By the time the ’20s began, the Boston Pops was already in its mid-30s, practically middle-aged by the standards of the day. But if there was a generation gap between the decade and the orchestra at the time, the two have come quite happily to terms nearly a century on. Thursday night at Symphony Hall, the second of three “Gatsby Nights” celebrated the era that brought Duke Ellington and George Gershwin to prominence, while also providing an excuse for flapper cosplay for audience members so inclined.
Featuring “The Charleston,” “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” and “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the opening medley set the tone, with enough marimba clonks, trombone scoops, and brash trumpet blats to score a particularly madcap cartoon. Filling in for the usual suspects of “Rhapsody in Blue” or “An American in Paris” were John Alden Carpenter’s “Skyscrapers” and Gershwin’s “Three Preludes.” The former thrummed with the urban energy favored by Gershwin, building on industrial discordance and fragmentary melodies always conflicting with something somewhere in the orchestration. “Three Preludes” hinted at Gershwin’s more famous pieces, but the andante section gently breathed, with small up-and-down steps undergirding the bluesy questioning of the clarinet and oboe.
A “Show Boat” medley followed, with particularly swoony takes on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “You Are Love.” Ellington took the Pops to intermission, playing “Sophisticated Lady” as an urbane supper-club ballad and meeting the titular requirements of “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” with ease.
For the second half, New York eight-piece the Hot Sardines played mostly period songs with a hint of post-modern self-awareness — bandleader Evan “Bibs” Palazzo smoked an e-cigar at his piano — but also a tremendous amount of verve and genuine affection. “Your Feet’s Too Big” was frisky and funny, while the fleet “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” twitched with giddiness.
The real stunner was “Wake Up in Paris,” written by Hot Sardines singer Miz Elizabeth. With sweet, lush, Technicolor strings, it was hard to imagine how it could possibly work without orchestral accompaniment. But work it did, as did “Bourbon Street Parade,” where the band left the stage to go into the audience as a New Orleans second line, featuring one Keith Lockhart on tambourine.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.