"There is no free lunch," the old saying goes, but, three or four times a year, there are free concerts by Eugene Jelesnik and his Salt Lake Philharmonic.
And Jelesnik's 1990 holiday pops outing ranks as one of his best.OK, so maybe the Marriott Hotel grand ballroom is better suited to banquets and receptions than it is for a full-scale concert, but, for an evening that saw all kinds of competition, from the Utah Symphony and Jazz (basketball - not Dixieland), right across the street, and the annual Temple Square lighting ceremonies, Jelesnik's variety-packed concert more than held its own.
His guest performers - hilarious ragtime artist Lee Fugal, the bright young trio Envoy and 16 youngsters billed as the Creative Generation - entertained the crowd with everything from upbeat, three-part harmony to honky-tonk piano to seasonal Christmas tunes.
Envoy (Kary Burns, Danny O'Very and James Marsden) sang "Turn Your Love Around," "The Wind Beneath My Wings," a moving arrangement of "America," and, although their set was non-Christmasy, they managed to sneak in a seasonal reference by noting that this is the time of year that Santa is checking to see if you've been bad or . . . "Johnny B. Goode," a rock tune featuring some sizzling keyboarding by Marsden.
The Creative Generation, 11 girls and five boys, all decked out in bright bow ties and big red bows, sang several Christmas songs. Their entrance and exit - coming in from different directions throughout the big ballroom, while singing - was an interesting concept, but didn't entirely succeed, due to the size of the room and the low ceiling.
A hardwood floor also would've helped for some of the tap-dancing routines (soft-shoe is REALLY soft when it's done on a carpet).
Honky-tonk pianist Lee Fugal gave the crowd a rip-roaring performance. In addition to the piano, he also demonstrated his expertice on an assortment of less than high-class instruments (I'll bet the folks in Symphony Hall didn't get solos on a green balloon, or the ingenious Fugal Bugle or "Tiger Rag" on a custom-designed triple-trumpet).
And did we mention the garden-hose trombone?
Jelesnik's longtime songstress, soprano Billie Loukas, was spotlighted in a fiery version of Rossini's difficult "La Danza," Musetta's waltz from Puccini's "La Boheme" and "I Could Have Danced All Night."
Philharmonic pianist Bob Davis was featured in Raymond Scott's adaptation of Mozart's theme, "In an Eighteenth Century Drawing Room," and the orchestra played a variety of light classical, pops and marches.
The instrumental selections included Bizet's "Carmen Suite," highlighted by Dave Feller and Roger Wangerin's woodwind solos, and a rousing rendition of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," with Fugal at the piano and Neil Fockel on trumpet.
Local composer Rubens Marshall was represented with another high-stepping number, "March Guilherme," and the philharmonic musicians also did a fine job with Johann Strauss' "Wine, Women and Song" and their traditional finale, "Orange Blossom Special."
There was also a sing-along version of "White Christmas" with Envoy, Loukas and the audience.