The fourth annual Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame Gala handled two major artistic priorities with splendor and style. It celebrated Leopold Stokowski, Roger Daltrey, Nathan Lane, Patti LuPone and the Smothers Brothers for their outstanding musical careers; and it cited the contributions of music teachers, pointing out the value and necessity of bringing music to children through the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s program “Music Matters.”
Conductor John Mauceri opened strikingly with Stokowski, who served as music director of the Hollywood Bowl from 1945-47 and became known to filmgoers through his appearance in Disney’s “Fantasia.” Mauceri, student of the legendary maestro when he was in his 20s and Stokowski was 90, did his mentor proud with a galvanizing rendition of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” that spotlighted Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement. Cascading strings, rippling harp lines and beautifully executed bassoon parts were enhanced by excellent video treatment.
Twenty-one-year-old Josh Groban followed as spokesman for the “Music Matters” program. Groban offered a gently sincere interpretation of “Gira Con Me Questa Notte” and was exceptionally moving on Don McLean’s “Vincent,” a highlight of his bestselling, eponymously titled CD on 143 Records. Groban’s voice is a technical marvel and would come across even more powerfully if he gave added emphasis to the exciting, comparatively neglected tones of his upper register.
Segueing from semi-classical youth to explosive rock, the Bowl honored Roger Daltrey, introduced by Brian Wilson. Daltrey acknowledged his debt to Elvis and launched into a forceful, full-blooded version of Tommy’s “Pinball Wizard,” accompanied by flashes of light on the ceiling that transformed acoustic balls into spinning pinballs. His urgent, still-fresh reading of “See Me — Feel Me” showed how fully he deserved the Bowl’s recognition. He reassured an eager crowd, announcing that a new Who album was in the works, and also indicated willingness to test unexpected new directions by co-starring with John Lithgow in the upcoming Aug. 3 Bowl version of “My Fair Lady.”
The Smothers Brothers, celebrating 44 years of show business, entertained with witty repartee and fine singing on “Quando Caliente El Sol.” They kept their set buoyant by involving multitudes of fans in a singalong, “Michael Row the Boat Ashore.”
The evening’s letdown occurred when honoree Nathan Lane communicated only through video clips, apologizing for his inability to be present.
Next Joe Mantegna applauded Patti LuPone by saying, “Even Nathan would agree we saved the best for last,” and LuPone’s fiery presence justified his panegyric. LuPone matched Ethel Merman’s brassy bravado on “The Hostess With the Mostess on the Ball” and reminded us pleasurably of her “Evita” triumph with “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”
Befitting the occasion, Mauceri’s conducting of his 91 musicians was rousing and passionate, culminating in a sublimely noble and majestic presentation of Mussorgsky’s “The Great Gate of Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The built-in breaks and pauses of this composition proved a perfect complement to the night’s concluding fireworks.