Fireworks and thunderstorms

The Annapolis Symphony began with an uninspired version of the national anthem but turned the pre-July Fourth concert into an all-American adventure

July 02, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

The intrepid folks who braved steamy afternoon humidity and ignored dire forecasts of evening thunderstorms were rewarded by ample parking, lots of green space and soft summer breezes at the Anne Arundel Community College stadium field for the fifth annual free pre-Fourth of July concert by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

When we arrived about 6:30 p.m., we heard the last strains of the Rob Levit Trio, a performance that preceded a 90-minute wait before the main event.

Jose-Luis Novo and the Annapolis Symphony musicians began the concert with what seemed an uninspired version of our national anthem. This didn't bode well for me because I was already annoyed that the musicians seemed to care little about uniformity of dress.

Although the musicians all wore white shirts and black pants, they had sleeve lengths that varied from long, to elbow or wrist length to short.

I've been attending these July Fourth celebration concerts since they began in 1995 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which set high musical and sartorial standards with all musicians wearing formal white jackets.

Through 2002, the Cultural Arts Foundation also invited an array of local performers to entertain at the July Fourth concerts.

On Saturday, I heard people talking about past performances by the Crabtowne Big Band, the Annapolis Chorale, Arundel Vocal Arts Society and even actors from the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre.

Perhaps the ASO can find another tireless arts supporter such as Carol Treiber, who recently retired from leading the foundation, to arrange such "Star-Spangled Spectaculars" again.

On a brighter note, we did have Novo, whose easy charm enlivened his program announcements.

First on the program was Leonard Bernstein's "Candide Overture," spiritedly played in lively tempo to create a quintessential Broadway sound.

Continuing in the American composer tradition we next heard early 20th-century composer Charles Ives' Variations on America that took the simple melody "My Country 'Tis of Thee" - the same tune as "God Save the King" - into complete dissonance. Variations included an excursion into seductive Latin rhythms that surprisingly enhanced this familiar melody.

The program continued with music by little-known American 20th-century composer Irving Fine. His "Blue Towers" is a charming melodic work that Novo described as an "easy listening melodic football march" explaining that in programming "we try to offer work you know well and work you don't know and we know you'll like." And we did!

Novo and the ASO musicians returned to Broadway for the next medley, from Man of La Mancha, which had great romantic appeal, especially in "The Impossible Dream."

The first section of the program closed with all-American composer Aaron Copland in two movements from his 1942 ballet score Rodeo - "Saturday Night Waltz" and the more familiar "Hoedown" - both played with enthusiasm.

Whenever the rhythms became irresistible children began dancing in the lawn, providing pure enchantment.

After a 15-minute intermission it was announced that a severe thunderstorm was headed our way, and Novo decided to skip "Olympic Fanfare" (saying we'd be hearing that work often next month) in hopes of getting in the rest of the program, including the fireworks.

Novo then introduced the winner of an earlier ASO fundraising contest, Joanna Hanes-Lahr, who took her place on the conductor's podium to open the second half of the program, a sprightly rendition of John Phillip Sousa's "Liberty Bell March."

Hanes-Lahr's conducting debut was followed by Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture to accompany some speeded-up fireworks. It was exciting to see and hear nature's own fireworks in the form of lightning and thunder before the man-made ones began.

We drove off the community college campus in Arnold about 9:30 p.m. to the accompaniment of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," and we continued to hear the popping of fireworks all the way back to Severna Park.

We arrived home to pelting rain.

Our all-American celebration couldn't have been better scripted by Hollywood and this dramatic finale underscored Novo's and the ASO musicians' programming flexibility and impeccable timing.

A concert that had initially seemed underwhelming became a fabulous holiday adventure to remember.

Another outdoor Annapolis Symphony concert is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 30 at Quiet Waters Park.

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