The Valley Line: Closing out the summer with the Pops

I skipped out of town this past weekend to visit my sister in San Clemente. It was an amazing weather change from the foothills, with fog blowing by the windows and cool enough for me to have to borrow woolly socks from her to put on my feet. I even had to put a wrap on to keep my neck and shoulders warm. It's a good thing I put a pair of long slacks in my suitcase because I certainly did need them — my light summer skirts just didn't suffice down there by the shore.

We had some good sister time and even celebrated the birth of her son and wife's newly adopted daughter, who they named Elisabeth — “Lissy” for short. So, I'm a great aunt for the seventh time. The family tree just keeps on getting bigger and bigger.

We are in a slight lull now before the full autumn social whirl sets into full motion. However, I do have a great farewell concert by the Pasadena Pops at the Los Angeles County Arboretum in Arcadia to tell you about.

The weather was hot as concert-goers gathered early to spread out their picnic dinners, complete with floral centerpieces and crystal stemware. Other picnickers went more casual with fast-food take-out. It didn't really matter, because the evening isn't really about the food. It is made for good conversation and fabulous music.

By the time the sun slipped below the horizon, a hush fell over the audience in anticipation of the musical program that was about to unfold. Even the arboretum's peacocks were silent. Hmm, maybe somebody corralled them into a soundproof habitat.

Before conductor Michael Feinstein stepped onto the conductor's podium, he was called on stage and presented with a birthday cake. The entire audience of several thousand people sang the birthday song to him — what a joyful sound that was.

The evening's program was called, “Michael Feinstein: The Gershwins and Me.” It was an outstanding evening of the music of the Gershwin brothers — Ira and George. It was obvious that “Love is Here to Stay,” for the melodies and lyrics of these two prolific New Yorkers will always be in our hearts.

For Feinstein, the evening's program was especially poignant because he spent more than six years assisting Ira Gershwin researching, cataloging and preserving the unpublished sheet music and rare recordings in Gershwin's home.

Because of this professional relationship with the Gershwins and their music, Feinstein had many “never-before-heard” tales of working with Ira Gershwin, which added so much to the program.

Of course with the downbeat of Feinstein's baton, the orchestra launched into the “Rhapsody in Blue” overture that culminated in a standing ovation from the crowd.

Jazz stylist Catherine Russell stepped on stage to sing Gershwin favorites such as “Nice Work if You Can Get It,” “How Long has This been Going On,” “The Man I Love,” and others.

Later in the program, crooner Tom Wopat joined the orchestra in several songs. The JPL Chorus, under the direction of Donald Brinegar, also charmed the audience with its Gershwin stylings.

It must have been difficult to choose which Gershwin songs to perform because these two guys wrote thousands of songs. Included on the program that night was the overture from “Of Thee I Sing,” “Strike Up the Band,” “Porgy and Bess Suite,” I Got Rhythm,” “Love Walked In,” “But Not for Me,” “Love is Here to Stay,” “Shall We Dance” and “I Got Plenty O'Nuttin'.”

For sure, this last concert was full of toe-tapping tunes. I just didn't want it to end. Before Feinstein said his adieu until next summer, he gave us a preview of one very special concert he will be doing with the Pops. This time he will not be conducting, but instead will be the performer as he will devote the entire night to the Gershwins. He will play the piano and sing Gershwin music and embellish it all as he tells fabulous stories about these musical giants. This will be one concert I certainly will not want to miss — I know you won't either.


JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. Email her at with news of your special event.

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