With 3 concerts in 4 days, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion offered music lovers a real symphonic smorgasbord that culminated with a visit from conductor, Keith Lockhart, and the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra. The series began with a remarkable concert by the Houston Symphony that featured a guest appearance by famed Apollo XII astronaut, Alan Bean. Setting the stage for Bean’s appearance, conductor Mariusz Smolij, led the orchestra in a magnificent concert featuring Goldsmith’s Theme from “Star Trek,” and the spatial music of John Williams with his Adventures on Earth from “E.T. The Extra-terrestrial,” followed by the Suite from “Star Wars.”
Captain Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, was also Commander of Skylab Mission II, which orbited the Earth for 59 days. For this concert, Bean brought the best of NASA’s space mission film footage of the various planets in our solar system. As he narrated details, the orchestra (smoothly conducted by Mariusz Smolij) performed Gustav Holst’s 1917 classic, “The Planets.” Calling the program “…a celebration of our accomplishments in 20th Century space travel,” Bean provided stunning footage of Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, while the orchestra lifted the audience heavenward with a heavenly performance. The eerie mystery of the presentation was compounded by the knowledge that this cinematography was no Hollywood special effect; it was the real thing! The only flaw I detected was the occasional use of animation that was not clearly designated as such. Never the less, the audience was happily entering a private world by special invitation. This program should be required viewing for students and taxpayers across the nation. One could hardly argue with Bean’s final proposition that “…all of us…are made of stardust.”
Following the concert, I had the honor of attending a small, backstage, private reception for Captain Bean. I suggested to him “…if space exploration has not previously been considered one of the performing arts, you may have made it one tonight.” The unassuming astronaut (and Apollo Mission artist) smiled broadly. He thanked me for “…the kind words,” while he was kindly autographing a print of one of his moon mission paintings for my nephew, Ben. And then, as though God had smiled on the occasion, the guests exited the Pavilion under a brilliant full moon.
A second Houston Symphony concert, “Music for Heroes,” was presented the following evening. With handsome guest conductor, Michael Butterman on the podium, Woodlands Hometown Heroes were honored with a program that included Beethoven’s Overture to “Egmont,” the 4th Movement from Brahms’“Symphony #1 in C Minor,” Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and Arnaud’s Bugler’s Dream from “Charge!” Butterman structured much of the program to involve the many children in the audience who had attended pre-concert workshops where they enjoyed an “Instrument Petting Zoo,” and constructed simple instruments of their own.
The final jewel in this triple crown of concerts was the Boston Pops performance last Sunday evening. As Lockhart conducted with the grace of a ballet dancer, the orchestra was concluding a five city national tour celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Richard Rodgers’ birth. And what a celebration it was! From the opening strains of the Overture to “Oklahoma,” there was a pure richness of musical sound that would fill the stage throughout the evening.
Enter the superb guest soloists of the evening, Broadway star Lisa Vroman, (currently Christine in Phantom of the Opera), and Ron Raines, villainous soap opera star of “The Guiding Light.” Raines is no stranger himself to Broadway musicals, having recently starred there, in a limited engagement, as Billy Flynn in “Chicago.” Together, the two would blow the roof off the Pavilion in a series of stunning Rodgers duets including “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” “If I Loved You,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Thou Swell,” and “I Have Dreamed.”
Mr. Raines solos included “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” and a breathtaking rendition of the Soliloquy from “Carousel,” that was visual, lusty and compelling. It was true theater, and I dare say it may have even surpassed the Gordon MacRae version familiar to fans of the film. In fact, the rich, robust quality of Raines’ voice is very much like MacRae’s. Vroman’s elegant solos featured a dramatic portrayal of Nellie Forbush during “A Wonderful Guy,” (from South Pacific), and a hilarious spoof of murderous wives with “To Keep My Love Alive.” And speaking of elegant, Vroman’s gowns were exactly that. They were sleek, floor length, and cut low in back. The first was in a soft, burnished, bronze-colored fabric. The second was a beautiful deep purple that glittered as though it housed all the stars of heaven. Meanwhile, never overpowering the vocalists, Lockhart exercised perfect control over the wonderful orchestra while Pavilion sound engineers did the best job of audio engineering I have heard in that venue. There was perfection on every hand.
For orchestral selections Mr. Lockhart provided the rarely heard “March of the Clowns” from Rodgers’ Nursery Ballet, an amusing and lighthearted John Williams arrangement of “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” and a “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” full of exotic contrasts and jazzy variations. Instrumental delights following intermission included a pair of Rodgers’ waltzes (“Lover” and “Falling in Love with Love”), a brisk and powerful “Guadalcanal March” from Victory at Sea, a breezy “Grant Avenue” from Flower Drum Song, and a delicious and joyful Overture to “Babes in Arms,” that must have sounded familiar to many area residents who enjoyed last summer’s Class Act production of that wonderful show.
The audience had fun joining in during a Sing-A-Long segment of “The Sound of Music.” Then, amid several standing ovations, and shouts of “Bravo,” Lockhart offered hand-clapping encores of “Oklahoma!” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” But what seemed to linger in my mind was Mr. Raines’ earlier solo of “Some Enchanted Evening.” For surely this had been an enchanted evening for all those present. I shall never forget the blessing of having been part of it.
(The Villager 8.29.02)
(The Courier 9.1.02)