Philadelphia Inquirer - November 17, 1980

Baton is raised in salute to bat


By Daniel Webster, Inquirer Music Critic


The bat proved mightier than the baton yesterday when the Phillie Phanatic flapped onto the podium in the Philly Pops "Victory Concert" at the Academy of Music.


The Phanatic – "David Raymond, swathed in green feathers, wearing green sneakers and carrying a bat rolled down the aisle, climbed the red-carpeted stairs to the stage and stole his first baton – from conductor Peter Nero.


It was probably the first time an orchestra had been conducted by a green-feathered creature, but then no Philadelphia orchestra had been called on in recent years to play something in honor of a World Series championship.


All this baseball fanaticism had been hatched by Nero, who calls himself a Phillies fanatic, and Moe Septee, the Pops producer. No sooner had the last game been won than Septee was on the phone with Tug McGraw to arrange the pitcher's debut with an orchestra. That will come tomorrow night at the Academy when Tug will recite "Casey at the Bat."


At the same time, Nero set to work to write a victory march. That piece, "Philadelphia! Philadelphia! We Are Number One!" was on the music stands when the feathered Phanatic took the baton and put Nero out at the podium.


Nero's place in the starting rotation has not been threatened by the Phanatic's big stick, it is safe to say. His march, however, is a showy piece that has been written to hold a place in the lineup for tomorrow's concert as well. Tug McGraw not only will read "Casey," but will do a kind of "voice-over" with the march, bringing the final moments of the Series' last game into the music. In fact, it will be a kind of duet with Harry Kalas' voice, as the march and the players will try to recreate the excitement of a month ago.


If Nero and his writers can keep light on their feet, they may be able to produce a musical history of the year in Philadelphia sports. His concerts may fill up with pucks and footballs, basketballs and even quoits, especially if the other winning teams demand equal musical time.


Winning was the note that Nero struck with this concert. The program, before the Phanatic said, "Play ball," was an easy mix of charm and good humor. The baseball context gave extra meaning to the overture to The Pirates of Penzance and suggested some other meaning for "September Song." But the program was a set of fresh pieces with the spice of novelty.


Douglas Fairbanks Jr. narrated some of the poetry in Alan Hovhaness' Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, lending poignance to a highly atmospheric piece. The work incorporated sensuous writing for an accordion, played here by Carmen Carrozza, who used the instrument to suggest some exotic woodwind instrument singing in the winderness.


Fairbanks stayed on to perform "September Song" and a song each from Camelot and My Fair Lady. These were spoken songs, but spoken with such cleverness that the theatrical mood of each was established at once, and the total effect made dramatic.



Nero nodded to the rival in the pops league by playing some of Boston Pops conductor John Williams' Superman music. Nero won the composing duel in this one, however, for Superman is epochally empty stuff.