Live Music: Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl with Patti Austin, John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry

By Don Heckman

Pop and rock music ruled Saturday at the Opening Night of the Hollywood Bowl season with the introduction of the 2013 inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame – Patti Austin, John Legend, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Nothing wrong with that line-up for music fans with a pop/rock orientation.  And the enthusiastic response of the crowd to the climactic fireworks finale, featuring Tyler and Perry in the company of Thomas Wilkins and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, underscored the value of the Aerosmith rockers on the program.

Each of the inductees also had their own showcase opportunities. Austin, introduced by Arsenio Hall, displayed her remarkable versatility with a richly emotional rendering of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” followed by a rocking “Lean on Me.”  And her jaunty, scatting version of “How High the Moon,” was a deeply rhythmic tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s classic take on the tune.

Legend, who was introduced by Stevie Wonder, applied his sweet-toned voice and easygoing piano style to a string of his love song hits.  And, surprisingly, he added his own focused version of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

The program’s second half was largely dominated by the rock concert-like intensity of Tyler and Perry.  Using the entire Bowl stage, along with the ramp that reaches out into the garden boxes, they dug into their hits, with Tyler – at one point – climbing on top of a piano to make his musical points.  And, as noted above, the crowd loved every minute of their shenanigans.

Fortunately, the program also recognized the other far-ranging musical choices that are available, night after night, at the Bowl.  Thomas Wilkins, conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, presented a stirring interpretation of the Sacrificial Dance from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.  One could have done without the psychedelic videos accompanying the performance, although the few brief clips of Stravinsky conducting the work were fascinating to see.

Add to that an even more stirring performance of the Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird by the talented young players of YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), and the presence of the Powerhouse Show Choir, singing and dancing with actor/singer Darren Criss.  The performances by so many young artists underscored the beneficial results of the L.A. Phil’s continuing education and community engagement programs.

Reportedly, the concert raised $1million in support of those programs.  Aside from the evening’s colorful entertainment, that alone was an accomplishment to remember.

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