Houston Symphony with Linda Eder Was Not the Best It Could Have Been

Regular readers of this column know that I tend toward finding the positive aspects of the entertainments I review, but do not hesitate to declare the problems as well. Last Saturday night’s Linda Eder / Houston Symphony concert at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion had some problems-“Big time!” as Vice-President Cheney might say. But first, the good news:

The program opened in great form with conductor, Mariusz Smolij leading the full symphony in a dreamy and exciting performance of Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture.” It had the rhythmic flavor of “West Side Story,” and was perfect for a summer evening. Next, the symphony performed a majestic series of selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I.” It was superb from start to finish, and featured a bounding and glorious “Shall We Dance” that evoked memories of a proudly prancing Yul Brynner as king. Next came the symphony’s tribute to composer, Leroy Anderson with his delightful “Sandpaper Ballet” and sensuous “Blue Tango.” The first part of the program concluded with Ron Nelson’s “Savannah River Holiday,” which seemed to capture the many moods of the river.
Ms. Eder arrived onstage following the intermission. She has a stunningly beautiful voice. I learned that several years ago when a friend gave me a pre-production recording of the forthcoming “Jekyll and Hyde” musical I would later see in Houston and on Broadway. The talent of Ms. Eder was unmistakable. The many fans and “groupies” who know that were out in force Saturday night, and they had a good time at this concert.

In 1967 I had the pleasure of attending Judy Garland’s Opening Night at the Palace in New York. (In a happy accident, singer Connie Francis was seated beside me in the audience.) Several years earlier, I was fortunate to see Barbra Streisand on her closing day (Christmas) in the original New York production of “Funny Girl.” I mention these episodes because Ms. Eder has been favorably compared to both singers. In many ways, I think the comparisons are justified. But on Saturday night none of that mattered, because sound engineering at this concert was a scandal. This beautiful woman, with her extraordinary voice, was so over-amplified I really felt angry. Even the microphone she held was not above suspicion. There were songs where lyrics were so distorted as to be unintelligible. I am at the Pavilion often enough to know that the sound engineering is consistently first class, so I am at a loss to explain how this happened. Did someone important call in sick? Was there an unannounced employee strike? Or did Eder’s talented, longtime Musical Director, Jeremy Roberts, get carried away with conducting Ms. Eder’s onstage musicians and the fine symphony orchestra that supported them? The bottom line is that both the noise and the music overwhelmed the beautiful voice of Ms. Eder. This did not happen when I saw Garland and Streisand, and it did not happen when I enjoyed reviewing Cher’s fabulous concert here at the Pavilion. Eder deserved better!

There was an embracing “Come Rain or Come Shine” that could have reached perfection with better audio. Better still was the smooth and pleasing “I Don’t Know How to Love Him.” Eder sparkled in her glittering, sand-colored evening gown. Her diamond necklace was equally radiant. Yet another gem was “On the Street Where You Live,” with wonderful saxophone solos from Larry Sleazak. From her holiday album, Eder showed her skill as storyteller in “The Bells of St. Paul.” She gave the audience a sampling of the musical “Havana,” now being developed by her husband, composer Frank Wildhorn.

Fans heard a powerful “Man of La Mancha,” and there was a soaring “What Kind of Fool Am I?” after which Eder confided to the audience, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot in my entire life!” It was a warm evening at the Pavilion, but the audio engineering was not so hot!

(The Courier    7.15.01)

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About The People's Critic

David Dow Bentley III, writes columns about the performing arts which are featured in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast. A member of the Lambs Club, he is also editor of The Lambs' Script. Mr. Bentley may be contacted via e-mail at ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.
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