There was reason to approach last night's pops concert at the Kennedy Center by the National Symphony Orchestra with eager anticipation. After all, the soloist was to be Carol Lawrence, the lovely Maria who intrduced to the world a little more than two decades ago that landmark of the musical stage concocted by Bernstein, Robbins, Sondheim and so many others -- "West Side Story."
But if the event was clearly "pops" it was not so clearly a "concert."
Where was the lyric simplicity of Maria as we remember her so well?
What we got was more pyrotechnics than music during Lawrence's portion of the program: at least a half dozen costume changes behind a tacky pastel pink screen, huge film projections on the closed doors of the Filene organ, overamplification through a hand mike, the drafting of men from the audience to make fools of themselves in TV game-show style, and the reduction to kitsch of virtually every song through gouging cuts and bloated accompaniment.
She kept referring to the NSO as the greatest orchestra I've ever heard," and one really felt for them, given the incongruous circumstances.
The first half of the program, under conductor Newton Wayland, was more standard -- Copland, Gershwin, etc.,
The orchestra is still searching for a satisfactory format for its pop series, something that only Boston has fully achieved and sustanied. One thing they haven't tried is to be brilliant, as in the series of light summer concerts Toscanini conducted during the early 1950s. His recordings of, say, "The Dance of the Hours" and Brahm's "Hungarian Dances" from that series, are the true test of what is possible. How about Bernstein for a week or two just to show that this can still be done?