The Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra leads off each season with a Pops concert, and for the last few years, under the direction of Thomas Joiner, these Pops concerts have featured vocal music. Last year, the focus was on Irving Berlin, a songwriter who could not read music, let alone orchestrate. This year, attention turned to Richard Rodgers, a sophisticated composer who used many tools of classical composition in his Broadway musicals. Rodgers’ collaboration with Lorenz Hart led to witty, attractive and entertaining film scores and theatrical successes, but it was when Rodgers turned to Oscar Hammerstein II as librettist and lyricist that the dramatic scale of the American musical was extended to new heights. In this concert, we heard examples from six works: the groundbreaking Oklahoma, the movie score State Fair, and the musicals Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific and The Sound of Music. With two exceptions, the orchestrations were by Robert Russell Bennett.
Soprano Jacquelyn Culpepper and bass-baritone Dan Boye were soloists for the night. Both are on the faculty of Davidson College, where Ms. Culpepper teaches voice and Dr. Boye chairs the physics department and teaches a physics course for non-majors entitled “Musical Technology.”
The program began with “A Richard Rodgers Portrait,” a light arrangement by Bruce Chase of well-known numbers from five of the evening’s six musicals. There was nothing from Carousel, perhaps because that tragic musical, based on Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom, is not at all light. Appropriately, the first vocal selection was “It’s a Grand Night for Singing.” As has been the case at previous concerts in the Blue Ridge Conference Hall, the vocal amplification was excessive. The vocalists at times covered the sound of a full orchestra. Someone else may have noticed; by the second half of the concert, the amplification was more appropriately modulated.
Next came “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” sung by Dr. Boye with gusto and a stage manner that displayed a naive grace appropriate to the character of State Fair. “People Will Say we’re in Love” from Oklahoma was sung by both soloists, and “Something Wonderful” from The King and I was sung by Ms. Culpepper. The first half concluded with a very effective suite of selections from The King and I. The skill of Rodgers and the savvy arranging of Bennett led to this being one of the high points of the concert. Amidst pentatonic Asian tunes, orchestral counterpoint, fine work by trombones and percussion, the listener was transported to Siam.
Calvin Custer’s orchestral arrangement of the famous “Carousel Waltz” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel opened the second half of the program, followed by three other selections from that musical. Ms. Culpepper’s “If I Loved You” was sung with excellent dramatic feeling and in a voice that showed her at her best. I found the tempo chosen for “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to be too slow; I always think of it as being at a slow walking tempo, not a funereal pace. The two soloists were dramatically fine in this work, but Ms. Culpepper displayed an excessive vibrato here and in some of her other solos. Carousel, in my book, qualifies as an opera. It was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s favorite as well as mine, and I look for operatic voices in its performance.
An orchestral suite from South Pacific presented a dozen familiar tunes supplemented, in passing, by a Morse code tattoo (Remember when Emile De Becque sends back intelligence information by radiotelegraph after Lt. Cable is killed? Perhaps this was his message.) This suite included some very striking brass work in “Bloody Mary,” “Bali Hai,” “Happy Talk,” “Honey Bun” and “This Nearly Was Mine.” Dr. Boye then had his chance to shine with “Some Enchanted Evening,” showing why he sings solo roles at Opera Carolina.
Finally, there were selections from a crowd favorite, The Sound of Music. A dozen familiar tunes were delivered, some by orchestra, some by the soloists, and a few with the audience invited to sing along. They performed “Do, Re, Mi” so well that Maestro Joiner invited them to do an encore. The soloists departed from both sides of the stage, danced with members of the audience in “No Way to Stop It” and returned to the stage to conclude with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” The Blue Ridge Conference Hall at Blue Ridge Community College was filled with the sound of music in a very happy concert.