Pops Celebrate 20th Performance In Conte
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
The 20th anniversary Pops on the Heights concert took place last Friday at Conte Forum to kick off Parents’ Weekend. Conte Forum was abuzz with activity, completely transformed from the familiar basketball and hockey arena to suit the evening’s semiformal atmosphere. A cappella groups, including the Bostonians and the Heightsmen, set the mood for the families entering the gala with a selection of popular hits. Benefactors enjoyed table dinners preceding the show, this year including an open bar on either side of the floor. In his introduction, chairman John Fish, P ’13, honored the celebration’s founder James F. Cleary, BC ’50, H ’93, P ’84, P ’89, who passed away earlier this year. Since its conception, the fundraiser has grown enormously and now offers scholarships to over 125 students annually. This year’s performance, however, stands out from the rest, thanks to headliner Harry Connick, Jr., who dazzled the audience after intermission.
Conductor of the Boston Pops Keith Lockhart and the University Chorale opened the concert with a few fan favorites, including selections from “Carmina Burana.” The two groups collaborated skillfully with a beautiful rendering of the well-known masterpiece. Considering many Boston College students are familiar with “Carmina” from hearing it during the football games, this evening provided a welcomed exploration of the depth of this moving music. The Chorale exhibited an impressive mastery of the complicated score and Latin phrasing to compliment the Pops’ crisp sound in the large arena. The remainder of the first act was spent in what has become an annual tribute to Lockhart’s predecessor, John Williams. As Lockhart stated, Williams’ music has become “the soundtrack of our lives.” Star Wars’ “Imperial March,” “Far Away,” and the main theme from E.T. are beloved favorites even to the younger generation.
The star of the second act needed no introduction. The crowd roared as Connick took the stage in a stylishly tailored suit that had the audience swooning from the start. The New Orleans native opened on the piano alongside his unforgettable big band with an upbeat piece that set the mood perfectly. The next song was an old Sinatra favorite called “All the Way,” doubtlessly chosen to highlight the evening’s surprise guest, Branford Marsalis. The audience was on the edge of their seats as Marsalis took center stage with his tenor saxophone. Connick modestly explained that after his main sax player had taken ill, he boldly decided to “call his idol” and offer Marsalis the spot for evening, expecting him to decline. To everyone’s astonishment and delight, Marsalis accepted. These two unparalleled artists came together in the alliance of the decade.
Connick followed with a few selections from his album releases, including “And I Love Her,” “The Very Thought of You,” and “You Don’t Know Me.” The highlight of the evening, however, dwarfed them all. Connick introduced “Danny Boy,” saying that he finds the lyrics hard to sing because he considers them to be some of the most beautiful ever written. He performed the song as a duet with Marsalis. The particular tone on the tenor saxophone under Marsalis’s practiced hand blended perfectly with the smooth hue of Connick’s voice to create one of the most moving performances ever heard at a Pops concert. There mustn’t have been a dry eye in the room when the last chord rung through the rafters.
The mood changed again with the finale song, “Down on Bourbon Street.” Connick resumed the New Orleans big band celebration with solos from both the trombone and trumpet players. Both performances were very impressive and a great deal of fun to hear. It’s truly a mark of excellence for Connick’s big band players that each musician is capable of offering such excellent solos. The Pops joined in the fun to finish the final number with a bang. The audience responded enthusiastically with a standing ovation lasting long enough to encourage the musicians to play an encore. Connick selected “Zulu Queen” to keep in theme with the New Orleans jazz. About halfway through the song, he declared that he would show us “how they dance down in New Orleans.” He started with a strut that vaguely resembled a Bernie, and moved into a boogie woogie walk in the tradition of the Mardi Gras Strut down Bourbon Street. As the Pops and band continued playing and the audience clapped along, Connick shook his way back and forth across the front of the stage. The audience erupted with cheers, applauding the star’s unforgettable performance.
The Pops and the Chorale finished off the evening by playing “For Boston,” followed by “Stars and Stripes Forever” with a New Orleans piano twist from Connick. Needless to say, the concert was an enormous success and a fantastic contribution to the sesquicentennial celebration.