The Boston Pops is a local institution, as hallowed as they come in this fair city of ours. It’s also America’s Orchestra, and one of the ways the Pops earned that title was through the reach of television. But “Evening at Pops” ended its 34-year PBS run in 2004, and it’s been several years since the annual Fourth of July concerts were broadcast to the nation at large. So what better way for the 136-year-old ensemble to restate its claim during this time of Zoom meetings and Twitch programming than with the first concert livestreamed from its Symphony Hall home?
Unlike December’s stitched-together Holiday Pops event, Friday’s Valentine’s Day concert — another Pops first — initially streamed live as it was performed. (On-demand replays remain accessible via the BSO Now video portal until March 14.) And despite the audience-less setting, “Boston Pops in Love” felt a great deal more like experiencing the Pops in person. The concert was all of a piece, rather than a compilation of performances from different times, locations, and instrumental configurations. The one fully prerecorded performance, a Zoomed-in “Seasons of Love” by the Boston Arts Academy’s Melody in Motion Ensemble, served as an act break.
The orchestra charged out of the gate with the heart-pounding cut-time gallop of opener “Shall We Dance?,” and tempestuous passion fueled Bizet’s “Aragonaise” and de Falla’s “Danza Ritual Del Fuego,” accompanied by Makeda Wallace and McKersin of Lakaï Dance Theatre (one of three featured dance ensembles) and Nko Fallou Fall’s djembe and marimba, linking the two pieces with pure rhythm. Gade’s playful tango “Jalousie” was similarly hot-blooded, with Hybridmotion dancers Jun Kuribayashi, Trea Dipkin, and Ori Harris enacting a socially distanced date with tape-measure jokes and a Cupid shooting them not with an arrow but with a vaccine.
The swoonier side of love was represented as well, from the swoop and flutter of John Williams’s “Love Theme From ‘Superman’ ” to Alexander Velinzon’s spotlight during Williams’s “Theme From ‘Sabrina,’ ” where the violinist played as if he were looking for lovers to serenade on a moonlit riverbank. Tchaikovsky’s “Overture-Fantasy” from “Romeo and Juliet” started with gentle reeds and built to a heart-stopping, string-sawing shudder before the theme familiar from a million black-and-white romances emerged. Similarly, with a lush, string-forward arrangement, Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” could have been radio broadcast from a nightclub in 1937 just as easily as an online stream in 2021.
And while Fats Waller’s spirited “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” and “The Joint Is Jumpin’ ” were undercut with a sound mix favoring the tap dancers in the foreground rather than the drum-driven jazz orchestra behind them, a Gershwin medley found exactly the right tone of cinematic drama to end on, weaving “Love Is Here to Stay,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “The Man I Love” in and out of one another as hard piano chords connecting it to “Rhapsody in Blue” hit against crashing cymbals. It was enough to quicken the heart, Valentine’s Day or no.
“Boston Pops in Love” is available on-demand through March 14 at www.bostonpops.org/inlove. Tickets: $14
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc