Orchestra combines baroque, Beatles music for sake of peace

Courtesy arshchtcenter.org

​The Miami Symphony Orchestra, in a bid to attract new audiences to the world of classical music, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in Miami with a concert highlighting the charm, energy and versatility of their iconic works.

Sunday evening’s event also served to promote the new “Make Your Own Peace” initiative, a new charity program designed to empower individual action toward peace. Featured vocalists included American Idol winner Ruben Studdard, and newcomer Haven Star, billed as “the voice of peace.”

The evening started out wonderfully, with a tour through the sections and instruments of a traditional orchestra in The Beatles’ music. It was delightful to hear “Penny Lane” with live trumpets, a gloriously intense rendition of “Eleanor Rigby” for the violins, and a strangely dignified tuba performance of “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

The Vivaldi-inspired “Beatles go Baroque” was also dazzling. While the band’s tunes were still recognizable underneath the baroque flourishes, it was a fantastic way to ease new listeners into more classical styles, and Vivaldi’s high energy suits the Beatles well.

Sadly, sections involving vocals were less stunning. Ruben Studdard’s interpretation of “Imagine” was saccharine and inane, and paired with the pleas for support and donations for the new charity initiative, it came across as somewhat disingenuous. He did slightly better with “On the Long and Winding Road,” but seemed to be profoundly uncomfortable, repeatedly mopping up his sweat.

​I hesitate to say anything poor about Haven Star. She has a beautiful voice, and has a promising career ahead of her. I would however, question her use in the show. The repeated insistence that she was “the voice of peace” felt like a pushy sales pitch. In addition, that claim introduced what was to be a long series of frankly uncomfortable racial politics to her performance.

Singing, as a white American, in a position of global leadership, in and of itself would be slightly awkward. But to do so with a heavily gospel-influenced vocal style, while being backed by both a prominent African-American star in Studdard, and a full African-American choir, landed her entire performance into whole new territories of discomfort. It shows a lack of forethought on the part of the concert organizers, and was a glaring disappointment.

The performance also seemed a tad under rehearsed, presenters tripping over their speeches and backpedaling to cover missed lines. In addition, a few technical glitches plagued the evening, including one issue with the piano lift that left a baffled, increasingly restless audience sitting in the dark with no explanation for five minutes.

Despite issues, the concert still was noble in its efforts, and managed to provide a charming evening’s entertainment. Pops concerts at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts are always fun, if nothing else, and this proved no exception. Bringing music, and this time, perhaps peace, has to be applauded, even when it doesn’t quite stick the landing.