On Feb. 13 and 14, Eastman Theatre was the stage for two very special Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra WPOP concerts. These concerts featured the stunning Ben E. King, who is best known for the hit “Stand by Me” and his time with The Drifters. On the program was a collection of romantic songs from the standard repertoire, as well as some themes from recent movies.The first half was opened with “Tara’s Theme” from “Gone With The Wind.” The RPO is a world-class orchestra and I was instantly reminded of this by the brilliance of the first few chords. The song offered a romantic start to an even more romantic concert with its dreamy, yet rich and full sound. “Tara’s Theme” was a proud showing of Rochester’s brass and strings, setting a benchmark for the rest of the concert that would be hard to beat.The next work was a romantic medley, entitled “The French Collection,” by Henry Mancini. It showcased the versatility of the RPO, which quickly switched into a jazzy style with the addition of a drum-set. It is said that music moves people. During the song I felt transported back to the streets of Paris in the 60s. The piece culminated to a regal fanfare ending with impeccable timing and fullness.”The Way We Were,” by Marvin Hamlisch, was the next selection performed by the RPO under the direction of Michael Butterman. This exceptional performance featured the piano as well as flute and clarinet soloists. A soaring trumpet solo highlighted the smooth, flowing texture of this work. After the song the house lights came up and the orchestra took a long-deserved bow.The next piece on the concert, “Across the Stars” from “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” was suprising to see on a Valentine’s Day concert, but after hearing the performance it seemed quite fitting. I believe that the song will make an interesting addition to the standard repertoire of romance songs. This great love composition by John Williams greatly overshadows the on-screen chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen. The performance was another reminder that the RPO is a world-class orchestra.As a trombone player myself, the next selection featured my favorite RPO member, trombonist Mark Kellogg. Always stunning whether in front of the orchestra or with his section, Kellogg gave a magnificent rendition of “Someone to Watch Over Me” by George Gershwin. His excellent slide work and tone would make any trombonist jealous. Second trombone Mark Salatino commented on Kellogg after the show saying, “This guy is really one of the greatest in the country.” Not to be outdone, the rest of the orchestra supported Kellogg magnificently.The first half of the concert was concluded with another selection by Gershwin, the overture from “Funny Face.” This work was in sharp contrast to the last, as it was comical, light and playful. This jazzy arrangement by Rose featured the clarinets and trombones. The RPO made this song a great conclusion to a romantic and delightful first half.The second half began with a bold musical introduction of King. He glided onto the stage as the RPO was playing and jumped right in on “There Goes My Baby.” Without pause he transitioned to “This Magic Moment” by the Drifters, of which he was a member. King immediately displayed a commanding stage presence. Together, he and the RPO recreated the classic sound for which the Drifters were known. The crowd excitement easily matched his.”The next song I would like to dedicate to all of the ladies,” King declared in a suave voice. He then started in on an impeccable rendition of “Save the Last Dance.” This was my personal favorite, for King sounded on the top of his game. The RPO accompaniment was so perfect that you would swear that they were actually the back-up on the recording.King sang “Amore,” “Spanish Harlem” and “On Broadway” next, occasionally turning around and singing to the RPO. He seemed very impressed at the skill of the orchestra. A nearly full Eastman crowd cheered and applauded each time he started another song.Next, King announced that he would be singing “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday. After a brief pause he joked “Young kids don’t know about these things, see if I said P. Diddy…” [crowd laughs] I doubt P. Diddy will be touring the world when he is 65.Without a single break he continued with songs such as “It’s All Right,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and “Up on the Roof.” The crowd was tapping their feet and clapping their hands to the music. King asked at one point how many people in the crowd were in love. The number of hands raised showed that the concert was popular for couples.Over an hour after he took the stage, King was showing no signs of stopping. He continued with “Friends Medley” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I especially enjoyed his rendition of the latter, which was much more refined than the Bette Midler’s 1989 version.King closed the concert with his most famous single, “Stand By Me.” The crowd rose to their feet, cheering with excitement. After the song, he left the spotlight with the RPO continuing and then returned to center stage for an encore. King sang “I’ll Do for You Anything You Want Me To,” but then returned for a brief, second encore of “Stand By Me.”While the house lights came up, King took a bow with the RPO. As he left the stage, every couple in the audience kissed. It was a perfect date for the most romantic night of the year. Slominkski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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