OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Pops opens 2011 season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Pasadena Pops
Orchestra; Michael Krajewski, conductor

Saturday, June 18, 2011 The Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl

Next concert: July 23; 7:30 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

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On the eve of the City of Pasadena’s 125th
birthday, the Pasadena Pops Orchestra opened its 2011 season last night at The
Lawn Adjacent to the Rose Bowl with a program that joined in the citywide
celebration and proved to be notable for more than the music.

 

Like the California Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl, the
Pops erects large video screens on the sides of the stage. However, rather than
being content with showing just the conductor and orchestra musicians, the Pops
engaged Elliot Forrest, a Peabody Award-winning visual designer, to create
still and video projection montages that accompanied many of the evening’s
pieces. Some of the montages were more successful than others but the concept
was innovative and definitely worth considering for future concerts.

 

Some of the image collections were predictable. To accompany
Carmen Dragon’s Tournament of Roses
March,
Forrest used pictures from familiar Pasadena scenes, including
Caltech, the Rose Bowl and the Rose Parade (as an aside, it’s worth noting that
there are other educational institutions in the city than Caltech). Images of
familiar Italian scenes accompanied Robert Wendel’s pastiche of Puccini opera
tunes and God added a glorious sunset to the performance. Dragon’s arrangement of
America the Beautiful was accentuated
by familiar Americana images.

 

Others were more whimsical. Forrest illustrated
Shostakovich’s Festive Overture with
a graphic sequence that had overtones of the opening segment (Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) from Walt
Disney’s 1940 movie Fantasia. Rockin’ with the Beach Boys used a
series of period images, including covers of the group’s albums.

 

After a tentative beginning, guest conductor Michael
Krajewski — Pops conductor for the Jacksonville, Houston and Atlanta Symphonies
– proved to be a witty raconteur and kept things moving forward smartly on the
podium. The one exception was the final work on the printed program,
Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which
merely plodded.

 

The orchestra’s playing was crisp throughout most of the
evening, although the Tchaikovsky had several ragged moments. Fortunately, the 1812 and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Together, which served as the sole encore, were
accompanied by spiffy fireworks displays that sent everyone home in a properly
festive mood.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

The video-screen quality appears to have improved from
last season. The colors are more lifelike without the annoying bright red hue
that was evident last season.

The concert was preceded by mercifully brief speeches from
Pasadena Symphony Association President Melinda Shea, Chief Executive Officer
Paul Jan Zdunek and the city’s vice-mayor, Margaret McAustin.

Krajewski noted in advance of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances that people would recognize
the first theme (used for the 1950s song Strangers
in Paradise).
The baby boomers in attendance undoubtedly did, but it’s open
to question as whether the youngsters knew what it was).

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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