Pops still young at heart

Doc Severinsen & the Boston Pops
Boston Herald

By Keith Powers

Celebrating popular culture has made the Boston Pops what it is, and so it’s no surprise that opening its 125th anniversary season on Tuesday evening at Symphony Hall included a nod to favorites from Gershwin to “Glee.”

For the bulk of the century and a quarter, the Pops has had three just directors: Arthur Fiedler, John Williams and current maestro Keith Lockhart. Each has left his own stamp on the orchestra, and the splashy three-part program honored all of them.

The survey of Fiedler’s distinctive taste was all American, including some things patriotic (“National Emblem March”), and some things kitschy (Leroy Anderson’s idiosyncratic and enjoyable “Typewriter,” which served as a soundtrack to a video retrospective of the colorful Fiedler years). But it also had some real substance: Gershwin’s great “Rhapsody in Blue,” turned nicely (albeit in a bowdlerized version) by Pops regular Michael Chertock, as well as the most eloquent tribute of the night, featuring concertmaster Tamara Smirnova, who soloed gracefully in a timeless Pops favorite, “Jalousie,” the first million-selling recording of any kind, as Lockhart pointed out.

The highlight of the John Williams section was an appearance by 82-year-old Doc Severinsen. Doc, looking outrageously fit – and outrageously attired in a floral shirt and sequined tux – caught most of the notes in a Beethoven-inspired arrangement written especially for him. The Williams tribute filled out with several selections from his substantial repertory, including the Olympic theme and the unforgettable music from “E.T.” and “Star Wars.”

Anticipating public taste is how Lockhart described Fiedler in his introductory remarks, and the inclusion of Broadway star Idina Menzel made it seem like Lockhart fills that description pretty well himself. The Tony-Award-winning singer, well known already for roles in “Rent” and “Wicked,” and soon to join the irrepressible cast of “Glee,” belted out a selection of show tunes, showing she knew her way around a mike, and building anticipation for concert-length appearances with the Pops tonight and tomorrow.

Pops being Pops, there was a steady fill of extra-musical activity, including a Beatles karaoke singalong and a birthday cake especially created by celebrity chef Duff Goldman, who got to conduct “Stars and Stripes” for his baking troubles. The high profile anniversary season runs through June 20 at Symphony Hall and continues with a July Tanglewood appearance featuring Alec Baldwin narrating a world premiere and a free September concert on Boston Common. Happy birthday, and many happy returns, to America’s orchestra.

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