On any given evening, the Boston Pops must serve several different masters. Sometimes that can result in a program where all the pieces try to snap together into a coherent whole but won’t quite fit. It’s not that highlights didn’t abound throughout Tuesday’s sold-out concert at Symphony Hall: the headlining presence of Leslie Odom, Jr., Broadway’s original Aaron Burr from “Hamilton,” alone ensured that. It simply meant that one or two of the night’s themes didn’t quite get off the ground.
It was ironic that one of them involved the soaring “Flying Theme” from “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” one of two pieces performed in a perfunctory wave to the season’s John Williams tribute. Between them was Mark Cumberland’s “Ringtone Cycle,” and while the concept of using familiar cellphone chirps as themes for a concerto was clever, the four-part whole felt disjointed and slight.
The unusually fragmented first act found its footing with the winners of the Fidelity Investments 2017 Young Artists Competition. With the orchestra moving quickly on kitty-cat feet underneath, flutist Nina Robinson confidently scampered through the first movement of Jacques Ibert’s “Flute Concerto.” Aaron Copland’s “Laurie’s Song” gave soprano Katherine Steele an operatic vehicle for yearning, while Chloe Castro-Santos emoted in Broadway mode through “Everything I Know” from “In the Heights,” laughing and crying while feeling the weight of previous generations. And on “Dance of the Yao People” Hannah To took her yangqin (a Chinese hammered dulcimer) through a thrilling tour of tiptoe steps, tremolo hammering, and a cascading solo section, leading the Pops into a full gallop.
The second half began with another seemingly random selection — an overture from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” — before Odom took the stage and sang two songs before asking a question to those in attendance who hadn’t heard the “Hamilton” cast album: “Who dragged you here?” Favoring a head voice that gave him the tone of a soft trumpet, the Tony winner was hypnotic on the expansively chilly (albeit thawing) adult pop of Sara Bareilles’s and Ingrid Michaelson’s “Winter Song” and a lush and light-headed run-through of Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable.”
Odom then teased his “Hamilton” songs before realizing that he had skipped ahead, prompting Keith Lockhart to ostentatiously pretend to be irritated by swapping his sheet music. The singer pitched “Wait for It” smaller than the show’s to-the-rafters version, while the Pops emphasized the song’s undertow, but he made up for it with a pained and lost “Without You” from “Rent,” pooling and eddying until he opened his throat in full. The jaunty lullaby “Dear Theodosia” cleanly captured the awe of being a new parent before Odom closed with the orchestral flapper hip-hop of “The Room Where It Happens.” Summoned back for an encore, Odom gratefully and gracefully mouthed his farewell: “I don’t have any more songs.”
With Leslie Odom Jr.
At Symphony Hall, TuesdayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc