The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra ended its 2014-2015 pops season with a spectacular May 9 concert at the Long Beach Arena.
Front and center was guest conductor Steven Reineke, currently the music director of the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall and former principal pops conductor for the LBSO. No wonder his rousing hello and the joy he expressed about being back in Long Beach seemed so genuine– because they were! Without a question, Reineke was elated to be conducting this orchestra in this city on this particular evening. His enthusiasm had a decided effect on musicians and audience members alike. By the beginning of the second piece, one of the first violinists was grinning, realizing perhaps for the first time in her career that playing for the symphony is more than a serious job. It’s a whole lot of fun.
The night began with Dvorak’s “Carnival Overture,” which contains within it both the unbridled strength of stallions racing across an open range and dreamy, nymphs-cavorting-beneath-a-waterfall interludes of wind instruments and strings. “Carnival” set the tone for the rush of powerful pieces that would come. Second up were selections from Carmen, the opera about a red-hot seductress. LBSO’s performance made me wonder how this could ever have been improved upon by adding the singing.
Stepping from the wilds of the bedchamber with its feminine energy into the super-charged power of a victorious army, Respighi’s “Pines of the Appian Way” appeared. I heard muffled cheers and giggles from Belmont Heights residents who reside on Long Beach’s version of this historic route. Excerpted from a larger work– a symphonic poem titled “Pines of Rome”– this section clearly conveyed raw, masculine strength in the heavy footfalls of soldiers marching into Rome, dawn breaking just as they reached the apex of Capitoline Hill.
As this heralding of ancient Roman heroes ended, Reineke asked anyone who had ever been an LBSO volunteer or a board member to stand and be recognized. A round of applause worthy of Caesar erupted. To complete the kudos, the orchestra broke into “Bolero,” forever linked to Bo Derek and the 1979 movie 10. On May 9, however, the perfect score was not for looks but for love of this orchestra.
Whereas the first half of the concert featured the works of European composers, the second half was all American: Copland, Bernstein and Gershwin. “Fanfare for the Common Man” had everyone clapping but no one as fervently as Reineke. “Variations on a Shaker Melody” was inspired by the hymn “Simple Gifts,” which contains the words “Tis a gift to be simple./Tis a gift to be free.” I thought of adding another line: “Tis a gift to have such a symphony in the LBC.”
Perhaps the most fun number of the evening was the hoe-down from Copland’s “Rodeo” ballet. As Reineke noted, it was also used as background music for the National Livestock and Beef Board’s “Beef– It’s What’s for Dinner” commercials of the early ‘90s. The LBSO put such a kick into it that I had to restrain myself from shouting, “Yee-haw!”
“Times Square 1944” was written by Bernstein to convey the story of three sailors on 24-hour leave in New York City. The LBSO’s performance conjured up images of enlisted men taking in the skyscrapers, strutting down the streets and getting caught up in the freneticism and the frivolity of the Big Apple, with Reineke moving as if he were the one on leave.
Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” served as the official close to the concert, though the audience was so appreciative that Reineke gave us a double encore of “West Side Story” and John Phillip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
This concert was a rousing close to a fantastic series of five concerts. In truth, it had but one flaw, and neither the musicians nor the conductor were to blame. Instead, the offenders were members of the audience. I was flanked on two sides by jabberers: The three at my table didn’t seem to be commenting on the concert at all but simply yakking away about anything under the sun. They could as well have been at the beach or on a road trip. The other contingent would break into laughter at inappropriate times– like whenever the orchestra was playing. What is it that makes some people think they can improve upon a performance by chattering their way through it? Long gone, it appears, are the days when the worst thing you could do at a symphony concert is clap between movements.
The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season begins in October. For more information, visit lbso.org.