A slight cloud cover, cool breeze and a congenial crown came together to make the Boise Philharmonic’s inaugural “Picnic at the Pops” an unqualified success.
A good time was had by all Saturday night at the Eagle River Pavilion, from the effervescent renditions of music by the Gershwins to the relaxed family picnic atmosphere.
Kids rolled around on the ground; philharmonic regulars sipped wine at tables; and sponsored VIP tents were staffed with “ambassadors” to facilitate the evening and stocked with appetizers and wine (a nice touch).
The mix in the crowd of about 1,100 showed a new audience to one of Boise’s oldest and best performing arts groups.
And it’s about time.
This orchestra has needed this type of performance series for years. That’s why music director Robert Franz set it as his goal a few years ago. Pops concerts are the perfect in for someone new to the symphony scene.
A Mahler symphony performed in a concert hall is a bit intimidating for a newcomer. A sassy rendition of “I’ve Got Rhythm” — as sung by baritone Jason Detwiler — is not.
It also was a chance for the orchestra players to let their hair down and expand their repertoire to popular music (the origin of the term “pops.”).
The three-concert series opener featured music composed by George Gershwin, vocal performances by Detwiler and his wife mezzo soprano Michele on Gershwin standards, and a surprise.
The series continues over the next two Saturdays.
The acoustics at Eagle River — helped by a few well-placed microphones on stage — were lovely. It turns out to be a great venue for classical music. However, the vocalists, especially Michele, needed a bit more volume in the mix.
The layout, with tables in front, followed by chairs and then lawn and picnic seating, felt open and inviting.
On stage, Franz clearly was enjoying himself, conducting with fluid, energetic motions and a huge smile.
The musicians — led by associate concertmaster Benjamin Thacher in the concertmaster’s seat — played with just the right touch on the overtures for “Girl Crazy” and “Strike up the Band” and selections from “Porgy and Bess,” which was richly and dynamically orchestrated. But I would have loved to hear Michele sing “Summertime.”
At the top of the second half, Franz offered a surprise. He swapped out the planned overture to “Of Thee I Sing” for a lovingly played tribute to another great American composer, Marvin Hamlisch, who died earlier this month.
They played the overture to “A Chorus Line,” Hamlisch’s most successful Broadway show. (It made the theater geek in me so happy.)
When they needed to get serious, they did with ease on Gershwin’s Three Preludes in the first half and the closing “An American in Paris” suite, the ballet music from 1951 Gene Kelly film.
It was a wonderfully rich and spot-on performance and a perfect beginning for what is sure to become a Philharmonic staple.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland