Boston Pops – Planets and Patriots

Strauss
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op.30 – Opening
Holst
The Planets – Suite for large orchestra [selection: Mars; Venus; Jupiter]

Howlin’ at the Moon: A Moon Tune Sing-Along [arranged Peter Mansfield: Blue Moon – It’s Only a Paper Moon – Moon River – Fly Me to the Moon – Moondance – Bad Moon Rising – When You Wish Upon a Star]

The Star-Spangled Banner

Sousa
The National Game
Randy Newman
The Natural – Suite

Take Me Out to the Ball Game – I’m Shipping Up to Boston – This is My Country – The Pledge of Allegiance

John Williams
American Journey – Flight
Barber
Adagio for Strings

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Patriotic Sing-Along [arranged Richard Hayman: America – America the Beautiful – Yankee Doodle – The Yankee Doodle Boy – You’re a Grand Old Flag – God Bless America]

Sousa
The Stars and Stripes Forever

Oladunni Oladipo (vocalist)

Tanglewood Festival Chorus

Boston Pops Orchestra
Keith Lockhart
Andrew Zimmern


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 12 June, 2009
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts

This Boston Pops program, combining a celebration of the 40th-Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing with tributes to baseball and Flag Day (celebrated in the United States on June 14), offered a mixed-bag of classical pieces, patriotic songs, baseball-related compositions, and two singalongs.

The evening began with a tribute to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and an ear-popping rendition of the opening of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, familiar to so many through its exposure in the opening sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

Next came a hefty, vibrant account of three selections (‘Mars’, ‘Venus’ and ‘Jupiter’) from Holst’s The Planets. But the music was by no means the sole focus of this performance; it was accompanied by a video created by José Francisco Salgado, an astronomer and graphic artist of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. Astrological metaphysics inspired Holst’s score to the extent of supplying him with a conceptual title and a mood for each of the planets (Pluto not then discovered): thus ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’, ‘Venus, the Bringer of Peace’, ‘Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity’). In contrast, Salgado’s multi-media extravaganza, incorporating footage from NASA, the European Space Agency and illustrations from Chicago’s Adler Planetarium collection, emphasizes the scientific observation and exploration of the solar system.

Throughout Holst’s music, high-definition images of scientific charts and illustrations, film, photographs, and computer-generated imagery were projected on a giant screen above the orchestra. Salgado’s visuals were breathtaking at times, and generally well-timed to the impulses of the score, Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops delivering a rhythmically thundering ‘Mars’, a lushly sentimental ‘Venus’ and something nicely stirring in the hymn middle-section of ‘Jupiter’, but overall the music was forced to take a back-seat to the awe-inspiring visual presentation.

The mood then turned lighter, Lockhart inviting the audience to join in a “Howlin’ at the Moon: A Moon Tune Sing-Along”. As requested, audience members joined in – though not all, and never very well – as Lockhart and the orchestra played standards such as “Blue Moon”, “It’s Only a Paper Moon, and “Moon River”.

Following a brief intermission, the focus turned to baseball. This section started off with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and the orchestra delivering an exhilarating performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (the American national anthem, and since 1942 sung before the start of every professional baseball game played in America), and ended with a rollicking orchestral rendition of “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” accompanied by a video showing views of the city of Boston, championship plays from Fenway Park, and pitcher Jonathan Papelbon’s scene-stealing Irish jig during the Red-Sox 2007 post-season. Also included was a sprightly account of The National Game, a march composed by John Philip Sousa in 1925 to celebrate the 50th-anniversary of the founding of the National League, a tender excerpt from Randy Newman’s soundtrack for the film “The Natural” and a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball-Game” sung by fifty-six members of the Chorus.

The final third of the program was a tribute to Flag Day, celebrated on June 14 to commemorate the adoption of the flag of the U.S. in 1777. The Chorus started with a beautifully-sung version “This is My Country”, one of the Pops’ most-performed and patriotic tunes. Then Lockhart invited Oladunni Oladipo (a ten-year-old vocal phenomenon who made her debut with the Pops in 2007 at the age of eight) to take the stage. Oladipo has a mature and powerful voice for such a young girl and was extraordinarily poised as she sang “The Pledge of Allegiance”. The audience responded enthusiastically.

The program momentarily returned to space exploration with a performance of ‘Flight’ from John Williams’s suite American Journey, which was accompanied by footage from Eye Turned Skyward, a short film documenting the lead up to the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. Next came Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which sounded especially severe in the context of so much heartstring-tugging patriotism.

The Chorus delivered its best singing of the night in “Battle Hymn of the Republic” performed with a marvelously gentle earnestness. The quality of the singing turned decidedly downhill, when the audience took over the vocals in a “Patriotic Sing-Along”. The evening ended, as Boston Pops concerts often do, with The Stars and Stripes Forever, the U.S. National March, on this occasion guest-conducted by Andrew Zimmern, most widely known in the States as the host of a weekly television travel and food program called “Bizarre Foods”.



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