A pops concert in a shopping mall conjures up all kinds of negative images. Inattentive audiences more interested in talking than listening; noisy kids running amok; distorted sounds from overworked speakers; haphazard performances shabbily covered with glitz, and certainly not much in the way of music. Given these expectations, the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra Pops Concert Saturday night, at the grand opening of the newly enclosed and upgraded Landmark Center, was a refreshing surprise.
Of the many factors that contributed to the success of the event, the most important was the high level of the performances. The program was standard pops: selections from "Oklahoma," "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music" and two sets of Beatles transcriptions. Conductor Kim Allen Kluge led a group of Alexandria Symphony members and local freelancers with the same energy and musicality that he provides to music of Beethoven and Mendelssohn, and the orchestra responded with precision and enthusiasm.
John Phillip Souza's "Stars and Stripes Forever" opened the show. It was a good start, with strong brass, an excellent piccolo solo and plenty of dynamic contrast.
Soprano Dorothy Yanes was an impressive soloist in the show tune medleys. Her vocal presentation demonstrates a rare combination: solid, operatically trained vocal technique, crisply clear diction, a pop singer's comfort with a microphone and the ability to maintain one-to-one communication with the audience.
Yanes and Kluge were on the same wave length throughout the concert, making music together and with the audience. They were unafraid, even in the cavernous space, to provide moments of delicacy: "Edelweiss" and "People Will Say We're in Love" were sung very softly and with a delicious transparency. It was just the contrast needed to such rousing numbers as "Climb Every Mountain" and the title song from "Oklahoma."
The electronic amplification, an absolute necessity in the three-story open space, was provided by Bruce Tandy, of Springfield Sound. The round stage was virtually ringed with large, black speakers and the upper floors were served by speakers imbedded in some of the columns. The balance was good and the sound was neither too loud nor too soft and, given the resonance of the hard surfaces, as clear as could be expected. Words, either spoken or sung, were often lost in space, but if you were near one of the columns you could hear them perfectly. But we all know the words anyway.
The audience sat around the stage on folding chairs and on the side of decorative pools, and stood around the railings of the mezzanines. There was a miminum of background noise (although one fountain a "block" away should have been shut off).