Just Yankee Doodle dandy

Review: Local talent - from a banjoist to a tap-dancing youngster to the Ravens Marching Band - flavored the BSO's `Star-Spangled Salute with Marvin Hamlisch'

June 09, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Despite its title, the current Baltimore Symphony SuperPops program - "A Star-Spangled Salute with Marvin Hamlisch" - isn't just a flag-waving, Yankee Doodle, born on the Fourth of July patriotic spectacle. Sure, the program boasts patriotic songs aplenty, and ends with a red-white-and-blue salute to Old Glory itself. But there was also ample time allotted for other forms of Americana, and that, ultimately, was what made yesterday's performance at the Meyerhoff so thoroughly entertaining.

America is a vast and diverse country, and that variety was at the very heart of this concert. It offered America as imagined by Irving Berlin and Stephen Foster; it presented the operatic blues of George Gershwin and the Tin Pan Alley pep of George M. Cohan; it ran the gamut from John Philip Sousa to "South Rampart Street Parade" to "76 Trombones." It may have been as American as apple pie, but the music itself offered as many flavors as a smorgasbord.

It also included a surprising range of guest artists. The program (which runs through Sunday) may be the last in Hamlisch's tenure as the orchestra's principal pops conductor, but he didn't seize that as an excuse to hog the spotlight. Instead, he opted to share it with the sort of local talent one wouldn't normally find performing at a symphony concert.

For example, when was the last time you heard a piece played by banjo soloist and orchestra?

But there was one on the bill yesterday, a spirited and colorful medley of Stephen Foster tunes performed by local banjo virtuoso Buddy Wachter, whose playing eschewed the Scruggs-style picking of country music and bluegrass for a style that harked back to the rag and jazz styles of the teens and '20s. It was fabulous, flashy playing, even if Wachter did have a little trouble staying in tempo.

Another unlikely soloist was tap dancer Ryan Johnson, whose all-too-brief number evoked the fluid rhythms of the great jazz tap soloists. Not bad for a kid who just graduated yesterday from eighth grade!

In addition to Ryan's tap shoes and Wachter's banjo, Hamlisch widened the concert's musical palette by drawing on vocal ensembles ranging from a barbershop quartet (which dubbed itself "The Marvelous Hamtones" in honor of the conductor) to the Baltimore Symphony Chorus.

The smaller ensemble was particularly effective singing several selections from the Meredith Willson musical "The Music Man," but one bit - in which the Hamtones were joined by members of the Towson Valley Sweet Adelines - suffered when Hamlisch, assuming the role of Professor Harold Hill, delivered his lines to the orchestra instead of the audience. (Hint: We're the ones behind you.)

That wasn't the only bit of razzle-dazzle, though. Midway through the orchestra's rendition of "76 Trombones," who should march in but the Ravens Marching Band? Impressively, even with Hamlisch on the podium, band directors in the aisles, and the audience clapping along, the Marching Ravens still managed to rush the beat.

SuperPops

What: Marvin Hamlisch conducts the Baltimore Symphony SuperPops

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow; 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $21-$50 today, $25-$59 today through Sunday

Call: 410-783-8000

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