More than 41,000 fans bid farewell over the weekend to John Mauceri, after 16 seasons and nearly 325 concerts as music director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Sunday’s third and last “fireworks finale” show wasn’t sold out (Saturday’s was), but many of the 12,700 who attended were passionate regulars, with cries of “We love you, John!” heard more than once from the bleacher seats.
Final show was a potpourri of styles indicative of Mauceri’s eclectic programming tastes — classical, film music, Broadway, even a little opera and ballet — all played with a high degree of professionalism by the studio musicians who make up most of the HBO.
Mood was more buoyant than sentimental, as Mauceri’s usual witty remarks (measuring 16 years in L.A. by changes in driving habits) set the stage for a celebratory evening.
Mauceri unveiled three new concert works written especially for the occasion by film and Broadway composers. Danny Elfman’s eight-minute, half-hoedown/half-diabolical “Overeager Overture” was followed by Richard Rodney Bennett’s bright and charming “Troubadour Music” (based on a 13th-century minstrel melody) and a 10-minute suite of five songs from “The Light in the Piazza” composer Adam Guettel’s upcoming musical adaptation of “The Princess Bride.”
Eight members of the Joffrey Ballet danced to Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” but the winning, amazing-voiced Kristin Chenoweth provided the evening’s highlight with a rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay” from Mauceri mentor Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide,” followed by an intimate “You’ll Never Know” sung to the maestro.
Sole programming misstep was an excess of Muppetry, with Miss Piggy as Brunnhilde doing an intentionally dreadful “Ride of the Valkyries,” returning later to sing “Fever,” dueting with Kermit on “I Got You Babe” and, in one of three encores, re-enacting the Bette Midler-Johnny Carson sendoff by singing “One for My Baby.” Kermit soloed on his signature tune “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green.”
Better to remember Mauceri conducting Elmer Bernstein’s 2004 fanfare for the Bowl; the U.S. premiere of the overture from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s rich, romantic score for the 1944 film “Between Two Worlds”; or George Gershwin’s last work, the 1937 “Watch Your Step” ballet from “Shall We Dance.”
Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band” served as the backdrop for the noisy fireworks display, which climaxed with a sparkling drawing of Mauceri’s image and the words “Thanks John” atop the shell.
One of the evening’s most memorable moments, ironically, did not involve music-making. LA Phil topper Deborah Borda’s champagne toast to Mauceri was met with thousands of lit cell phones held high throughout the Bowl audience, which also honored him with a total of five standing ovations at the start and end of the concert.
Amazingly, not a single plane or helicopter disturbed Mauceri’s final show. L.A.’s air traffic finally showed the conductor a little respect — and now he’s gone.