BWW Reviews: Peter Nero and the Philly Pops Time Travel at PIFA to Swinging Sixties Spy Movie Music


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."

The newer Bond movies were celebrated in the first half by a Suite from "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace," both current Bond actor Daniel Craig's films, in an arrangement primarily of the chase scenes from both films.

The second half of the concert was primarily "beyond Bond," celebrating other spy and detective movies and television. The Austin Powers franchise was celebrated with a rousing performance of its main theme, "Soul Bossa Nova" by Quincy Jones, with melody brought in by woodwinds, punctuated by horns and strings, with heavy Latin-beat percussion. This is the kind of jazz work for which the Pops is known, and it is always a delight to hear it performed by the orchestra.

"Secret Agent Man" from the show "Secret Agent" (originally broadcast as "Danger Man" in England, and the show starring Patrick McGoohan that spun off the cult classic "The Prisoner") by Sloan and Barri was presented by the orchestra with vocals by Debbie Gravitte appropriately attired in full 1960's girl-spy drag - a blonde wig, a mini-trench coat, and white gogo boots with dark sunglasses.

The Pink Panther franchise was represented on the program by Henry Mancini's
"Inspector Clousseau" theme, the full suite beginning with woodwinds and tubas, and more melodic than the more commonly heard Pink Panther theme, which, though not on the program, immediately followed it to the delight of the audience. While the former featured beautifully rendered themes reminiscent of traditional French music, the latter provided more of the Pops' classic full-voiced brass jazz sound.

The finale, "The Best of Bond," returned to Monty Norman's theme and incorporated the music from several of the Bond films, including "Live and Let Die," "For Your Eyes Only," and "The Look of Love," Burt Bacharach's contribution to the Bond spoof production of "Casino Royale."

Such a program anticipates an encore - fittingly and pleasingly, the "Mission Impossible" theme by Lalo Schifrin, presented in its equally impossible, glorious 5/4 meter that Schifrin once described as "for people who have five legs." With the Pops' impeccable percussion and the full Pops brass behind it, the sound was brilliant and compelling, a perfect closing to the "time travel" theme of PIFA that had the audience dwelling in the 1960's again for an evening.

Photo Credit: The Philly Pops

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Marakay Rogers America's most uncoordinated childhood ballet and tap student before discovering that her talents were music and writing, Marakay Rogers finally traded in her violin for law school when she realized that she might make more money in law than she did performing with the Potomac Symphony and in orchestra pits around the mid-Atlantic.

A graduate of Wilson College (PA) with additional studies in drama and literature from Open University (UK), Marakay is also a writer, film reviewer and interviewer as well as a guest lecturer at various colleges, and is listed in Marquis' "Who's Who in America". As of 2014, she serves as Vice-Chair of the Advisory Board of the Beaux Arts Society, Inc. of New York and a member of GALECA (Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association). Marakay is senior theatre critic for Central Pennsylvania and a senior editor for BWWBooksWorld as well as a classical music reviewer. In her free time, Marakay practices law and often gets it right.

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