REVIEW: Feinstein, Pasadena Pops swing with Gershwin at the Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Saturday night’s Pasadena Pops concert before a large crowd at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia offered a diverse selection of music by George and Ira Gershwin, along with selections from composers who were either influenced by or contemporaries of the Gershwins.

However, the evening was also a good opportunity to see how Principal Pops Conductor Michael Feinstein has matured and improved both as conductor and ringmaster during his nearly five years leading the Pops. He could not have pulled off such a complicated program in 2013 with the panache that he did Saturday night.

As he often does in these types of programs Feinstein appeared as conductor, pianist, soloist, raconteur, historian and (as noted above) master of ceremonies over a cast that included two stellar vocal soloists, a pair of dancers and several Pops’ soloists. Altogether they performed 20 numbers on an evening that ran nearly two-and-one-half hours.

Feinstein’s conducting chops continue to improve year by year, although as he demonstrated when leading a performance of “Mambo” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” he’s no Gustavo Dudamel, (it’s also fair to note that five years ago he could not have conducted Dimitri Tiomkin’s “Mars Ballet” with the assurance with which he led Saturday’s stylish performance by the Pops).

Throughout the evening as he often does, Feinstein managed to exhume a couple of scores that have lain quietly in vaults for decades. He began the program with Ray Heindorf’s “Rhapsody in Blue Overture,” which was written for the 1945 movie but never used. “Mars Ballet,” which was written for the 1929 film “The March of Time,” was another of the evening’s “discoveries” that were receiving their first public performances.

The evening’s vocal soloists were Rachel York, who used her smoky seductive voice to full effect on “S’Wonderful, “Loved Walked In, “Swannee” and — most particularly on “The Man I Love;” and Jordan Danica, who took an evening off from “Hamilton” to sing a poignant rendition of “Ol’ Man River” along with “Fascinating Rhythm,” Sweet and Lowdown” and “That Certain Feeling.” Someone needs to feature Danica on a solo vocal program at an indoor locale such as The Broad Stage — he was terrific on Saturday!

Dancers Anna Petrova and Forrest Walsh negotiated a narrow sliver of the Arboretum stage with graceful élan on two sets of numbers.

• Preconcert publicity had listed Madelyn Baillio as one of the soloists but she didn’t appear and no mention was made as to why.
• The publicity also listed “Someone to Watch Over Me” as one of the songs to be performed but it didn’t make the final list (too bad, it’s one my favorite Gershwin songs).
• The final concert in the Pops 2017 season is Sept. 9, when Feinstein leads a program of movie music from Universal Studios (last year it was Warner Brothers). Information:

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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