The San Francisco Symphony (SFS) continues to amaze and delight with its widely varied and inclusive programming, appealing to multiple generations and cultures. Founded in 1911 and housed in the splendid Davies Hall since 1980, the award-winning symphony currently is led by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.
The first weekend in April, the Symphony featured Boyz II Men, one of the most celebrated vocal trios in American music history. Their extensive repertoire of love songs, fusing Euroclassical harmonies with their background in R&B, has resulted in best-selling albums and sold-out performances for decades. The group has earned four Grammy awards, nine American Music awards, and three Billboard awards, among other honors.
Nathan Morris, Michael McCary and Shawn Stockman met in Pennsylvania, at the Philadelphia High School for the Performing Arts. They studied Bach, Brahms, Mozart and Vivaldi, before developing their own style in the late 1980s. Onstage at Davies Hall, the singers spoke of a correlation in music regardless of style, and then demonstrated it most ably with 14 selections plus an encore.
Edwin Atwater conducted the SF Symphony, featuring lush arrangements of string and wind instruments. Morris, McCary and Stockman were dressed in black, each wearing a differently styled jacket. One love song followed another, with enthusiastic audience recognition such that no introductions were deemed necessary.
Selections such as Oh Well; On Bended Knee; Pass You By; Water Runs Dry; and I Will Get There filled the first half of the show, showcasing individual performers as well as the group. Audience members frequently stood up, sang along and swayed gently to the music, waving cell phones.
Intermission provided its own entertainment, with dozens of attendees waiting in line for beverages they would have no time to consume. My escort and I scored a table and unpacked our own refreshments: Cabot seriously sharp cheddar and Monet mini original crackers, with pinot noir in small containers. Watching people was much more fun than waiting in line.
The fun really began after intermission. Boyz II Men expressed their love of cover songs, and proceeded to showcase their ability to make each song as original as when first sung. So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday was from the film Cooley High. They sang That’s Why I Love You, first recorded by Major. My favorite was Easy Like Sunday Morning, written by Lionel Richie and first recorded by the Commodores. Of course the audience came to its feet again for their cover of I’ll Make Love to You, written by Babyface. The trio continued with So Amazing, and later sang We Belong Together as encore.
They introduced their show stopper with the words, “This song is for the ladies,” as a bouquet of red roses was handed to the singers. Dozens of women went running to the front of the stage, hoping to be one of those who walked away with a single long-stemmed rose, handed out one by one.
Boyz II Men members know music, but do not play instruments, they said, until Shawn Stockman decided to learn electric guitar from videos on YouTube. Standing alone and accompanied by the SF Symphony, Stockman played guitar beautifully and sang You Look Wonderful Tonight, the popular song Eric Clapton wrote for Pattie Boyd when she left George Harrison to become Clapton’s wife.
This weekend performance marked Boyz II Men’s debut with the San Francisco Symphony. Audience ovations were frequent and sustained. After listening to their seamless collaboration, we predict there will be return engagements.
Photo credit: Christopher M. Howard