Some of the most popular films in Hollywood history were represented musically at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Thursday night.
Jeff Tyzik, currently in his 14th season as Principal Pops Conductor of the Rochester Philarmonic Orchestra, was on the podium to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program titled “Emerald City Night” and including music from “Superman,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Star Wars” and more.
This was Tyzik’s Saratoga Performing Arts Center conducting debut and it was long overdue. He is a fine conductor and an excellent on-stage host, introducing each piece with an anecdote or explanation but never getting hammy or overdoing it.
A composer and trumpeter, the Hyde Park native has impressive credentials in the world of popular music. He has had a long collaboration with trumpet star Doc Sererinsen and has composed and arranged for Maynard Ferguson, Chuck Mangione and the Woody Herman Orchestra. He has also crafted symphonic orchestrations for a number of Duke Ellington works including “Black, Brown and Beige” and “The Nutcracker Suite.”
But his first SPAC show with the Philadelphians was all about the movies.
John Williams, one of Hollywood’s most prolific composers, was big in the mix (”Superman,” “E.T.,” “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars”) and that’s always a good thing.
Williams writes scores that sound more classical than pop and they certainly gave this great orchestra a chance to show off its sound. There are sections in the Harry Potter music, in particular, that could pass for excerpts from a classical symphony and Darth Vader’s theme in the “Star Wars” suite sounds inspired by Shostakovich.
“oz” and a few westerns
Tyzik contributed two of his own arrangements — a suite from “The Wizard of Oz” and a collection of Western movie themes including “The Magnificent Seven,” “How the West Was Won,” “Silverado” and “Dances with Wolves.”
He commented that when he did the arrangement for “The Wizard” he was a bit intimidated because the music is so well known all over the world. “I felt like the wicked witch was looking over my shoulder,” he quipped. Besides such familiar songs as “Over the Rainbow” and “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead,” the suite includes a jazzy section called “Jitterbug” that was cut from the original movie.
Tyzik said he did very little arranging when he put together the western suite, preferring to feature the music the way it was originally written.
The orchestra’s soaring French horn section had a chance to shine again and again throughout the piece.
The concert opened with the “Superman March,” which had lots of brass, percussion and orchestral splash.
Before the Harry Potter excerpts, next on the program, Tyzik took the time to introduce the orchestra’s keyboardist, Kiyoko Takeuti, who was featured on a celesta solo that opens the piece. Principal flutist Jeffrey Khaner was also featured a number of times throughout the evening.
The concert drew a good audience inside the amphitheater and, despite a threat of rain throughout the day, a sizeable crowd showed up on the lawn.
And they were fortunate. It was raining a few miles south of Saratoga shortly after the concert, but SPAC escaped the downpour.
Classical purists sometimes ask why the Philadelphia Orchestra programs at least one pops concert during its three-week stay at SPAC.
All the kids on the lawn at last night’s concert is why.
They were not only there, they knew most of the tunes.