I’ve been looking for excuse to finally see a performance by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (as if I needed an excuse). Today, I got that opportunity. When you go to see a symphony for the first time, it’s often best to attend a concert where you’re intimately familiar with the music. That gives you an excellent way to compare what you know with the performance you’re hearing, and in my case that generally means a concert from the pops series. With the Dallas Symphony, my first performance with them was the music of Star Wars. For the Fort Worth Symphony, the name is Bond. James Bond. Seriously, as soon as I learned about this, it was preordained. Love me some 007 music.
Conducted by Stuart Malina, the music of James Bond is, for me, an outstanding introduction to this orchestra. But there was a bonus to this. Two, actually. While instrumental 007 is always good, a top quality vocalist is even better. We had one: Rachel York. That was the first bonus. The second bonus was that this was initially billed as The Music of James Bond. The “and Beyond!” part of this was on the program (but not on the website), and it wasn’t until I started looking at the playlist that we found out there was more here than just Bond to the show. Here’s the playlist:
Themes from 007: A Medley for Orchestra (instrumental)
You Only Live Twice
A View to a Kill
The World is Not Enough (instrumental)
Lost & Found (from City of Angels)
From Russia With Love (Instrumental Opening Theme version)
Secret Agent Man (from City of Angels)
Theme from Mission: Impossible (instrumental)
Soul Bassa Nova from Austin Powers (instrumental)
Nobody Does It Better (from The Spy Who Loved Me)
Theme from North by Northwest (instrumental)
Theme from The Pink Panther (instrumental)
For Your Eyes Only
Diamonds Are Forever
Theme from Peter Gunn (instrumental)
Live and Let Die
Surrender (from Tomorrow Never Dies)
Every Bond fan knows there’s an elephant in the room when it comes to the title songs. The queen of Bond themes is Shirley Bassey, who is nothing short of a flamboyant powerhouse. The name of the game there is “go big or go home.” As you can see, all three of her themes made it to the playlist. It says a lot when a vocalist is confident enough to really go for it. Based on that, I’ll freely admit that I was more than a bit disappointed that my personal favorite of the Bond tracks, “Skyfall,” didn’t appear in the list. Still, hard not to expect a good show based on this program.
Let’s talk about the symphony first. From what I can tell, the Fort Worth Symphony is not quite as big as the Dallas Symphony, but you’d never know that just listening to their sound. Hearing these tunes performed live was an absolute treat, especially with the trumpet and saxophone solos needed for some of these jazz tracks. The instrumentalists behind these instruments were incredible. That trumpet screamed during Peter Gunn!
I will say that when the conductor was giving us some backstory on The Pink Panther, he mentioned David Niven and drew the connection back to Bond, saying he was Bond in Casino Royale before Sean Connery. So close. The first Bond was Barry Nelson, with Niven playing Bond in the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. Not too big of a deal, but it stands out to me because I’m a geek. Sorry, I can’t help it. The bigger issue I had was the arrangements for a couple of pieces, most notably Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest. This is a tough chromatic piece under the best of circumstances, but there was something in the arrangement that fought the orchestra. And kudos to the orchestra for fighting back. They made it work in spite of it. So, style points for that. Hat’s off.
Which brings me to the lovely and talented Rachel York. How I’ve not heard of her before I got tickets to this show is nothing short of criminal, but this situation is now rectified. First impression, she looked the part. She glammed up like an old school Bond girl, with frequent costume changes from classy white gown to Bogart trenchcoat and fedora to sequined red Jessica Rabbit dress (and a couple others), and she added that extra touch of Broadway to every little thing she said and did so as to kick it up a notch somehow. She didn’t give us much time to think about it before she stunned with her voice. After the symphony warmed us up with a 007 medley that included the ever-classic “James Bond Theme,” Rachel opened with Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” Remember what I said about confidence? Any doubts anyone might have had were surely exorcised at that moment. She nailed it. She absolutely nailed it.
What’s more, she was having as much as fun as any of us. As everyone knows, a performer’s mindset can really make or break a show. She informed us that our venue, Bass Hall, has a special place in her heart. It was here in 2003 that she first met her husband while attending the ballet, so to perform on this stage is a treat. It also turned out that the couple of tracks from the stage show City of Angels are tracks with which she’s intimate as she sang them on Broadway when the show debuted. From the top down, you could hear the love she put into it.
You’ll note that “Diamonds Are Forever” is the third and final Bassey tune on the list. For this one, she had a little fun with it. Apparently one of the things she does for fun, and to really push her acting abilities, is to change vocal divas mid-performance. It wasn’t enough that she was able to emulate the tonal qualities of the original artists and still make these songs her own. For this particular one, she did impressions, both vocal and visual. She started with a spot-on Shirley Bassey. Then she rolled into Cher, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Eartha Kitt, Norah Jones, Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, Reba McIntyre, Celine Dion, and back into Bassey before the song ended. And I’m sure I missed a couple in there, so forgive me.
EDIT: I found a YouTube video linked on Rachel’s site of her singing “I Will Always Love You.” Obviously, it’s not 007, but this is the exact same idea. Check it out:
Her final number on the playlist surprised me. “Surrender” is an alternate theme for that film. Most fans are of the mind it should have been the title track. Myself, I always thought it was a good song, but I’m not overly impressed by k d lang, so I never got the sense of greatness a Bond song should have from it. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a more vocalist behind the mic for this one who could capture the Bond sound, and this afternoon I got my wish. This song improved by leaps and bounds for me.
And then it was over. Or so I thought. While I was applauding and pondering whether or not Rachel had an album I could buy, she announced the orchestra had an encore planned that was not on the playlist.
Rachel sang “Skyfall.”
Have I mentioned this is my favorite of the Bond songs? People, my heart skipped a beat as soon as the first note played, and I got a little teary-eyed on the first vocal line.
That wasn’t the final act for me, however. Rachel was signing autographs in the lobby, and they had copies of her 2005 solo album available. Take my money!
I’m listening to the album as I type this, and it’s stunning. But then, it’s also a great selection of standards, and she gets them. Hard to beat a combination like that.
All in all, a most memorable experience, and one I’ll not soon forget. I’ll definitely have to make my way to more Fort Worth Symphony concerts. More than that, I think I need to find a way to experience more stage musicals. To date, I’ve only seen one, The Phantom of the Opera. Whatever the missing ingredient is that doesn’t translate to album, I have a sense of it, It’s part of why I don’t listen to much Broadway. I’ve seen Sarah Brightman in concert a few times, and that was more diva and less Broadway, but no less impressive than her legend would suggest. Rachel York brought the Broadway with her to this one, and it just worked for me. I think it’s because her Broadway is old school, American Songbook quality Broadway. That combination of the style of the music and her fearless performance of it… it was a bit like stepping back in time to the days of Cole Porter or Ella Fitzgerald. I want more of that.