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Feinstein gets comfortable with Pasadena Pops Orchestra

Gershwin expert finesses new interpretations from the composer's indelible songbook.

September 18, 2013|By Lynne Heffley
  • Michael Feinstein during his debut performance as conductor of the Pasadena POPS at the Los Angeles County Arboretum during the Pasadena POPS 2013 Summer Concert Series on Saturday, June 1, 2013 in Arcadia, Calif.
Michael Feinstein during his debut performance as conductor… (Photo by Libby Cline )

After being named successor to the late Marvin Hamlisch as principal conductor of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, Michael Feinstein, a then-novice at conducting, studied up on the craft. But there's nothing like practical experience. That's what this renowned interpreter of the Great American Songbook got over the summer, conducting three outdoor Pops concerts at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia.

If nerves were apparent during Feinstein's first, otherwise delightful concert in June, they were much less so at his second in July and nowhere in evidence on his third and final concert of the season, “Michael Feinstein: The Gershwins and Me,” on Sept. 7. Inspired by his book of the same name, the concert fell, coincidentally, on Feinstein's birthday.

True, with nothing but Gershwin on the program, Ira Gershwin's former assistant-turned-stellar performer was in his natural element; but it is clear that Feinstein has now relaxed fully into deft and engaging conductor mode.

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At ease with both audience and the orchestra, Feinstein provided salient points about the history of each piece on the program, told loosely related stories (“because I'm in my anecdotage”), tossed in humorous asides, unrepentant puns and offered this heartfelt observation: “For me to interpret Gershwin in a way I never have before,” he said, “is a dream come true.”

Following the orchestra's surprise pre-show “Happy Birthday” sing-along for Feinstein, the evening opened with the premiere of the overture to the 1945 Warner Bros. Gershwin biopic, “The Rhapsody in Blue.” This lush arrangement by Ray Heindorf, cut from the film, included themes from “Embraceable You,” “I Got Rhythm,” Lady Be Good” and other Gershwin classics. As it swept into Gershwin's iconic “Rhapsody in Blue,” melody rising in the night with piercing sweetness, the entire orchestra — again led by exceptional concertmaster Aimee Kreston — demonstrated the graceful authority and cohesion that would distinguish Feinstein's entire evening on the podium.

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