The Arts, Etc.

 

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra

presents

The Springfield Pops

2010 - 2011

 

OH, WHAT A NIGHT!

Kevin Rhodes, Music Director and Conductor

Ron Bohmer, Tituss Burgess and Bradley Dean, vocalists

SATURDAY, APRIL 16, 2011 - 8:00 PM

 

REVIEWED BY DONNA BAILEY-THOMPSON

This most satisfying program generated one WOW! after another

Two weeks earlier, on April 2, in the presence of a meticulously performed program of classical music, a reverent audience honored the SSO with respectful decorum, appreciative applause, and a standing ovation.

Fast forward to April 16, a rainy night, when an SSO Pops concert recaptured music of the notorious Sixties that had an engaged audience tapping their feet, clapping their hands, singing along, caught up in the beat and lyrics – some that could wrench a heart -- and ultimately jumping to their feet to cheer and whistle and clap until their hands were burning hot.

 

The common denominator of the dissimilar concerts? The mighty Springfield Symphony Orchestra which, under the direction of Kevin Rhodes, can perform the classics as skillfully as renowned orchestras and as a bonus can also swing with a beat, a feat not a lot of classically-trained musicians can do. The secret? My guess: Maestro Rhodes loves music, especially music performed well, and because the SSO musicians trust their leader, they strive to give him what he wants. Nothing can be any flatter than a Pops without a beat – rock, ballad, syncopation, schmaltz, Latin, pelvic thrust – whatever the tune calls for.

Three outstanding vocalists – Ron Bohmer, Tituss Burgess and Bradley Dean – blessed with flexible singing styles, natural responses to a beat, and the ability to enmesh themselves with the lyrics, wowed the audience. If a song was strongly identified with a particular singer, the vocalist did not imitate. Instead of impersonating Sammy Davis, Jr.’s distinct style (For Once In My Life), the singer channeled occasional phrasing while singing his heart out. This was also true for Mack The Knife (Bobby Darrin), an arrangement that escalated in intensity, earning a spontaneous, “Wow!”

The choreography was Sixties inspired, complementing the songs without distracting from the lyrics. The costumer deserves a big thank you for not dressing the trio in identical clothes: each singer’s wardrobe suited his personality (oh dear, no pun intended).

There was a costume theme for any who wished to become idealistic flower children. Garlands of flowers on their heads made them easy to spot, including in the orchestra. SSO staff dressed up in fringe and beads. One dude with flowers stuck in his huge Afro, wearing jeans, leather vest, dark glasses, slouched onto the stage, stopped dead in his tracks, and challenged a tittering audience, “WHAT!” The Maestro had arrived. He bounded onto the podium, grabbed a baton, and the joint began to jump – La Bamba – a driving beat, sticks on a block, Rhodes’ right leg a backup metronome.

THE PROGRAM

La Bamba (SSO)
Jersey Boys Medley
(Sherry / Big Girls Don’t Cry / Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You / Oh, What A Night!)
Mack The Knife
It’s Not Unusual
Hit The Road Jack
Tequila (SSO)
Unchained Melody
Strangers in The Night
For Once In My Life

INTERMISSION

Beatles Hit Medley (SSO)
(I Want To Hold Your Hand / She Loves You / Yesterday /)
(Eleanor Rigby / Hey, Jude / Get Back / Yellow Submarine)
Aquarius
Let The Sunshine In
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Cherry, Cherry
Try A Little Tenderness
Smokey Robinson Medley
(Going To A Go-Go / Tears Of A Clown / Shop Around)
What A Wonderful World
Respect
Oh What A Night

__________________________________________

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra

presents

The Springfield Pops

2010 - 2011

 

LIGHTS,

CAMERA,

OSCARS!

Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 8:00 PM

KEVIN RHODES

Music Director and Conductor

SARAH PFISTERER & NATHANIEL STAMPLE

vocalists

 

REVIEWED BY DONNA BAILEY-THOMPSON

If I'm asked, "How was the Pops?" I will say, "Wonderful!" and thereby hangs a happy tale.

