John Tesh may be best known to most television viewers as the longtime host of "Entertainment Tonight." But he was an active and much-praised composer well before he joined "ET" in 1986. His themes for CBS coverage of the Pan American Games and the Tour de France bicycle race in 1981 won Sports Emmy Awards for best musical composition.
Given that kind of recognition, it's probably understandable that he was willing to borrow a substantial chunk of change, reportedly $1.5 million, to produce the highly visual special on PBS tonight that features his group, his music, a light show, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and gymnasts Bart Conner and Nadia Comaneci.
Did he spend his money wisely? Well, there's no faulting the superb physical displays by Conner and Comaneci; it may not be world-class, competitive-level gymnastics, but it's plenty fun to watch. The orchestra plays its appropriately supportive role with brisk efficiency. And Tesh's group, especially in the playing of violinist Charlie Bisharat and saxophonist Everette Harp, adds vital rhythmic and improvisational qualities to the mix.
Which leaves us with Tesh and his compositions. Or, more accurately, as he himself refers to them, his tunes. Because the orchestrations--that is, the musical translations of the tunes into full-scale works for orchestra--were done not by Tesh, but by conductor John Bisharat.
The results are not exactly in a class with Yanni's spectacularly successful concert at the Parthenon--surely a model for this event.
His tunes lean toward the repetition of brief melodic patterns, bolstered by energetic rhythms and sudden, dramatic shifts of emphasis. It's the sort of composing that initially seems ideally suited, and noticeably so when Bisharat cranks up a full head of flashy, orchestral steam, as background music for big-time sporting events and television documentaries.
Yet, perhaps ironically, the program's most appealing segment, both visually and musically, takes place when an unexpected rainstorm forces the orchestra to leave the stage. After a brief, momentary look of apprehension, Tesh finally unwinds and, for a few, captivating minutes, we see him relaxed and interacting with his players. His music's implicit subtleties suddenly come to life, and he becomes a performer worth watching.
Maybe he just shouldn't have spent the $1.5 million and instead taken a chance on the less expensive but vastly more insightful interpretations of his music by his own group.
* "John Tesh Live at Red Rocks With the Colorado Symphony Orchestra" airs at 8:05 tonight on KOCE-TV Channel 50 and at 9 p.m. on KCET-TV Channel 28 .