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Sunday, 03 June 2012 14:40

Concert review: The St. Louis Symphony celebrates a half-century of James Bond Friday, June 2, at Powell Hall

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Written by Chuck Lavazzi
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James Bond: I admire your courage, Miss...?
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James Bond: Bond. James Bond.

Has it really been fifty years since I first heard Sean Connery and Eunice Grayson utter those words in “Dr. No”? The theatre where I saw the movie (the Loew’s State) is long gone but the cinematic incarnations of Ian Fleming’s tough guy spy continue. The films have had their ups and downs over the years, reaching their nadir during the Roger Moore years when they became little more than live-action Roadrunner cartoons, but no matter how bad the movie the music has nearly always been first rate.

The touring pops concert package “Bond and Beyond: 50 Years of 007,” presented by the St. Louis Symphony last night (June 2nd, 2012), showcased some of best-known moments from a half century of Bond films along with some more or less related material. Personally, I think there’s enough A-list music in the Bond films to make the non-Bond music irrelevant, but there’s no denying that the whole package was highly entertaining.

Guest conductor Michael Krajewski, a veteran of the pops concert circuit, presided over the evening with a wit as dry as a vodka martini (shaken, not stirred). His droll asides made for a nice contrast with vocal soloist Debbie Gravitte’s lively Broadway diva persona. Ms. Gravitte, for her part, had the legit belter voice so essential for Bond themes like “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Goldfinger” (associated as they are with robust tones of British singer Shirley Bassey) and the kind of dance moves you’d expect from someone with her impressive musical theatre background. Her array of colorful costumes—a different one for each song—added some fun visual flash. The ‘60s “go-go” outfit for “Secret Agent Man” was especially striking.

The program included the “greatest hits” you’d expect. In addition to the title songs from “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever”, we had “The World is Not Enough” (sung by Ms. Gravitte) and instrumental versions of “From Russia With Love” and “You Only Live Twice”, with its pseudo-Japanese touches. I especially enjoyed the suite of action music from David Arnold's scores for "Quantum of Solace" and the 2006 version of "Casino Royale" with its aerobic workout for the percussion section and the concluding "Best of 007" medley of Bond theme songs that brought to audience to their feet for a rousing ovation.

The highlight of the non-Bond music, at least for me, was Jim Stephenson’s comic “Cell Phone Concerto”, in which the orchestra spins a series of variations on cell phone ring tones played by the soloist. Helen Hoepfner of the symphony box office staff did the honors. Her comic timing was impeccable. The selections from the "Pink Panther" films were also welcome, with a classy tenor sax solo by Paul DeMarinis.

Finally, let me offer this footnote or those of you who, like me, saw the “Best of 007” as a trivia challenge. The themes were, in order: “The James Bond Theme,” “Nobody Does it Better” (from “The Spy Who Loved Me”), “Live and Let Die,” “For Your Eyes Only,” “The Look of Love” (from the goofy 1967 version of “Casino Royale”), “The 007 Theme,” and “Thunderball”. Yes, I have seen all of the Bond films, even the really stinky ones.

Post-season concerts at Powell Hall continue with “Sounds Of New Orleans: A Tribute To Louis Armstrong” on Saturday, June 9th, at 7:30 PM and “Classical Mystery Tour: A Tribute To The Beatles” on Friday, June 22nd, at 8 PM. Be aware that Circus Flora’s presence on the Powell Hall lot means that parking is at a premium, so you may want to allow extra time for that. If your musical tastes are more adventurous, symphony musicians are also performing in the Pulitzer Contemporary Music Festival on June 14th, 16th, and 17th at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington. For more information on all these events, you may visit stlsymphony.org.

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