The overture to Gone With The Wind, the Oscar winner that blew the other 1939 nominations out of the water, launched the evening’s musical nostalgia. The full-bodied sound of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra – as lush as a lazy day can be in the Deep South for folks served by slaves – evoked the full panorama of the script, from misplaced innocence through the scourge of war into the confusing aftermath of Reconstruction. As conducted by Maestro Kevin Rhodes, the sweeping arrangement was a harbinger of the quality program to follow.

Whoever is responsible for finding and signing the two vocalists deserves a thank you from everyone in the audience. The voices of lovely Sarah Pfisterer (soprano) and handsome Nathaniel Stampley (baritone) were outstanding -- true pitch, clear enunciation, transmitting the correct emotional interpretations. Their singles beguiled; their duets were believable; together, their voices complemented one another. Their freshness never waned.

The evening’s anchor was the orchestra, not a dead weight anchor but one filled with musical rhythms. The SSO plays popular music fairly well under guest conductors but under the direction of Kevin Rhodes – a man of/for all music – they shed classical restrictions and became a spectacular Big Band. The beat was there, spontaneity, syncopation and loose-as-a-goose swing. The urge to dance was sublimated into discreet toe tapping.

The arrangements injected new life into the Oscar classics. Pfisterer’s All That Jazz swung between impish and naughty. Stampley’s Gigi caught the bewilderment of a swain shocked at the metamorphosis of a Parisian school girl into a seductive young woman. Together, the singers soared with the genius of Leonard Bernstein’s Tonight (West Side Story) and the exaltation of reciprocated love.

The tribute to composer John Williams, an uplifting instrumental collection of his Oscar winners (Star Wars, Jaws, Superman March, Harry Potter, Raiders March, and the Theme from E.T.) opened Act 2 – rousingly.

Sandwiched between a brisk Chariots of Fire and the prayer of all separated lovers, Unchained Melody, (“I need your love/God speed your love to me”) were Rocky Highlights, and let me assure you, Rocky rocked! The final tribute was to Dirty Dancing and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life, presented center stage -- definitely not in a corner.

The crowd was on its feet. Beautiful flowers were presented to Ms. Pfisterer but nothing, not even a bachelor button for Mr. Stampley which prompted some pantomime between the Maestro and the Baritone complete with shrugs and laughter. The audience continued clapping. And as if unplanned, but every one of us knew better, there was an encore – the theme from Titanic.

Twas a memorable evening that began with sashaying across a very red carpet to flash bulbs, hoots and hollers, to bathe in memories that music – especially good music -- is adept at bringing back to life.

__________________________________

 

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra

presents

The Springfield Pops

2010 - 2011

 

traditional

HOLIDAY POPS

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2010 at 8:00 PM

SPRINGFIELD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Kevin Rhodes, Music Director and Conductor 

Children's Chorus of Springfield, Wayne Abercrombie, Director

Springfield Symphony Chorus, Nikki Stoia, Director

 

REVIEWED BY DONNA BAILEY-THOMPSON

Opposite the page of the Traditional Holiday Pops program is a full page Hasbro ad that reads: “The secret to life is regularly taking a few moments to step away from the challenges of everyday living, to enjoy what really counts: spending quality time with loved ones, helping others, taking in a show, or listening to good music. These are the things that nourish our soul and let us soar.”

Symphony Hall was packed (so was the parking garage under #91). At the back of the stage hung the huge green wreath topped by a red bow with very long streamers. On the face of the balconies were swags of green rope and red bows. The audience included a marvelous mix of people – young families, sweethearts, new friends, old friends, long-time marrieds holding hands, the spry and the challenged, and children dressed up in holiday finery, their eyes absorbing an occasion whose memories many years from now will bring the specialness of the evening back to life.

When Maestro Kevin Rhodes strode onto the stage, radiating his usual energy, the welcoming applause included an appreciative buzz about what he was wearing – a suit of black silk tailored for him during his recent tour with the Dutch National Ballet. The mandarin collar, the long jacket, suited his lithe frame. As an aside, he said, “Yes, I did go to China.”

The musical performance began with a loaded stage – 70 full-throttled SSO musicians plus 117 full-throated members of the Springfield Symphony Chorus performing Handel’s mighty "Hallelujah Chorus" followed by a Carmen Dragon arrangement of "Joy To The World" which made the well-known hymn seem new.

