Maybe it takes more than two.
To tango, that is. The Long Beach Symphony POPS! concert, “Tango Caliente!,” at the Arena Saturday night involved the services of one conductor, four dancers, a singer, a bandonéon player, and the orchestra itself.
How can you not to enjoy a POPS! concert? The social aspect alone, especially at the tables, ensures a good time; you’re either with your friends or a congenial group of strangers. Everyone’s food looks delicious, whether catered or brought in. Those who dress for the occasion, whether tango — or Valentine’s Day-related, contribute to the air of festivity. Add to that an adult beverage or several, for those who indulge, and the success of the evening is complete.
Sometimes the energy from the stage and the quality of the music making push the concert over the top to the realm of the sublime. The best POPS! concerts take several insanely gifted individuals, put them up in front of everybody, and let them do their thing.
There was plenty of talent onstage Saturday. The soprano, Camille Zamora, has the kind of smoky, sensuous voice perfect for this music, and she sings with a ton of passion, and an equal amount of skill. The dancers, Patricia Touceda, Eva Lucero, Celina Rotundo and Hugo Patyn, were lovely to look at, smooth and assured, and much more athletic than I expected. The bandonéon player, Hector Del Curto, is a Grammy Award-winning recording artist. Rob Istad, the conductor, late of our Camerata Singers and now artistic director of Pacific Chorale, conducts with a firm beat and a nice feel for the style, and has an easy, engaging manner.
And the orchestra! We know our symphony is very, very good, but on this night they surpassed themselves. They played not only with their customary virtuosity, but with a romantic personality that embodied the spirit of the tango. There were soloists who stood out, namely Chyi-Yau Lee, who sat concertmaster in place of Roger Wilkie; Diane Alancraig, who usually plays second flute but here played principal; and Ralph Williams, clarinet, another section player promoted to principal for this concert.
Del Curto came out at the beginning with Istad and sat front and center in the orchestra throughout. The distinctive sound of the bandonéon, added to the ensemble, created the proper atmosphere and made for some amazing orchestral colors. And the highlight of the evening, for me, was his personal, informative and funny demonstration of his unique instrument.
And yet, something seemed off. Maybe it was the overall sameness of the music; the best POPS! concerts, in addition to energy, display variety. When you do a tango concert, every number on the program is a tango. Despite the inclusion of works by the great Astor Piazzola, and the efforts of star arranger Jeff Tyzik, there were very few selections on this concert that stood out from the rest.
Of course there was a standing ovation at the end; no concert in Long Beach is complete without one these days. But the applause throughout the evening was polite rather than enthusiastic, and while the evening passed pleasantly enough, for the most part it lacked that elusive wow factor.
Like the old chief says in “Little Big Man:” sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn’t.