An earlier generation knew Carnegie Hall as home to music of the likes of Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Leonard Bernstein, and of Marian Anderson, Judy Garland, and Leontyne Price. When the New York Pops, led by Steven Reineke—celebrating his 10th anniversary as Music Director and Conductor—opened its 36th season, at Carnegie Hall, on October 19, with a zesty and somewhat unusual crossover gala, “Roll Over Beethoven: A Different Kind of Orchestra,” we found (anew) that the hall also welcomes music of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Simon and Garfunkel, thanks to charismatic Las Vegas headliner Frankie Moreno, who made his Pops debut in its Frank Sinatra centennial salute in 2015. As the Pops, with verve, celebrated “the Golden Age of Rock and Roll,” as Reineke put it, it was hard to resist rocking, clapping, snapping, and even singing along.
After the orchestra played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” in honor of Reineke’s decade as its leader, the Maestro opened the concert, in the spirit of the evening, with the familiar introduction to Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathustra,” before launching into “(You ain’t nothin’ but a) Hound Dog” to begin “A Tribute to the King,” a Presley medley, arranged by Ted Ricketts. Heralded by the Pops’ beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist Moreno, assisted during the evening by his band—Alec Zeilon on guitar, brother Tony Moreno on bass, Mike Zerbe on drums, Fabricio Bezerra on tenor saxophone, James D’Arrigo on baritone sax and penny whistle, and Pete Bresciani on trumpet and banjo; backup singers Crystal Robinson, Ashley Kellough, and Markevius Faulkner; and dancers Lacey Schwimmer and Serge Onik, joined the Pops for a sizzling account of the concert’s irreverent ‘title song,’ by Berry, in Moreno and Pops pianist Adam Podd’s arrangement, with Podd’s orchestration. Moreno gave us a couple of his own contrasting numbers, a swinging “(You got me spinning like an old) 45” and hushed and moody “Some Kind of Love,” which he’d written for Ray Charles, who died before he got to record it.
Moreno and company offered an awed “I Just Can’t Help Believin’” and dramatic “Eleanor Rigby,” the Beatles song in an arrangement based on one he’d performed with violinist Joshua Bell. Moreno, at the Steinway, interpolated strains of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” and George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” into his sizzling rendition of “(Goodness, gracious) Great Balls of Fire,” and the company closed the first half with a rousing “Jump, Jive an’ Wail,” by Louis Prima.
Reineke’s upbeat arrangement of the Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” served as upbeat overture to the second half of the concert. “That’s Life,” Moreno sighed, singing the repeat of the Sinatra song unamplified and adding a harmonica solo. Playing acoustic guitar, Moreno treated us to heartfelt rock love song “Moonlight Matinee,” which he wrote with his brothers Tony and Ricky. He delivered a wistful “Beyond the Sea” by Charles Trenet, and invited all couples present to slow dance to his romantic “Stand by Me,” of Lieber and Stoller. After the company’s medley, including “Chain of Fools,” “Respect,” and “Rocky Top”—with a star turn for Concertmaster Cenovia Cummings—Moreno let out all the stops for “Burnin’ Love,” a searing Elvis moment, followed by Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” for a quiet finale.
The Pops next concert will be “Song and Dance: the Best of Broadway,” on November 16 at Carnegie Hall, with the New York Theatre Ballet and Judith Clurman’s Essential Voices USA. Look forward, too, to the Pops’ 36th birthday gala, on April 29, honoring Cyndi Lauper. Visit www.nypops.org
for further information.