The 84th season opening of the Hollywood Bowl, which also functioned as the venue’s sixth annual Hall of Fame concert, proved a worthy testament to inductee Frank Sinatra’s brilliance. The towering Sinatra was such an intimidating act to follow that it took a while to switch gears for fellow inductees Joshua Bell and Trisha Yearwood. Fortunately, both displayed the high level of artistry to stand alongside the newly crowned Chairman of the Bowl.
Preceding the three recipients, Fred Willard and William Shatner warmed up the crowd, and John Mauceri’s orchestra furnished a richly arranged version of David Raksin’s “Laura,” notable for its haunting introductory trombone and sweeping waltz sections. Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”) and Jane Kaczmarek (“Malcolm in the Middle”) hosted a segment on three influential music teachers selected by admiring students, and Jerry Goldsmith’s “Star Trek” theme proved a riveting reminder of the great loss suffered by the film world when Goldsmith died in 2004.
Following discussion of “Music Matters,” the L.A. Philharmonic program formed to develop and educate young musicians, Quincy Jones described his relationship with Sinatra worshipfully (“Every song was a role — every 32-bar song turned into a three-act play”). He conducted “Fly Me to the Moon” to Steve Tyrell’s swinging rendition, then offered explanations of Sinatra’s genius (“Before Frank, musicians were the stars — he made singers the stars”). Film clips certified Old Blue Eyes’ versatility — “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Man With the Golden Arm” and “Anchors Aweigh,” latter showing the surprisingly supple Sinatra dancing with Gene Kelly.
A highlight was the clip of “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” an “Anchors Aweigh” sequence filmed at the Bowl, and one that spotlighted the young Sinatra at his yearning, wistful best.
Frank Sinatra Jr. joined the tribute with renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight” and a thoughtful, sensitively phrased “Old Man River” that played movingly against the song’s expansive interval stretches. Nostalgia hit its peak after daughters Nancy and Tina appeared and introduced their mother, Nancy Sr.
Josh Groban was recruited to tout inductee Bell, Billboard’s 2004 Classical Artist of the Year. The violinist put his 1713 Gibson ex Huberman Stradivarius to inspiring use with Saint-Saen’s “Rondo Capriccioso” and technically brutal passages from John Corigliano’s Oscar-winning “The Red Violin” themes. He and Groban also teamed up for a sublime string-and-song duet, “Mi Mancherai (Il Postino).”
Third honoree Yearwood initially seemed an odd stylistic choice to be on the same program with Sinatra, and she jokingly commented, “Right now, Frank is saying, ‘Who is this broad?’ ” Kris Kristofferson gave her an enthusiastic intro, and she shrewdly established her affinity for the pre-rock tradition by capturing the irony and wit of George and Ira Gershwin’s “They All Laughed.” An enjoyable foray into Nashville territory, “How Do I Live,” reaffirmed her country roots, and she put her own stirring stamp on “Over the Rainbow.”
Recently deceased Elmer Bernstein was acknowledged at program’s conclusion, his overture to the film “Hawaii” accompanied by fireworks and fountains spurting high into the air. Such was Sinatra’s power that his lingering aura overshadowed the pyrotechnics and made you yearn for a replay of “Nature Boy” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”