Right on, man! Pittsburgh Pops salutes '70s with verve
Gaudy costumes and a large mirror ball above the stage were part of the scene of the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops' tribute to the music of the 1970s on May 2, the first of four performances of “Disco Days and Boogie Nights.”
The program was created by conductor Jack Everly and the Symphonic Pops Consortium, a production company he heads and which is supported by five major orchestras. “Disco Days and Boogie Nights” is a smartly constructed, high-energy show with frequent changes in vocalists and the outfits they wear.
The program began with “Prelude to a Decade,” which — given the inclusion of the theme from “The Brady Bunch” and ABBA's “Mamma Mia” — indicated the music wasn't to be limited to disco.
The evening was mainly a series of medleys, beginning with one devoted to the Bee Gees that featured the smoothly professional all-male Chapter 6 singers.
Chapter 6 played the Village People for “YMCA” right before intermission, and in the second half performed the Queen hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” a cappella.
The first of the five songs performed on their own was “The Way We Were,” last performed at Heinz Hall in the Marvin Hamlisch memorial concert in January. Farah Alvin began introspectively but built to a big belted-out climax.
John Lennon's “Imagine” also provided contrast for uptempo medleys. It was performed in an arrangement for orchestra only, benefitting from the beautiful oboe solo by Cynthia DeAlmeida at the start and others later in the piece.
The orchestra included many principal players, including four of the five string principals. Nevertheless, Lennon's words were missed.
The Disco Divas medley, including “I Love The Night Life,” showed Eleasha Gamble, Anne Beck and Alvin to be comparably powerful entertainers. In the second half, Gamble sang “I will Survive” with all the self-assertion it deserves.
Everly was a fine host with his own brand of humor, and remembered the decade included the opening of Heinz Hall in 1971. It did take him two tries to get his normal speaking voice back after listening to the high tessitura of Chapter 6 singing the Bee Gees.
Humor was definitely present in orchestral medleys called “Love Boat and Other Masterpieces” and “Groovy Movie Themes.”
This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. May 4, and 2:30 p.m. May 5 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $98. Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org.
Mark Kanny is the classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.