Maestro Rhodes, doubling as Master of Ceremony, introduced ABC40 TV meteorologist Ed Carroll to read “T’was the Night Before Christmas” while Rhodes conducted the symphony orchestra. But first, some repartee. Carroll said, “I don’t read music,” and Rhodes shot back, “But I do!” As Rhodes turned toward the orchestra and lifted his baton, Carroll dead panned, “And a one and a two . . . Just kidding!" and picked up his script. Backed by a lively score, the reading was charming.

And then, right on cue, Santa sauntered onto the stage, primed to have fun, to be every inch very jolly. He looked Rhodes up and down, taking in the cut of his silk suit. “Do we still call you Maestro . . . or is it Chairman this year?” The audience howled.

Christmas isn’t Christmas without selections from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” including “Dance of the Reed Flutes” and “Chinese Dance.”

I bet it’s safe to say that a Christmas Medley of traditional songs resurrected a montage of memories for many of us. Again, the arrangements by Carmen Dragon shone fresh light on timeless favorites, especially a particularly lovely rendition of “O Holy Night.” Gathered together – “Ave Maria,” “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem,” “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” and “Deck the Halls” – memories flooded decades of past holidays.

Following intermission, a new group of choristers took their places at the rear of the stage – the 59 members of the Children’s Chorus of Springfield (IN Springfield, OF Springfield, and FOR Springfield). They led off with Jeffrey Biegel’s arrangement of “Hanukah Fanatsy” followed by Clifton Noble’s arrangements of “Ochos Kandelikas,” “Wassail Song,” and from Humperdinck’s opera, “Hansel & Gretel,” the gentle “Evening Prayer.”

While the Children’s Chorus left the stage and the Springfield Symphony Chorus returned, Rhodes filled the time by borrowing a schick from Carol Burnett – opening up to taking questions from the audience which he handled deftly but one question brought down the house, “How much did you pay for that suit?” His answer? He didn’t know because he charged it and the credit card statement hasn’t arrived yet.

With everyone in place, a novelty song, “Christmas in A Minute” by Jeffrey Biegel set to the tune of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” whirled away, a choice that would have been better received had the rapid-fire words been sung by individuals.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, the phenomenally popular “White Christmas” by the prolific Irving Berlin bestowed authenticity to the time of year. A Christmas Medley followed, again arrangements by Carmen Dragon -- “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful,” (one chorus in Latin) “Carol of the Bells,” a beautiful “First Noel,” and for the final carol, the audience sang the first stanza of “Silent Night,” By then, the aisles were lined with the Children’s Chorus, each child holding a battery-charged candle.

The applause from approximately 2500 people was heartfelt. At the second or third curtain call, a seemingly lighthearted Maestro (in spite of how busy he’d been throughout the performance) feigned he wondered if he should treat us to an encore. And, of course, he did, and it was Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” which the audience rhythm-clapped until the man in the smashing silk suit did his best to get us to sharply clap only when the percussionist cracked the whip. We tried, and by the third or fourth attempt, some of us got it right but some of us didn’t. But laughing at ourselves? We nailed.

T’was a grand evening of Christmas cheer.

________________________________________________________________

 

Radiance

THE MUSIC OF MOTOWN

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2010

 

Reviewed by Donna Bailey-Thompson

The moment the Radiance ladies stepped onto the stage, they owned it. Dressed in identical, form-fitting bright purple mini dresses, the four women high-steppin' like young, spirited horses, sashayed to the center of the stage and opened their pulsating Music of Motown show supported by their own rhythm section and the full, and hot, Springfield Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Guest Conductor, Bill Grimes.

They opened with Heatwave and never cooled off. Freeway of Love (Aretha Franklin) and Come See About Me (Supremes) followed without a break. The amplification of the music was loud – very loud – and unless one was already familiar with the lyrics, deciphering the words was next to impossible. Oh well – unintelligible or not, the performers’ rhythm and pitch were on the money.

