This time of year is all about traditions – familiar carols, often viewed movies, and well-worn decorations – but all traditions have to begin somewhere.
Hard to believe that the Bach Sinfonia has been around for 19 seasons and I believe their concert this past weekend at the Cultural Arts Center at Montgomery College was their first holiday program. The Sinfonia specializes in music written before Beethoven so it is no surprise that their program concentrated on music of the Baroque and even ventured into the late Renaissance periods.
When it comes to the greatest albums ever made, the Beatles’ career changing opus “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” regularly tops the list, but then the disagreements start. Everyone notes it was the first concept album, but no one can tell you what the concept is.
From its montage album cover, featuring everyone from Karl Marx to child actor Bobby Breen, to the wide variety of musical styles, “Sgt. Pepper” announced the arrival of psychedelic in music. The record was released in 1967, when the world was experiencing a lot of unrest and change.
Classic Albums Live is a group of touring musicians dedicated to recreating famous albums on stage in live performance. Unlike some groups, they do not try to look like the band itself, and the concert experience is fairly basic – despite some nice lighting there were no psychedelic flourishes here except in the music. They do perform the album in its entirety, beginning with the first song on side one and going straight through in order to the end. You don’t even have to worry about flipping the vinyl disk over.
For “Sgt. Pepper,” Classic Albums Live had 13 members on stage, which hints at what’s to come. For such a famous album, there were not a slew of hits here. It starts off with a bang with the title track, seguing into the pop ditty “With a Little Help from my Friends,” and then the most controversial song in the Beatles’ canon. For a long time the Beatles insisted that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” had nothing to do with LSD, but with its trippy vocals and hypnotic broken chords, this isn’t “Love Me Do.”
What follows is a lot of songs that were not big hits and not your usual rock and roll numbers. This explains the extra musicians as we cover all sorts of musical styles. There was a string quartet (no guitars) for “She’s Leaving Home,” the serious exploration of Indian music for “Within You Without You,” and the British music hall number “When I’m Sixty Four.” It all leads to the reprise of “Sgt. Pepper” tune and the boys saying goodbye but there’s an encore – “A Day in the Life” which is an epic tune of constantly shifting tempos, ominous crescendos, and a seemingly endless final chord.
It is a reminder that not only is “Sgt. Pepper” a revolution in musical styles, it was probably the least upbeat and most serious pop album made up till that time.
Classic Albums Live prides itself on “playing every note of every song” but that is almost impossible with something as dense as this album. They could not reproduce live all the swirling carnival atmosphere of “Benefit for Mr. Kite” and “Lucy in the Sky” does not have the trippy fade out.
Still it is amazing what they do capture. A whole barnyard menagerie erupts at the end of “Good Morning” and those crescendos on “A Day in the Life” come off very well. With all those extra musicians the group does capture the full range of the Beatles’ vision. “Within You Without You” came off particularly well with its hypnotic Indian rhythms and modes and “Lovely Rita Meter Maid” is a delightful upbeat lark. And yes, “Lucy in the Sky” remains as psychedelic as ever.
Like most albums of the time, “Sgt. Pepper” is fairly short – less than an hour long. After intermission, the Classic Albums Live musicians returned for a medley of other Beatles hits. Pop quiz – for a second half about an hour long, so about a dozen or so tunes, what Beatles songs not from “Sgt. Pepper” would you select. The back catalog of Beatles tunes is immense, but the choices by the Classic Albums Live musicians were both fascinating and eclectic.
They started off with several numbers from the White Album and Abbey Road, including the final portion of the famous Side B suite. The pivotal Rubber Soul/Revolver period was skipped over except for “Nowhere Man,” but they did reach back to some very early Beatles rarities, including a few of their covers – “Please Mr. Postman” and ending with “Twist and Shout.”
In a way this second half worked better than the first – it was much more a typical rock concert than trying to recreate an almost impossible to reproduce album. While “The Long and Winding Road” needed a little more oomph, who knew that the strangest song to ever become a top 40 hit – “I am the Walrus” – could end up being a great final jamming session.
I realize that a Beatles concert without “Yesterday” is unusual, and everybody has a favorite song that was not covered – for me, where was “Norwegian Wood” and a lot of great songs from the “Magical Mystery Tour” album. Someone in the audience yell out “Free Bird,” which I never knew was a Beatles tune.
But it was good to get this breadth of the Beatles career, even in condensed form. The ground that the Beatles covered in a decade was immense. Who could have guessed from listening to “Twist and Shout” that “Sgt. Pepper” and “Abbey Road” were only a few years away?
While hosting groups such as the Baltimore Symphony and WPAS, Strathmore continues to present its own schedule of shows, both in the Music Center and the Mansion. For the holidays the offerings range from the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra on December 8 to Coral Cantigas in the Mansion on December 18. Other offerings include the Count Basie Orchestra on February 28, Michael Bolton on March 2 and Olympia Dukakis on March 13.
For more information and a full calendar of events, go online to www.strathmore.org.
Mocovox Entertainment Critic
Why is that pacifist writing a war requiem? And what is that guy in the English countryside doing in outer space?
With all the musical groups in the area – from the intimate Bach Sinfonia all the way up to several full sized orchestras – it is surprising there is a hole in our musical offerings. Yet British music rarely makes its appearance on our concert halls. However, two recent programs by the Baltimore Symphony and conducted by Marin Alsop helped remedy that situation.
Sitting in the background most of the time, adding an occasional splash color, the harp is one of the more neglected instruments of the orchestra. At the recent concert by the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra, the harp stepped front and center in a showpiece that revealed a lot of potential in this often sidelined instrument.
For television viewers of a certain age, “Run Will Robinson run,” brings back instant memory flashes of silver space suits, space hippies, giant talking carrots and being “Lost in Space.”
The actor who was Will Robinson is Bill Mumy. Mumy is famous for a variety of roles as a child actor, including some classic installments of the Twilight Zone and as an adult had a large supporting role in Babylon 5.