Sunday, July 02, 2000

Concert review

'Symphantasy' delivers banner night for Pops

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati Pops conductor Erich Kunzel has a reputation for being an advocate for young talent. On Friday at Riverbend, he devoted his 13th annual “Symphantasy” concert to America's future — and the future looks impressive.

        In some ways, the show was also a trial run for Tuesday's live Fourth of July broadcast on PBS. Professional lighting illuminated the stage, TV cameras were perched in the rafters and Riverbend sported star-spangled decor.

        Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf anchored the show's first half, with actor David Gallagher, 15, narrating in his Pops debut. The 7th Heaven star delivered his lines with imagination, and the tale was charmingly illustrated in dance by members of the Otto M. Budig Academy of Cincinnati Ballet (Daniel Simmons, director).

        For dancing of a different kind, the Pops played “The Continental” while ballroom dancers Elisa Carlson and Mark Willet dipped and twirled a la Fred and Ginger.

        Mr. Willet returned later for a sophisticated Gene Kelly imitation in “Singin' in the Rain.”

        The award for most heart-stopping act went to aerialist Alexander Streltsov, who dangled dramatically — and precariously — by the rafters from two fabric cords. A tremendous gymnast, he combined feats of strength with grace.

        Soaring to Themes from The Right Stuff, members of the Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy (Mary Lee Tracy, director) scored a perfect 10 with running backflips, leaps and somersaults. Even the tiniest gymnasts wowed the crowd of 2,686.

        Three young instrumental soloists also strutted their stuff. Billy Contreras, a 15-year-old fiddle champion from Franklin, Tenn., added fireworks in a country medley. Pianist Andrew Toombs, 16, a student at School for Creative and Performing Arts performed the Theme from Chariots of Fire. And saxophonist Chandler Webber, 21 inserted jazzy licks in Gershwin's “They Can't Take That Away From Me.”

        It all climaxed when 200 children of World Song: Children in Harmony filled risers for several choral numbers. They were joined by Jasmine Walker, a terrific vocalist and student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Mr. Willet.

        It was moving to see children from Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela and Cincinnati sing and sway to “We Are the World,” “Sing” and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” The encore, of course, was “It's a Small World.”


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