then it was on to the pops portion of the concert. Very quickly and powerfully, Wolff brought several of the heroes of our favorite adventure movies before us. A medley of themes from John Williams' masterful movie scores followed, in a fullness of resonance and energy not usually experienced locally.
Williams, the successor to Arthur Fiedler at the Boston Pops, was a splendid choice for bringing this July series to a celebratory conclusion; his themes inspired us to shoot for the stars again and to re-imagine the triumphs of the victors in "Star Wars" and "Superman," the legendary escapes on the thrilling and magical journeys of Indiana Jones and Harry Potter.
For many in the audience, the musical highlights of the evening came after intermission, from the familiar tunes and melodies of the wonderful Broadway hits "My Fair Lady" and "Porgy and Bess." The brilliant romanticism of "On the Street Where You Live" was performed with all the passion of expectant Freddy's young love for Eliza, while "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" reflected the poignant dawning of love in Professor Higgins, a misogynist linguist whose female experiment has turned into something quite different from what he planned.
George Gershwin's classic "Porgy and Bess" offered us a soulful solo by soprano Young Mee Jun, Wolff's wife.
The Carolina Philharmonic chorus achieved its finest moment at the conclusion of the evening, marching the uplifted audience home with its spirited version of "Oh Lawd, I'm on My Way."
A special treat occurred during the "Porgy and Bess" selections, when Wolff skipped off the conductor's platform and, clutching his score, ran over to the grand piano. There he began playing as soloist for a brief term, then joined the entire orchestra, which he continued conducting from the piano, and continued to conduct the chorus when it began its work.
A striking scene indeed, especially for those among us who, prizing Wolff's mastery of the piano, sometimes regret that we don't get to enjoy that wonderful talent when he's exercising his other great gift of conducting.
For this writer, the conclusion of the first half of Wolff's program offered a special insight into Wolff as a musician and conductor. Ennio Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe," the marvelous theme for the movie "The Mission," is hardly a staple of the concert repertoire.
But, in a telling reflection to the audience, Wolff made it strikingly clear that, despite the thinking of many of his colleagues that popular songs have no place in a classical concert, "Gabriel's Oboe" was "worthy of Schubert" and as deserving of performance to serious music lovers as the Austrian master's lieder. Anna Lampidis' suave performance on oboe communicated the elegant lyricism of a composition that has attracted many of the world's finest vocalists to record it.
Morricone is the world's greatest composer of film scores, with more than 500 themes for movies and television productions to his credit. He composed "Gabriel's Oboe" for instrument only, but Sarah Brightman, the irresistibly beautiful British soprano, importuned him to allow her to write lyrics for his music. After adamantly refusing Brightman's begging for months, Morricone finally relented.
"Nella Fantasia" was then composed, and, with its universal evocation of a world filled with peace and freedom and humanity, quickly became a global sensation. The audience had the rare opportunity to judge for itself whether Morricone's work succeeds more as an instrumental or as a song, for right after the oboe performance, the chorus and orchestra performed "Nella Fantasia."
From the size and enthusiasm of the audience alone last Friday, an overflowing crowd that filled the auditorium and even required opening the balcony, the evening was a great success.
After the finale to the entire series, the audience's excitement and gratitude, like the audience itself, overflowed the hall and carried into the stifling heat of the parking lot.
The humming of familiar show tunes, the chatter of remembered scenes on Broadway and in films, the comments about a performance worthy of the great music halls in Paris and London filled the night air.
Music had done its magical work again.
More like this story