The Columbus Indiana Philharmonic delivered another terrific though unusual performance Saturday night.
For the sold-out crowd, the drum kit, guitars and grand piano stationed in front of a clear acoustic shield on stage were a clear signal that this would not be your typical Philharmonic concert.
“Classical Mystery Tour” bills itself as “a tribute to the Beatles, backed by a Symphony Orchestra,” and the musicians went all out to fulfill this claim.
With the Columbus visit five years in the planning and timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the evening began with a feature for the Philharmonic alone under the direction of Maestro David Bowden.
The anticipation grew as this medley reminded the audience of one Beatles hit after another.
At its conclusion, the Fab Four themselves appeared on stage with their trademark mop-tops and slim-cut black suits. Tony Kishman (Paul McCartney) greeted the audience with a recognizable Liverpool accent.
The attention paid to such details, along with the musical skill evident in the Beatles’ first number (“Magical Mystery Tour,” featuring the orchestra’s trumpet section), made it clear that the audience was in for a treat.
The opening songs of the evening performed by Kishman, Jim Owen (John Lennon), Joe Bologna (Ringo Starr) and Jimmy Pou (George Harrison) included “A Hard Day’s Night” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” one of many pieces during which the performers encouraged the audience to participate with singing or clapping.
Works featuring a single Beatle were included in the overall lineup, such as McCartney’s “Yesterday,” performed with a string quartet warmly led by Maestro Bowden, and Lennon’s “Imagine,” also accompanied by strings.
The band used some of the solo features as an opportunity to change costumes; returning after “Yesterday,” their personas had shifted a few years forward to 1967, with bright, military-inspired attire straight off the album cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
To complete the look, mustaches abounded, and Lennon donned his trademark round glasses after joking with the audience.
Later in the program, hairstyles became longer, Harrison donned jeans, Starr and McCartney returned to dark suits, and Lennon appeared in his signature white suit, taking the audience on another trip down memory lane (or Abbey Road).
What was most special about the entire evening was the opportunity to experience live the music of the Beatles that only ever existed in studio form, due to the impossibility of touring with so many additional musicians.
Whether it was the Philharmonic’s string sections joining pieces like “All the Lonely People” and “Here Comes the Sun,” the brass and woodwinds accompanying “Penny Lane” (which also included a noteworthy solo by principal trumpeter Eddie Ludema), or the entire orchestra’s discordant crescendo during “A Day in the Life,” the Philharmonic musicians made this classic music come more alive than ever.
The audience was incredibly enthusiastic and appreciative, often singing, clapping or even dancing, and at the conclusion brought out the band members for three encores — “Hey Jude,” “Twist and Shout” and, finally, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
As the Beatles’ first song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and a feature of their inaugural American performance on American television, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was a fitting end to an enjoyable evening.