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Pops’ Parisian concert lacked only words

The romantic theme for Saturday’s Pops Concert was “Paris, Je T’Aime” (“Paris, I love you”) and orchestra, conductor and soloists played it to the hilt.

The guest conductor was Sarah Hicks, who succeeded Doc Severinsen a few years ago as Principal Conductor of the Minnesota Pops.

The guest instrumental soloist was Patrick Harison, a true master of the rarely heard button accordion. Incidental solos were played by Concertmaster DeAnn Letourneau, tuba artist Zachary Jackson and principal trumpet Tom Wright.

Conductor Hicks, a petite but energetic figure, bounded onto the stage wearing an eye-catching off-the-shoulder purple sling top that gave the audience ample exposure to her well-toned back.

More significant distractions, however, would be her overly large beat patterns, regardless of the tempo or volume she sought to convey, and her apparent habit of using what professionals call “mirror beat” in which both arms are beating the same pattern simultaneously. It is more usual to employ one hand to convey tempo and the other to convey style or balance.

French popular music has its own distinctive earmarks, and compositions by the likes of Michel LeGrand and Jacques Brel display uniquely French melodic and harmonic character.

Understandably, music about Paris by French composers was represented heavily in the program with only a few side excursions.

Music from films was prominent, including Le Grand’s “Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair” and his exquisitely beautiful “I Will Wait For You“ from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

American composers, too, were represented. Vernon Duke’s “April in Paris,” and John Williams’ “Tango” (featuring Ms. Letourneau) were heard, while George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” closed the program’s first half.

Broadway was prominent as well, with a medley from “Phantom of the Opera” and another from “Les Miserables” getting full attention from the orchestra.

Speaking of the orchestra, the warm and rich sound it has displayed frequently recently was not much to be heard.

Instead it was often overly bright, and strings even approached being harsh. A slight reduction in size was apparent, but the real cause might lie with the amplification process in Reynolds Hall.

Accordionist Patrick Harison was heard frequently, but the primary features were two works by French composer Joseph Colombo: “Indifference” and “Passion.”

Both were played perfectly, but Ms. Hicks added some French seasoning by casting what appeared to be smoldering over-the-shoulder glances. Nothing is so romantic it disallows having some fun.

The encore proved to be the traditional French cancan, to which the audience clapped along, and Ms. Hicks ensured the fun wouldn’t end as she added a few music hall kicks to send everyone home with smiles.

What could have added to the enjoyment? Words!

The French writers in particular are as attentive to their texts as they are to their notes. How incomplete it seems to hear Jacques Brel without his poignant words or Michel LeGrand’s music without the words for which it was conceived.

I know, that’s asking a lot, but how can we truly love the music of Paris without its emotionally charged words?

The audience size was somewhat off compared to recent Pops evenings. Speculation is that it was due to the considerable attention given the Helldorado Days event being held in the vacant land across from the Smith Center.

Warnings about street closings surely deterred some people from attending. In fact parking and traffic flow were, if anything, better than usual.

All in all, this was an enjoyable and well-performed evening, a suitable au revoir to a musically and artistically satisfying Philharmonic season.

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