It says something about the range of a man when a program dedicated to him ought to have a variety of critics, not just one, to do it justice. This was the case with "The Stars Come Out for Ernest Fleischmann" Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl.
There wasn't just classical music on the bill. There was jazz and pop too, and plenty of testimonials for the honoree, as well as a white-tablecloth catered dinner for the "gala" audience in the boxes.
Fleischmann, who recently stepped down after nearly 30 years at the helm of the Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has already been proclaimed Living Cultural Treasure of Los Angeles No. 1.
At the Bowl tribute, soprano Kathleen Battle, violinist Itzhak Perlman and conductor John Williams (leading the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra) added their two cents, along with jazz superbassists Ray Brown, John Clayton and Christian McBride, and pop stylist Harry Connick Jr.
Battle, for instance, thanked him for believing in her and "believing in music." Brown thanked him for bringing him in to expand jazz programs at the Bowl.
Actor Richard Dreyfuss was the polished, low-key host for the evening, reviewing the considerable accomplishments in Fleischmann's long career.
When it came to performances, Battle floated some wonderful lines in "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" and "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi."
But she also had breath problems, and embellished the "Barber" excerpt to odd distortion. Her encore was Juliet's sparkling Waltz Song ("Je veux vivre dans ce re^ve, qui m'enivre") from Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette," and she later teamed up with bassist McBride for two spirituals to great effect: "Heaven Is One Beautiful Place I Know" and "Hush, Someone's Callin' My Name."
Perlman brought warm and amber tone to two film themes, "Cinema Paradiso" and "Schindler's List," and Kreisler's chestnut, "Tambourin chinois."
Williams, and the orchestra, accompanied everyone considerately, and on his own led Walton's "Johannesburg Festival Overture" (which Fleischmann had commissioned in 1956 for that South African event), as well as his arrangement of "Hooray for Hollywood" and his own "Liberty Fanfare" and theme from "Jaws."
Connick sang three songs, including Irving Berlin's "Change Partners," with suave and distinctive phrasing, and also played piano on "Chattanooga Choo Choo" with his bassist, Charnett Mofett, and drummer Arthur Latin. Charles Goold, who played fine saxophone in the songs, sat out on this one.
Brown, Clayton and McBride had a relaxed camaraderie as they played together and took solos showing the rhythmic variations they could work on their basses.
At the penultimate moment, Fleischmann appeared onstage to thank everyone, single out a few people who worked behind the scenes at the Bowl and accept a large floral offering.
To close the program, Dreyfuss made his conducting debut, leading the band in Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which also was the cue for a fireworks display.
Everyone went home happy.