DAVID BIANCULLI

Founder / Editor

ERIC GOULD

Associate Editor

LINDA DONOVAN

Assistant Editor

Contributors

ALEX STRACHAN

MIKE HUGHES

KIM AKASS

MONIQUE NAZARETH

ROGER CATLIN

GARY EDGERTON

TOM BRINKMOELLER

GERALD JORDAN

NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
PBS Provides An Enjoyable Evening of Music with 'United in Song: Celebrating the Resilience of America'
December 31, 2020  | By Mike Hughes
 


For good and bad, PBS keeps surprising us.

We don't expect it to be involved with New Year's Eve, a holiday that includes confetti, inebriation, and silly hats. Arbor Day is more its style.

And we do expect it to be consistent. But now comes a surprise: A music special, Thursday, New Year's Eve, that is beautifully crafted in many of the same ways that a recent PBS one was badly botched.

The new special (8 p.m. ET, Thursday, rerunning at 9:30 p.m. ET, check local listings) bears the lofty title, United in Song: Celebrating the Resilience of America. And somehow, it lives up to that billing.

Song after song is epic in intent and execution. The surprise is that this has so much in common with a recent misfire, Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas.

Both specials had the same idea: The American Pop Orchestra (APO), with its young founder (Luke Frazier, 35) conducting, outside a grand building, backing top singers. But Ella was stagnant in its camerawork, its wordy-but-bland talk, even its music arrangements; United is the opposite.

The setting is the front porch of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. Frazier conducts the APO (mostly masked and distanced); there seems to be an invisible chorus. And out-front are some of the great voices, from Josh Groban and Brian Stokes Mitchell to Renee Fleming and Audra McDonald.

But it's not limited to that site.

The show cuts to the National Symphony in the Kennedy Center and to soloists in other locations – cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and bass vocalist, Soloman Howard, singing Shenandoah overlooking the Shenandoah River, and Denyce Graves at a memorial site.

That's the one thing that's bothersome at first – a feel-good concert, performed at a former slavery plantation. But midway in the special, that's confronted head-on. Anna Deveare Smith offers a well-written history of Washington's slaves; at their memorial site, Graves sings a potent spiritual.

The night starts and ends with Patti LaBelle (top), packing others in between, including Morgan James, Juanes, and high-octane instrumentals from violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

It focuses on songs with great power – Impossible Dream, Climb Every Mountain, Over the RainbowMake Them Hear You, How Can I Keep From Singing? Mitchell and McDonald repeat Wheels of a Dream from their triumphant Ragtime – in which she won the third of her six Tonys.

These are steep talents, tackling awesome music. It's kind of nice for PBS to surprise us.

 
 
 
 
 
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 
 Name (required)
 
 Email (required) (will not be published)
 
IQDTM
Type in the verification word shown on the image.