There are rarely any surprises at Eugene Jelesnik's pops concerts. He follows a tried-and-true formula that he instinctively knows his fans will enjoy - a couple of light classics, a few show tunes, a march or two, a novelty number, then close with a rousing finale.
The only surprise - planned in advance - usually comes midway in the program, when he has a guest attraction, which gives the 29 musicians in his Philharmonic a few moments to get some rest. They always need it when he ends the program with "Orange Blossom Special."
The format for Thursday evening's concert, a regularly scheduled outing that traditionally leads into the April or October general conference of the LDS Church, followed this same formula - with one exception.
There was a "bonus" surprise at this concert. Zions Securities Corp., owners of the ZCMI Mall complex, gave Jelesnik a special gift as a belated 75th birthday present. Unveiled for the first time in front of the large audience, was a massive, orchestra's-eye-view portrait of the maestro at work, baton in hand. The framed painting had been created by Sherm Payne of the ZCMI Mall Merchants Association.
Now, what about the other surprise - the guest performer halfway through the program?
Jelesnik's "special attraction" this time was a talented young singer-composer who's one of Deseret Book's fastest-rising recording artists - Steve James.
The handsome, energetic vocalist began his all-too-brief set with an upbeat show stopper - "New York, New York," then quickly moved into a fast-paced medley of rock 'n' roll songs from the Fabulous Fifties, including "The Great Pretender," "Splish Splash (I Was Takin' a Bath)," "Rhythm of the Falling Rain" and "Johnny B. Good."
For the rock medley, James also demonstrated his keyboard artistry, singing while playing the piano. Then he joined the Philharmonic for a beautiful rendition of "Memory" from the smash hit musical, "Cats."
For his finale, he moved back to the piano and sang a medley of songs from his favorite Broadway show, "Cabaret."
James was backed up by Jasmine, a vocal trio of Kathy Anderton, Wendy Warr and Gera Lynn Carson, and a four-member combo (Ken Foster, keyboard; Brian Foster, bass guitar; Joel Richards, electric guitar, and Bob MacArt, percussion).
Two of Jelesnik's most frequent guest soloists - soprano Billie Loukas and baritone Robert Peterson, were featured in a variety of both solos and duets.
Loukas sang the Oscar-winning theme song from "Born Free," and the Rodgers & Hart tune, "Falling in Love With Love," while Peterson had four solos on the program - "Corner of the Sky" from "Pippin," "They Call the Wind Maria" from "Paint Your Wagon," Roger Whittaker's "A New World in the Morning," and - a song that's practically become his signature tune - "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha."
Both Loukas and Peterson presented a medley of songs from Rodgers & Hammerstein's "The King and I," including "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "I Have Dreamed" and "Shall We Dance?" (And they did, in what little vacant space was available on the tiny stage.)
Instrumentally, the Philharmonic was showcased in Smetana's "Dance of the Comedians" (from "The Bartered Bride"), Franz Lehar's "Gold and Silver Waltzes," Scott Joplin's jaunty ragtime tune, "The Entertainer," which spotlighted pianist Bob Davis' exceptional talent; Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter" (will there ever be an updated version called "The Computer Keyboard"?), Jelesnik's own "JFK March" (in which the audience always enjoys the maestro's invitation to join along during the whistling part), and the hillbilly finale, "Orange Blossom Special."
Despite the fact that this last tune - which builds in frenzy and intensity as Jelesnik increases the speed every stanza - left the musicians exhausted, the audience demanded an encore. So, in the middle of his guest soloists' final bows, Jelesnik took up the baton again and gave the crowd a few more bars of "Orange Blossom Special."
If there was a problem Thursday night, it was the highly amplified sound, with too many microphones and an awkward placement of the loudspeakers - probably because a commercial display had been set up in the Grand Court that hindered with the usual location of the speakers.