Pops' Season Opener Recalls Days Of Radio

Posted: September 26, 2000

Peter Nero and the Philly Pops opened their 22d season Sunday at the Academy of Music with "Live! On the Air." They might have called it "Nostalgia Time." The theme of the concert was music you, or your parents or grandparents, used to hear during the glory days of radio.

So, after "The Star Spangled Banner," beautifully sung by Katie Lacie (on the high notes I imagined I heard the sound of shattering crystal), the Popsters opened with a rousing rendition of "The William Tell Overture." That was, of course, the theme song of The Lone Ranger, which, according to Nero, was the longest-running radio show: 21 years, starting in 1933.

One of the most popular radio shows in the '30s was The Jack Benny Program. One of Benny's shticks was to feign being a sincerely awful violinist - he was actually quite good - and to play his theme song, "Love in Bloom," making sounds like a cat on a hot tin roof.

In a piece called The Waukegan Concerto (Benny was born in the Illinois town), concertmaster Igor Szwek took on the role of Benny, and I am obliged to say he played nearly as well. (At one point, though, he reverted to virtuoso and cut loose with a sequence of utterly lovely notes.)

Nero's own arrangement of the familiar "Lullaby of Broadway" is a symphonic gem. His arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," with a mellow cello solo by Ulrich Boeckheler and himself at the piano, was as musically expressive as Wonder's original.

The Popsters, usually so exact in performance, sounded a bit ragged at times backing up the guest artists, a quartet called the New York Voices. The two men and two women are personable and enthusiastic, and their voices blend well in unusual harmonies. I liked the way they did "I'll Be Seeing You" without backup. I could have done without the scat and speed in "Don't Be That Way"; I don't think anybody can do it better than the original Benny Goodman version.

Philly Pops

Peter Nero conducting. Presented by Encore Series Inc. Performed Sunday at the Academy of Music, Broad and Locust Streets.

Additional performances: 3p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Monday.

Tickets are $15 to $52, students $7. Information: 215-893-1999.

Leonard W. Boasberg's e-mail address is lboasberg@phillynews.com.

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