BWW Reviews: Peter Nero and the Philly Pops Time Travel at PIFA to Swinging Sixties Spy Movie Music
Peter Nero, Philadelphia Pops, PIFA
On April 26, 2013 Peter Nero and the Philly Pops presented their offering for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, a tribute to the first James Bond movie. The BOND AND BEYOND concert at Kimmel Center was conducted by guest conductor Michael Krajewski (conductor of the Atlanta Pops and the Houston Pops), who will be assuming the mantle of Musical Director of the Philly Pops for the 2013-2014 season.
Much of the Bond repertoire was covered, to the great pleasure of the audience, with the Pops' signature brass and percussion sounds filling Verizon Hall. Assisting the orchestra on vocal numbers ranging from the theme from "Goldfinger" to Adele's "Skyfall" was Tony-winning soprano Debbie Gravitte, a veteran of the Pops stage.
Orchestral pieces began, fittingly, with the signature James Bond theme by Monty Norman (attributed in the program to its arranger, John Barry - Norman has won multiple libel actions for attributions of the theme to Barry rather than Norman), and then moved into several of the earlier movie themes, including "From Russia With Love" and "Diamonds Are Forever" with Debbie Gravitte, featuring the Pops' trademark horns.
The one non-Bond piece in the first half of the program was, in maestro Krajewski's opinion, a spin on Bond gadgetry, the Concerto for Cell Phone by Ames M. Stephenson, with assistant conductor and keyboardist Jeff Smith performing as cell phone soloist with a range of cell phones with differing ring tones used as the instruments of mass distraction as the orchestra picked up the ring tone themes and variations thereof. As Krajewski explained prior to the Concerto, this constituted the "fusion of art and technology in a unique and meaningless way". A number of audience members rose spontaneously at the end of the piece to celebrate the combination of musicality and mayhem that the Concerto brought to the Pops stage (along with an assortment of martinis, mislaid musical scores, and other comic mugging). It must be conceded, with Krajewski's observation, that it was "ironic to hear this in Verizon Hall, come to think of it."