Seattle Symphony Pops Off a Beatles Tribute

It was quite a sight to look down from a box at Benaroya Hall Friday night and see a full, mostly white-haired house on its feet, swaying and waving hands to one of the encores in “Classical Mystery Tour: A Tribute to the Beatles”—then seeing cell phone lights waved all over the house in the other encore, “Hey, Jude.”

It was a triumphant end to the first of three concerts last weekend in the Seattle Pops series.

After a Beatles Medley Overture—consisting of familiar and welcome tunes arranged many years ago by conductor Jeff Tyzik, though given a somewhat pedestrian performance by the Seattle Symphony—the moment the audience had been waiting for arrived with the advent on stage of four (seemingly) young men with the Beatles’ trademark moptops and stovepipe trousers.

The energy was right, the voices were right, the performances were spot-on, and the audience drank in the songs the Fab Four made famous half a century ago, including “Yesterday,” “All You Need is Love,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Penny Lane,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and many more.

This reincarnation is the brainchild of Jim Owen (faux John Lennon, who appeared at the end with lank, shoulder-length hair, round rimless glasses, and white suit), but the other three had also been Beatles fans and performers previously: Tony Kishman, a lookalike Paul McCartney; David John, George Harrison; and Chris Camilleri, Ringo Starr. Camilleri manned the drum set superbly, the other three played guitars (Kishman and Owen piano as well), and all of them sang.

Partway through the first half, while Kishman soloed, the others disappeared and came back in some of the Beatles’ most adventurous garb: satin suits, in yellow for Lennon, orange for Harrison (who also sported a tricorne hat and large ostrich plume), hot pink for Camilleri and shortly after, turquoise for Kishman, and every jacket coruscating with decorations.

Hearing the music after so long, it’s easy to understand why it has lasted, and will last. This is no repetitive stuff. The Beatles’ music in one of a kind. It has complex rhythms, harmonic changes, and chromatic progressions as well as catchy melodies, and for quite a few of the songs, orchestral backing which showed a fine understanding of what instrument to use where, for instance the piccolo trumpet in “Penny Lane.”

The whole concert was enormous fun. It’s to be hoped that the Symphony will bring this back again some time.