Ozomatli and the Pops spark a dance party at Symphony Hall

, Staff Writer

This year marks the 125th anniversary of the Boston Pops, and suffice it to say they are celebrating with gusto. This past Friday, Keith Lockhart and the Pops were joined by Latin ensemble Ozomatli for a performance way more danceable than you would expect in Symphony Hall.

Ozomatli’s set was actually only about forty minutes – the final third of a thoroughly celebratory evening: defying any immediate categorization, the band brought a healthy amount of swagger to the Hall, lights flashing, booties shaking tastefully.

The songs performed were by and large upbeat affairs, and certainly something regulars of Pops concerts were not used to. It was amusing to see old fuddy-duddies in the crowd do their best to keep up with the frantic pacing of Ozomatli. Rapper Justin Poree made sure things stayed chaotic, dropping rhymes at an unbelievable pace. This collaboration was certainly unusual, but it can’t be denied that ultimately it worked to thrilling effect. “Get your peace signs up,” he called out, and the crowd responded in kind, throwing their hands in the air with a cheer.

Surprisingly, the two ensembles complemented each other quite well: it should be stated that this was a Pops concert before an Ozomatli one, but the two groups mingled sounds cleanly and unobtrusively. “Believe” was a clear highlight of the evening, Raul Pacheco’s singing and guitar sounding crisp on top of the delicate strings laid down by the eight-piece ensemble underneath. The novelty of a dance party erupting out in Symphony Hall never got old for a second, and the band themselves seemed to be getting the biggest kick out of it, playing with what you could call an unusual backing band to an audience fairly unlike what they’re probably used to playing.

Other than this collaboration, the evening was filled with remembrances of the Boston Pops’ glory days: in an extended tribute to John Williams and Arthur Fiedler, both former conductors, the band went through a number of each man’s quintessential songs. Fiedler’s set featured a performance of “Jalousie”, with a gorgeous solo by concertmaster Tamara Smirnova, and Williams’ set, as you might expect, highlighted his film scores, particularly “E.T.” and “Star Wars”.

Ultimately, this was a night for the Pops that Ozomatli helped celebrate. Symphony Hall was filled with local pride, including sports updates from Lockhart (for better or worse). It’s nice to see the Hall hosting less orthodox musical acts, though. It’s a tough time for symphonies right now, and a willingness – as the Pops have shown several times over the past few years – to bring more contemporary groups into the fold is a good sign to help fill those seats once again.

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