In a wink to the Gershwin lyric, “Who Could Ask For Anything More?” from the famous song, “I got Rhythm,” from the musical Girl Crazy, the Boston Pops outdid itself Wednesday evening with the new blockbuster duo of singer/pianist Michael Feinstein and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The powers-that-be behind this new pair’s many upcoming appearances produced a polished Rolls Royce of Pops concerts. Every movement, word, and note was choreographed down the comma, so that it was up to the unusually charismatic performers to pretend this sleek production was a one-off event. It seemed in this mostly Gershwin evening, that around the cocktail tables, every listener had at least one standard they considered ‘their” song. This was one gleeful audience.
Michael Feinstein, a.k.a. “The ambassador of the Great American Songbook,” had a real-life connection to back up this title, written about in “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs.” Introduced to George Gershwin’s brother and writing partner Ira, then 80 years old, Feinstein ended up spending six years working for Ira Gershwin as a cataloger and archivist. Over a long and extremely successful performing career, he has promoted and recorded this composer, becoming the standard bearer for his songs. Both he and Thibaudet are seriously charming raconteurs, and Thibaudet is a superb Gershwin pianist.
These two artists chose, along with sharing well-rehearsed banter, to keep the evening moving. So, for most of the songs, Feinstein got a chance both to play piano and croon, while the orchestra or just one instrument would fade in and out tastefully. Thibaudet, an extremely gifted pianist, would weave in and out of the rest of the music, or just have several simply fabulous solo moments. Conductor Keith Lockhart clearly felt a kinship with these superstars, and appeared thrilled to be on the stage with them. Everything ran ultra-smoothly. Had this been your first time at Pops, you would have subscribed.
A recent CD, ‘Michael Feinstein: Gershwin Country,” in which the pianist collaborates with a variety of country music stars; it’s surprisingly delightful. A YouTube response by Neil Pollicino1 year ago says it pithily, ‘ Oh my, It don’t get no better than this.” Well, that is, until this collaboration of two of music’s Golden Boys. What would Thibaudet wear? Few guessed the two friends would wear (for the first half) matching black sparkling jackets. Since 2002, Thibaudet’s concert attire has been designed by Vivienne Westwood (prior to her death in December 2022); Thibaudet has distinguished himself as a brilliant Ravel pianist (and so much more), so it was inevitable the old story about Gershwin asking Ravel for private lessons came up. Ravel apparently asked Gershwin how much money he had made the past year, and when he heard, Ravel responded, “Well, I should be studying with you!” (The second half featured different sartorial choices).
Besides Gershwin’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Prelude No. 2, Movement 3 from the Concerto in F, (a thrilling performance on You-Tube with Thibaudet) Overture from the film of Porgy and Bess arranged by André Previn, and a Gershwin Fantasy, we heard Irving Berlin ‘I Love a Piano,” Alec Wilder “I’ll be Around” (one to the evening’s most wonderful choices) and the almost-too-popular Youmans’s and Caesar’s “Tea for Two.”
I could have done without the hokey changing light colors in this most thoughtful program (How can you go wrong with Gershwin?). And why did management omit lists of the orchestra players and the full repertoire? Aside from these minor quibbles, we enjoyed an enchanted evening.