Simon Cowell's self-assessment notwithstanding, nothing can be great all of the time. That said, the always-reliable PBS series Great Performances has scheduled three musical specials this month, and though just one easily carries the "great" portion of that title, all three should provide good watching options for people who enjoy good music that is televised.
Jackie Evancho: Music of the Movies is the standout of the trio. In a television place-in-time where a "reality" series is devoted to children whose parents dress them up to look like off-color adults to compete in pageants, the 12-year-old Evancho is an antidote that celebrates natural reality.
Her voice is one many adults would ransom themselves to own. The amazing singing is complemented by a presence and composure for which most adults should be willing to pay a fortune. It's the rare person who watches her perform that doesn't wonder how this talent will further blossom with experience and maturity. Just in the two years since she finished second on America's Got Talent, her stage presence has greatly multiplied. From a Willy Wonka number ("Pure Imagination"), to Phantom of the Opera's almost-epic "Music of the Night," the young singer has it all under control.
The performance was recorded in front of an audience at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles in June. If the pre-teen was nervous, it didn't show. She appears equally at ease in speaking to the audience as when she's singing. She's at the far-good end of the spectrum that separates her from TLC's Toddlers and Tiaras, and that's something to be celebrated.
Jackie Evancho: Music of the Movies will air in some PBS markets Aug. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET, but because it is pledge-drive programming, it will air at different (and in many cases, several) times in different cities. Check local listings where you live for times and dates. Here's a sneak peek at the show:
Great Performances presents another very watchable concert on Aug. 10 at 9 p.m. in some cities (check local listings). Tanglewood 75th Anniversary Celebration takes on the sizable job of putting three orchestras, a large vocal chorus, four conductors and five featured soloists in front of a large audience inside a two-hour broadcast and making it work. Though the many changing players sometimes make it look like an NFL game inside the two-minute warning, the music is grand, and presented in the way television does so well: giving the viewer the best seat in the house.
Tanglewood is, among many things, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Its anniversary apparently is such a big thing that many wanted in on the celebration. It's almost over-the-top participatory in makeup, with the aforementioned BSO, the Boston Pops (left) and Tanglewood Music Center orchestras each separately getting stage time.
Conductors Keith Lockhart, John Williams, David Zinman and Andris Nelsons independently occupy the podium. Two pianists (Emmanuel Ax and Peter Serkin), cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter perform captivatingly, as does singer-songwriter-musician James Taylor. (The latter, surprisingly and seemingly out of character, sings three show tunes. Bill O'Donnell, Great Performances series producer, said in a phone interview that singing "Over the Rainbow," "Shall We Dance?" and "Old Man River" was Taylor's pick and consistent with concert material he regularly performs.)
Aside from boasting a roster that might daunt a census-taker, the Tanglewood concert should make even the warmest August evening a lot more tolerable.
Great Performances continues its tradition of featuring the Vienna Philharmonic's Summer Night Concert on Aug. 31 at 9 p.m. (check local listings). The outdoor concert from the gardens of the Austrian palace from which the Hapsburg dynasty once ruled, is marked by finely performed orchestral music.
It's also marked with what apparently is a known and accepted style of European visual presentation, but one that can provoke motion sickness stateside if viewed too intently. Where similar American broadcasts of serious music concentrate camera shots on the people who are making the music, the Austrian network's video feed (used by PBS) is hyperkinetic. Cameras float above and behind the performance venue, streak down long aisles toward the stage, wander the crowds to watch darkness-enveloped, semi-interested audience members and at times go on a travelog tour of the palace grounds.
All told, it could be viewed as a video demonstration of ADSD.
Two possible viewer solutions to this twitchy style of direction: Move to Austria, consume as much coffeehouse demitasses as the director seems to have enjoyed and, influenced by a caffeine high, it will make sense. Or turn the screen to the wall and just enjoy the music.