With Love Child (Supremes), by then accustomed to their non-stop energy, it was possible to appreciate their choreography. Not only their feet and legs were involved, their arms and hands were in virtually continuous motion. As were their bodies – except when leaning or perched on a stool for a few seconds to a minute or so while providing backup for whoever was singing lead. They switched around often – seamlessly – making wide loops or serpentine moves. And they sang non-stop, with real singing, not screeching, not sliding around hunting for a note, but with pipes borne of canaries.

The first act ended with a Donna Summer medley – that unmistakable disco beat: Last Dance, (She) Works Hard for the Money, Hot Stuff, Bad Girls. At some point, the Radiance four – Wendy Edema, MarQue Monday, Crystal Robinson, Vivian Scott – had completely seduced the audience with their radiant persona.

When they returned for the second act, slinkingly sophisticated in silky black jump suits with bling on their fingers and wrists and at their ears, still prancing as if they’d just enjoyed a shower and a rubdown, they dove into Dancin’ In The Street (Martha Reeves) and so did a guy in the balcony, dancing in place, experiencing the music. The great beat led into I’m So Excited (Pointer Sisters), a title that described most of the audience: the music was as intoxicating as an old-fashioned revival meeting. The Balcony Guy was a stand-in for all of us staying put in our seats while our toes tapped and our shoulders moved and our heads bobbed – audience and some SSO musicians.

The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hangin’ On followed by You Can’t Hurry Love were natural stepping stones to two by Aretha: (You make me feel like a) Natural Woman followed by R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Throughout, the singers sold every song, their legs and arms carrying on a la an aerobic workout – for real. Their smiles told us they were enjoying the show with us. Mutual appreciation arced between the stage and audience. The joint was jumpin’.

By then, Radiance had changed into a different costume – pale yellow dresses with a balloon hemline that grazed the knee and showed off their legs and the feet that supported them moving in a blur, the sure-footed fillies not fazed at all by strappy, spike heeled sandals.

The long leggiest of the quartet, Wendy Edema, she of the high cheek bones and (move-over-Michelle) gracefully expressive arms, soloed (with great backup), When Will I See You Again (The Three Degrees). She appeared to have what celebrity watchers call “a bump” of the five-month variety which when born will already know most of the songs his/her momma has been singing.

The quartet left the stage while the soothing melody of Love’s Theme (The Love Boat) took charge. Soon the sweet strains of only Concertmaster Masako Yanagita’s violin wafted into the farthest reaches of Symphony Hall – honeyed, assertive, commanding, delicate – solace for different taste buds, in sharp contrast to the high-spirited animation of Radiance, and respectfully honored by the audience’s applause.

When the quartet returned, their Christmas red gowns garnished with diagonal lines of deeper red sequins, the beat picked up, the choreography jumped into high gear, and the Supreme’s big hits got everyone’s blood flowing anew – Someday We’ll Be Together, and their talk-to-the-hand, Stop In the Name of Love.

And then, inevitably, the evening neared its end with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Diana Ross). The good nights were expressed, “We had fun, did you?” Like they needed to ask? The audience was on its feet. The four women who radiate their love of music, of singing, of dancing, left the stage. People who wanted to beat the crowds, hustled out, but they missed the return of the performers, still smiling, and the SSO struck up, We Are Family (Sister Sledge).


Wendy, MarQue, Crystal and Vivian worked the edge of the stage, in deep knee bends, extending their hand-held mikes to singing folks in the first row, rhythmic clapping from the audience, and for a magical spell, we were family.

We are family
I got all my sisters with me
We are family
Get up everybody and sing. . .

With the presentation to the women of resplendent multi-colored flowers, the evening's Music of Motown ended, but not the memories.



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___________________________________________________________

2009 - 2010

 

Springfield Symphony Orchestra

SSO Pops Concert

Kevin Rhodes, Music Director

Lonnie Klein, Guest Conductor

Saturday, May 15, 2010

SIMPLY SINATRA

With Steve Lippia

Ole Blue Eyes Nostalgia

Reviewed by Donna Bailey-Thompson

The evening was not designed to win new accolades for the acclaimed classical excellence of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra but for it to augment the musical support of the headliner, Steve Lippia, a crooner and at times a belter reminiscent of the incomparable Francis Albert Sinatra.


