By: Tara Bennett
The LSU Rural Life Museum and Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) were blessed with the perfect weather they have been waiting for two years this past Saturday for their annual Symphony Pops concert. First launched in 2013, the outdoor concert was created as a way to give the people of Baton Rouge an opportunity to see the symphony in a countryside setting, but without having to drive hours away. Since its inception, it has been met with opposing stormy weather, especially in 2014, which forced the symphony to move indoors to protect the instruments.
“We delayed the concert for as long as we could because we thought the rain would blow over,” said BRSO Associate Conductor David Torns. “The rain is too much for the instruments. The violins and string instruments can’t get any water on them.”
But this year there was no worry for unpredictable Louisiana weather. Saturday’s concert was met with a pleasant sky and a delightful breeze amidst the scenic outdoors in the heart of Baton Rouge, which was welcomed by attendees as well as the performers.
“It ended up being just a perfect night,” said Torns. “It was nice, and cool, with a breeze going. This year made it so much better that it didn’t rain.”
With the setting just right, and guests lounging on their picnic blankets and lawn chairs, the concert was underway. Supporting the symphony this year with their vocal talents were LaKisha Jones, Matt Giraud, and Haley Scarnato, three top 10 finalists from previous seasons of “American Idol.” While none finished higher than fourth place on “Idol,” the trio’s performances were well-received as they performed an impressive range of hits and lit up the night with their renditions of popular songs, including a bit of Broadway, a dash of movie music and pop/Motown songs spanning the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, which filled the two-hour program. The beauty of these performances is that there are songs everyone knows, enjoys and loves. Along with the colorful lighting and glittery costumes the show had real pizzazz.
“The music is just incredible,” said Pam Fischer, a docent of the museum. “We have partnered so well with the symphony. They’re such nice people to work with…It’s an evening that no one in Baton Rouge should miss.”
Giraud (season 8) is a piano player from Kalamazoo, as well as the jokester of the trio with a knack for knowing how to plug his CDs. He honored Ray Charles with his own spin of “Georgia on My Mind” and performed “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” with a whimsical delivery.
Scarnato is from the heart of Texas who has a penchant for fashion as she wore glamourous fashions from a stunning evening gown to a sassy miniskirt. A hint of her Texas accent was present in her variation of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” but her standout performance was her homage to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” By taking the high notes down a few notches for Scarnato’s vocal range, the hit song was performed beautifully.
But it was the soulful, gospel singer Jones who stood out amongst the trio. Jones received instant encouraging applause the very minute she uttered the first few notes of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary,” which was ultimately the crowd favorite for the evening. Proving to be a force of musical nature, Jones also sang a near note-for-note copy of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
“It was great to actually perform with three musicians who are still gathering their fame, they’re still learning how to handle the music business,” said Torns. “Their professionalism was terrific, and I think they enjoyed working with our symphony. Everything went very, very smoothly. We were proud to have them here.”
It also did not hurt the singers to have one of the biggest backup bands that can be allotted for a performer. Under Torns’ direction, the symphony played an epic arrangement of music ranging from a poppy “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing)” to a rich orchestration of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” as well as the moving, heartfelt version of “My Heart Will Go On.” The concert contained a great number of contrasting moods, ranging from joy and excitement, to longing and contentment.
The overall performance was excellent, but especially praiseworthy was the playing from the oboe, violin, and English horn sections. Overall the orchestra, masterfully led by Torns, gave an inspired show.