Mitch Miller is some kind of guy. Aside from being this country's premier ambassador of the sing-along, he has had a distinguished career as a concert oboist, record company executive and symphonic conductor.
Last night he played almost all those roles during an all-Gershwin program with the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap. Addressing the huge crowd as if he was entertaining in his own living room, Miller, dapper with his white goatee, told of the time he spent traveling with a symphonic ensemble led by George Gershwin himself. Then came the music: the gay and impressionistic "An American in Paris," "The Concerto in F," and the overwhelming favorite, "Rapsody in Blue."
David Golub was the soloist in the latter two pieces, turning the piano into a vibrantly percussive instrument. There were times when one longed for a bit more dynamic range on his part, but then again, these are not the most subtle of works.
The orchestra responded beautifully to Miller's rythmically acute and wildly energetic style; the jazz-and-blues-influenced passages swung and wailed accordingly, and the more Latin elements came through with fire and precision.
The evening ended with a rousing songfest. Members of the audience clutched the handouts and followed their tireless leader through a series of golden oldies, including "Home on the Range" and "If You Knew Susie." Miller's vigor knew no bounds; he jumped off the podium, waved his arms and ran across the stage, and made everyone more than a little bit nostalgic.