Music review: Outdoor Pops

Sarasota Orchestra and guests score a home run at annual outdoor concert.

 

Originally published in The Observer
Date: May 14, 2017
by: Edward Alley | Contributor

In a picture-perfect evening Friday, May 12, the Sarasota Orchestra, with assists from the All-Star Singers and American Idol runner-up Clark Beckham, scored not only a home run — but a grand slam with its annual concert at Ed Smith Stadium.

Why is it we all get so excited about being able to enjoy hot dogs and peanuts (and yes, Cracker Jacks) while listening to a symphony orchestra? Maybe it’s the same somewhat perverse pleasure some receive (myself included) by being able to eat popcorn at an HD performance by the MET Opera. But unlike the darkened movie theater, an outdoor concert is an event in and of itself, with casually dressed people from everywhere flocking into the sold-out audience opposite third base to enjoy an evening of popular favorites.

Popular and favorite they were, beginning with “Entrance of the Gladiators,” that wonderful march that is the soul of the circus and followed by the “Star Spangled Banner,” beautifully sung acapella by the eight voices of the All-Star Singers. This fine group from Orlando, which has performed regularly at Disney World, continued with a set consisting of selections from “Damn Yankees” and “Momma Mia,” which turned into a spontaneous clap-and-sing-along and ended with a moving arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah.”

Then, the Sarasota Orchestra, which could easily be the “best backup band” in the business, came into its own with “Orange Blossom Special”— morphing every violinist into a “fiddler” charging full speed ahead in a pretty dazzling waterfall of fine fiddling. Following were musical “Portraits of the Beatles,” a selection from John Williams’ fine score for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”and a “Marvin Hamlisch Celebration,” beautifully arranged by Henry Mancini.

The evening’s headliner was Clark Beckham, runner-up in “American Idol” in 2015. Clearly an audience favorite, his casual manner, combined with his fervent country-blues style singing, brought forth big applause and cheers, especially his performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”

For his finale, Beckham was joined by the All-Star Singers in “God Bless the USA,” which brought the audience to its feet, singing and swaying with patriotism galore.

The Sarasota Orchestra then got down to the serious business of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” which has virtually said “Get ready for the fireworks,” since it was first used for that purpose in an outdoor concert, probably by the NY Philharmonic in their Park Concerts in the 1960s.

And arrive they did — aided and abetted by Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the fireworks once again stole the show with a gigantic display that ended a wonderful evening at Ed Smith Stadium.

No, the mandatory amplification of the orchestra is still not the best, but it has improved steadily over these past four years, and is only a part of the total ambience of the evening, which is the excitement of hearing a great orchestra and guest artists perform in an outdoor setting. No wonder it’s been sold out for four years and had a second concert scheduled this year. Congratulations to both the Orioles and the Sarasota Orchestra on a terrific evening.

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