PSO plays Hollywood classics

Marvin Hamlisch conducted the PSO last Thursday at Heinz Hall. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) Marvin Hamlisch conducted the PSO last Thursday at Heinz Hall. (credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) had its opening performance of “Marvin and the Movies,” which paid tribute to some of the most famous Hollywood movie scores of all time, last Thursday at Heinz Hall. The orchestra — conducted by four-time Grammy winner Marvin Hamlisch — was accompanied by the All-Star College Choir for four songs at the beginning of the show and by seven-time Grammy nominee saxophonist Dave Koz at the end of the show.

After the lights dimmed, Hamlisch stepped onto the stage to join the orchestra and greeted the audience with the casual air of an old friend. “You know, this is the perfect time for this show,” he said, “because the Academy Awards are coming up.”

Then, after making a joke about how almost no one in the audience had seen the nine nominated movies, he commented, “Movies have the power to touch our lives,” and led the orchestra in a short medley that combined “The Murder” from Psycho with “Tara’s Theme” from Gone With the Wind.

The second song of the evening was “A Salute to Gene Kelly,” featuring musical pieces from the best-loved scores of Kelly’s movies. The light-hearted medley, which included “Singing in the Rain,” was coupled with playful theatrics for an enjoyable performance.

The most highly anticipated portion of the night came after intermission when Koz joined the orchestra. His on-stage personality was as suave and vibrant as the smooth jazz he unleashed from his instrument.

Koz was quick to charm the audience, playing a brassy rendition of one of Hollywood’s greatest love songs, “Moon River,” which he credited as being perhaps his favorite melody of all time. The saxophonist even granted the audience the pleasure of hearing him sing a line of the famous song.

After performances of “The Pink Panther” and “Over the Rainbow,” the orchestra began to play a piecemeal composition of the music from the James Bond film series. The musicians had barely played three notes, however, when Hamlisch interrupted the performance. “Wait, this doesn’t feel right,” Hamlisch explained, picking up a white jacket from atop the grand piano. The audience responded with cheers as Hamlisch helped Koz to slip into the iconic piece of Bond-esque attire.

“The name’s Koz. Dave Koz,” the saxophonist joked.

After interrupting the music just once more to hand Koz a drink — “shaken, not stirred” — Hamlisch let the medley recommence with a flick of his baton.

Straying from the night’s theme of movie scores, Koz treated the audience to performances of two of his original pieces, “Cuban Highway” and “You Make Me Smile.” The visual experience of watching Koz play his music was as stimulating as the acoustics: his shoulders rising with the notes of a peaking melody, his patent leather shoes never planted solidly on the floor, back arching, legs bowing. The music invaded his limbs. Koz received a standing ovation after dropping to one knee to play a complex segment of “You Make Me Smile.”

Another highlight of the evening was seeing some of Carnegie Mellon’s own students perform as part of the All-Star College Choir. After some songs, Hamlisch stopped to have onstage chats with randomly chosen members of the choir. For example, after the choir’s performance of “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis, Hamlisch teased sophomore Hannah Marks when she shared that she is a vocal performance major. “A person who doesn’t need any money. Right here, ladies and gentlemen,” Hamlisch joked.

Sophomore voice major Kati Richer was also called out by Hamlisch. When asked whether she found the music of Hollywood classics old-fashioned, Richer responded, “I love this music. It’s timeless.”