Sultry and ageless, Bernadette Peters opens Pops season in style

May 10, 2012 at 2:02 pm

By Keith Powers

Bernadette Peters with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at Wednesday's opening night program. Photo: Stu Rosner

With American panoramas, Broadway flash and an overdue local tribute, the Boston Pops opened its 127th season Wednesday evening under the baton of maestro Keith Lockhart at Symphony Hall.

“America’s Orchestra” runs right at its core audience this season—no more crossover collaborations with groups like My Morning Jacket and Guster. This spring season includes a heavy dose of Gershwin and Porter, a tribute to Barbra Streisand, all wrapped around a visual theme that incorporates the sweeping landscapes of photographer Joseph Sohm.

With Sohm’s images of Americana on a slideshow overhead, the evening began with an orchestral Gershwin medley. Once everyone had settled in, pianist/vocalist Maggie Scott took the stage in her first Pops appearance since 1950.
You read that right. In her early 20s, Scott—longtime professor at Berklee, and mentor to many young musicians, including bassist Esperanza Spalding—so impressed conductor Arthur Fiedler that he invited her to perform Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the Pops.

Now 83, Scott doesn’t possess a show-stopping voice but has a true jazz artist’s syncopated touch at phrasing. She sang two medleys, one Gershwin, one an amalgam of pop tunes, with suave grace. Pianist Michael Chertock then continued the Gershwin thread, sitting in for Rhapsody in Blue, a Pops staple that he has performed numerous times in Symphony Hall.

Chertock took his cue from the saucy clarinet opening (principal Thomas Martin), offering a free-spirited reading that may or may not have all been there in the score. Chertock’s articulation, especially in the cadenza of the last movement, missed some clarity, but his take on the piano classic was thoroughly Pops and eminently likable.

After intermission Broadway star Bernadette Peters took the mike, and from the get-go the audience was hers. She sang ten or so songs from the Great White Way songbook—hits from Gypsy, South Pacific, Follies, Sweeney Todd and other classic musicals, many of which she has starred in.

At 64, Peters still looks like the sexy ingenue she dour decades agos. Her voice has lost a little edge, and she was bothered by a cold apparently, but she can still turn a phrase, and brought some of the best songs of musical theatre to vibrant life. Sondheim is a specialty, and two songs from FolliesIn Buddy’s Eyes and Losing My Mind—stood out for their loving interpretations.

But every measure had the delivery and soul of a real entertainer, who seemed like she was enjoying every minute, and made the audience do the same. Many Pops soloists stand in front of the band and do their own thing; the best seize the moment, and incorporate the players, the setting and the crowd.

Like Peters. She grabbed the mike and went straight into the crowd for a couple numbers, snuggling up to one lucky patron during There Is Nothing Like a Dame, lying on the piano for Fever, filling the space between songs with humorous personal anecdotes.

Lockhart had the band sounding great, with cellist Martha Babcock sketching out a wonderful solo during Sondheim’s No One Is Alone (from Into the Woods), as did concertmaster Tamara Smirnova during Some Enchanted Evening.

The Boston Pops season runs through June 16.; 617-266-1200.

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