Review: PSO Pops Concert Celebrates the Women of Rock ‘n’ Roll


From the opening Piece of My Heart through the final rousing Proud Mary, the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops rocked Heinz Hall this weekend with a musical journey from the 1960s through the 1980s, showcasing some of the powerhouse female singers and songwriters.

PSO Pops conductor Byron Stripling (top center), with Women Rock
vocalists Kelly LeVesque, Crystal Monee Hall and Brie Cassil. (Images: Julie Goetz)

Under the baton of the gregarious Byron Stripling. the program Women Rock included three guest vocalists and a curated pop-rock ensemble, all excelling on producer Jeff Tyzik’s authentic and fresh arrangements. Orchestra members on strings worked riffs heard originally on guitar, while a stellar combo featured the requisite piano, synthesizer, guitars, drums and sax.

Kelly LeVesque of Women Rock

The vocalists do not offer imitations of some of the biggest names in pop and rock ‘n’ roll, but rather, pay tribute while exploring some of the best-known music of our lives. Bringing their expertise in diverse genres are three women who shine in solos and as collaborators.

Each of the singers also composes her own music — new work by Crystal Monee Hall conjures superstars such as Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Martha Reeves. Her versatility and energy is contagious as the group’s seasoned leader, and her Broadway chops (Rent) and gospel roots inform her performances.

Kelly LeVesque brings thoughtful storytelling to beloved songs by Carole King and Joni Mitchell. Her stylings are heartfelt and inspiring, with the full orchestra backing her. Brie Cassil channels Janis Joplin, Pat Benatar, Irene Cara and Joan Jett. 

Cassil’s passionate growls and grooves punctuate her performance on hot rock hits — a highlight was her performance of Flashdance … What a Feeling, from the Pittsburgh-filmed cult classic. The trio rocks on Dancing in the Street, heats up the hall on Proud Mary, and trades solos on You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman. Add LeVesque and Cassil with Heart’s These Dreams, and you have a foundation upon which many contemporary artists have built their work.

Other featured hits include: What’s Love Got To Do With It, Freeway of Love, Hit Me With Your Best Shot and I Love Rock n’ Roll.

The combo opens act two with Average White Band’s Pick up the Pieces, a showcase for Pittsburgh’s Max Leake on keyboards, with Alex Price on guitar and Jon Epcair on drums. Saxophonist Jason Kush completes the sound with his super solos. PSO bassist Jeff Grubbs moves to electric bass for this concert, a delightful reminder of our resident orchestra members’ versatility.

PSO Pops musicians and conductor Byron Stripling, with Women Rocks
Crystal Monee Hall at Heinz Hall. (Julie Goetz)

Throughout. there are entertaining moments and chats. Stripling’s banter, principal cellist Anne Martindale Williams’ attentive regard for the singers, and the soloists’ personal styles enhance the experience.

This celebration of Women’s History Month is a Schirmer Theatrical/Greenberg Artists co-production, and an excellent catch for this season’s line-up.

The PSO Pops and “Woman Rock” have a final performance at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 26 at Heinz Hall. TIckets: $22-$99 at https://pittsburghsymphony.org/production/77365/women-rock.

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