The Boston Pops and Linda Eder Pay Tribute to Judy Garland For Season Opener
The Boston Pops Orchestra, Keith Lockhart conducting
Performances through May 13 at 8 pm at Symphony Hall, Boston; Box Office: SymphonyCharge 617-266-1200 or 888-266-1200 or www.bostonpops.org
More than a month after the first pitch was thrown at Fenway Park and a couple of weeks later than the launch of the Swan Boats at the Public Garden, the third sure sign of spring in Boston arrived with a fanfare at Symphony Hall last night. The Boston Pops Orchestra opened its 126th season with festive flair and special guest Broadway musical star Linda Eder in a tribute to Judy Garland.
Following a complimentary pre-concert reception in the Cohen wing, Keith Lockhart stepped up to the conductor's podium for his 16th opening night celebration. Mother Nature did not provide the most inviting of evenings, but the dank chill melted away once the sounds of Peter Boyer's "Silver Fanfare" filled the venerable hall. (Boyer composed the music for "The Dream Lives On: A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers," one of the program highlights of the 125th Pops commemorative year.) That was followed by the light-hearted "Overture to Zampa," an 1831 comic opera by Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold, and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espagnol." The latter featured several solo spots for orchestra members, including Concertmaster Tamara Smirnova.
As Lockhart explained to the audience, it is the Pops' mission to "make popular music great and make great music popular." Shifting gears from the classical to some of the best of American musical styles, the theme for the 2011 season, the Maestro lead a medley called "Gershwin in Love," arranged by Don Sebesky. With all due respect to Richard Rodgers, these pieces included some of the sweetest sounds in the great American songbook. "Love Walked In" was rich with strings; horns introduced "Our Love Is Here To Stay" and then handed it over to the strings; a brassy trumpet theme opened "Someone to Watch Over Me," before the strings swept in again; "The Man I Love" featured a Gershwin signature-style piano theme, the full orchestra swelling up dramatically and romantically, and a final build to crashing cymbals and thundering timpani. Heaven!
In keeping with the Pops tradition of inviting the audience to sing along, the organization invited singers from around the country to submit video renditions of "Over the Rainbow" for possible inclusion in a video collage to be shown at performances through the June 26th end of the season (view on Boston Pops YouTube channel or www.bostonpops.org). The debut of the video by Sopan Deb was a hit, especially with local "stars" in attendance from the Boston City Singers and Lesley Ellis School in Arlington.
A live sing-along opportunity for audience members dressed as their favorite character from The Sound of Music came to fruition for about fifteen hardy souls. The motley crew of (mostly) young aspirants, attired in black nuns' habits and an array of lederhosen and alpine hats, lined the front of the stage with the honorary Captain von Trapp (radio personality Ron Della Chiesa) and the governess Maria (Boston arts advocate Joyce Kulhawik) to lead the medley of half a dozen songs from the show by Rodgers and Hammerstein (arrangement by Bennett).
To start the second half of the show, Lockhart and the orchestra provided live accompaniment to "Shall We Dance," a video shot locally by frequent Boston Pops collaborators Susan Dangel and Dick Bartlett. And then, the pièce de résistance: Linda Eder swept onstage and swept us away with her inimitable interpretation of the songs of Judy Garland. She launched the set with the upbeat "Almost Like Being in Love/This Can't Be Love" by two great American songwriting teams, Lerner and Loewe and Rodgers and Hart, respectively.
Eder is a veteran performer of Garland's material with the 2005 CD "By Myself: The Songs of Judy Garland" on her accomplished discography. Perhaps more significantly, she told the Symphony Hall audience, "The reason I sing is because of Judy Garland," when Eder says her life changed at the impressionable age of eight years old after seeing her in The Wizard of Oz. Two more medleys -"The Boy Next Door/You Made Me Love You" and "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart/The Trolley Song" - followed before she took a break to share a long story about a car plowing into her mailbox. Fortunately, she kept the banter to a minimum because the fans want to listen to her great voice sing, not talk.
Eder's next selection came from her new album "Now," which was released in March and reunites her after six years with Broadway and pop composer Frank Wildhorn, her former husband. "Not Gonna Fall This Time," by Wildhorn and Jack Murphy, favors a spicy Latin beat and Eder suggested that it seems like a song Judy would have covered. Returning to the Garland songbook, Eder did her gorgeous and delicate rendition of the quintessential Arlen/Harburg "Over the Rainbow," paired with Hoagy Carmichael's "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," accompanied on piano by her Music Director John Oddo. She concluded her set with one of her own signature songs, Wildhorn's "Vienna."
Even when she is performing a song that you know is de rigueur, Eder never just phones it in. She finds a way to infuse emotion that sounds fresh and in the moment. When Eder sings, I want to watch her artistry, but I also want to close my eyes, to let her phenomenal voice soak in through all of my other senses and my skin, to feel it in my heart. On this night, there was one more chance to experience the power and passion of that voice. Choosing the title song of her tribute CD for the encore, with the full orchestra swinging behind her, Eder showed a little swagger and a lot of confidence on "By Myself."
No evening at the Boston Pops is complete without John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" played lovingly with brio for over one hundred years. As usual, Old Glory unfurled from above the orchestra during the final verse and brought the audience to its feet for some rhythmic clapping. After recent events, the flag deserved to share the applause with America's Orchestra. It was a grand night and it will happen all over again tonight and tomorrow. Don't miss your chance.