BWW Reviews: Burt Bacharach and the San Francisco Symphony Enchants Audiences
On Friday and Saturday of the past weekend composer Burt Bacharach appeared at Davies Symphony Hall with the San Francisco Symphony. Burt Bacharach is a household for many generations and audiences, and even those who don't know his name certainly know his music. He achieved fame scoring many Hollywood movies, writing songs for such legends as Diane Warwick. Broadway audiences know many of those songs from Promises Promises, a musical that was written in the 60s and recently wowed audiences in the 2010 revival. And even the hit TV show Glee featured Bacharach's music.
For me, the evening presented a nice mix of those familiar favorites, music I hadn't known before and the odd song I knew, but hadn't known was from his hand. Bacharach started out with a few medleys of his most well known song that everybody wanted to here, including What the world needs now, I say a little prayer, I'll never fall in love again, and many more. As he said in the introduction, he wanted to give the audience all those songs but knew it wouldn't fit into the constraints of a 90 minute show. Therefore, he put together those nicely arranged medleys that had you wishin' and hopin' you could just hear the whole songs.
Throughout the rest of the evening he did present many full songs. The full-orchestra arrangements continued to leave me breathless. The San Francisco Symphony could truly shine and show off why they are among the top orchestras of the country. Bacharach himself was at the piano and simultaneously conducted, and occasionally even provided some vocals. Most of his music was sung, however, by his three soloists, Josie James, John Pagano and Donna Taylor that always travel and perform with him, just as a small band. All are exceptional singers and musicians. I particularly enjoyed how some arrangements used instruments (mostly Tom Ehlen on trumpet) as solo voices for a verse here and there, in turns with the singers.
Personal highlights were, among others, a beautiful rendition of I just don't know what to do. John Pagano's voice is soft as velvet lend itself beautifully to Burt Bacharach's music (as do those of all three singers), and the finale song A house is not a home. It started out as a muted, simplistic arrangement with Mr. Bacharach singing himself but rose into an anthem with full orchestration and James, Pagano and Taylor taking over from Bacharach in the last verses.
After 90 minutes Bacharach sent the orchestra home (or at least off stage) but he himself refused to leave just yet, much to the joy of the enthusiastic audience. Accompanied by his small band he offered three more encores, his classic That's what friends are for (which is, in his own words, especially fitting in San Francisco) and two cheerful Christmas songs, the latter of which was performed live for the first time.
It was apparent that the majority of the audience present at the concert knew and loved Burt Bacharach's music, but I'm sure that those who hadn't been fully aware of his genius were won over at the end of the night. After two hours of musical bliss some guests even considered buying tickets for the following evening. And it really was that good. Mr. Bacharach's music in itself is marvellous, and the orchestra arrangements were beautiful and perfectly played by the San Francisco Symphony. Singers and Solo musicians were equally delightful and Burt Bacharach himself proofed not only to be a legendary composer but also a genuinely funny man. Should you ever get the chance to see him perform his own music, don't hesitate, because you're in for a night of pure joy.
Photo Credit: SF Symphony