Probably three-quarters of the audience knew the words of the twenty Sinatra hits listed in the program – and the arrangements, too. Under the direction of guest conductor Lonnie Klein, the overture’s strong Broadway influence included brief introductions to two of the terrific Big Band musicians in Lippia’s own group – howling trumpeter Joe Scaffaldo (sp?) and a timber-rattling drummer who hails from Shrewsbury whose name, alas, I didn’t catch.


Steve Lippia, doesn’t pretend to be Sinatra. Because he grew up listening to Sinatra’s recordings and his mother singing the Big Band standards (she’d been a professional singer) and because he is blessed with being born with Italian pipes, at times his voice has a strong resemblance to Sinatra’s. He is not an impersonator. He’s a personable guy, a seasoned performer with an easy line of patter, whose pitch is true, who respects Sinatra’s legacy by singing the songs ole blue eyes made famous, many of them the same arrangements.


What Lippia does can’t be easy. He walks out onto a stage not physically resembling Sinatra to face an audience who admired Sinatra so much that they’ve shelled out bucks and forgone a laid back evening at home to change their clothes, go through the hassle of parking to check out this guy’s singing. Some may have a backup plan: “If we don’t like him, we’ll leave at intermission.”


He opened with the upbeat, I've Got The World On A String followed by The Best Is Yet To Come . His voice was similar to Sinatra’s but I was waiting to be won over. Lippia spoke of Sinatra’s broad appeal, that he was both a lady’s man and a man’s man. Further, that he recorded 1500 songs. With the Billy May arrangement of Cheek To Cheek, I exalted because, finally, the Big Band contingent provided a swinging beat ideal for dancing, something I've yet to hear a symphonic orchestras duplicate. However, with the Nelson Riddle arrangement of Witchcraft , its tempo and lilting beauty benefitted from the musicality of the SSO, as did the reflective It Was a Very Good Year, the Riddle arrangements of the musical genius of Cole Porter’s I've Got You Under My Skin and the romantic The Way You Look Tonight.


For a total change of pace, Lippia treated us to his effective emotive phrasing of Sondheim’s wry Send in the Clowns, accompanied by only his pianist, Jeff Holmes. This symbioses – Lippia’s voice in sync with the lyrics and Holmes’ appropriate minimalism at the concert grand – won me over; based upon the density of the applause, the audience and I were on the same page.


Following those poetic moments of introspection, the placement of the next song was so appropriate – the ironic That's Life. While two fortyish women in the next row kept time to the beat with their bobbing heads, my feet danced in place. The lady next to me responded to the beat with discreet, energized fingertips. Outwardly, the man to my right was as animated as a statue.

After intermission, Lippia remarked it was a good sign to see most of the audience had returned. Nevertheless, he had to win us all back, and he did with The Lady Is A Tramp and a song that captures Sinatra’s joie d’vivre, Come Fly With Me, especially when the arrangement is by Billy May who knew how to jump. In stark contrast was the Rogers and Hammerstein’s lyrical I Have Dreamed which Lippia delivered with winsome expectations. Lippea asked us to imagine Las Vegas in 1961, the Sands, Count Basie, and Sinatra singing Riddle’s great arrangement of Fly Me to the Moon. That strong beat made the most of being revved up with Saturday Night (is the lonliness night of the week) the World War II hit (early '40s). By now, the nostalgia was deep.


Lippea showcased his romantic side with In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning and followed with an assertive Luck Be A Lady that scolded the dice to behave. More Count Basie and the Big Band verve of You Make Me Feel So Young – and mentally, it did.

Of course the last song on the program was Paul Anka’s My Way which Lippea, with the full support of the SSO, delivered with in-your-face Sinatra defiance. The audience was on its feet. They’d just gotten warmed up. The program’s designers had sensed this emotional peak and built in an unlisted encore so when the orchestra surprised with New York, New York, and Lippia began singing, cheering erupted for this psychologically correct fillip, a salute to Sinatra’s in-your-face rebelliousness, his love of music, his singular contribution to America’s songbook -- and memories of his easy baritone, his impeccable phrasing, his ability to sing directly to me and to you. Could anyone get inside a song as well as Sinatra? Nah.

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