TRR Revue by: Alan Duckworth
It’s a celebration of the anniversary of The Battle of Baltimore in The War of 1812. The battle that sparked the inspiration of Francis Scott Key’s poem “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop along with the United States Navy Band Sea Chanters and special guest Timothy McAllister took the stage at Strathmore Saturday night in The Music Center.
It’s interesting the impact war has on music. Over the years music and war has shaped our culture into what it is today. Some modern tunes synonymous with war would include Jimi Hendrix “All Along The Watchtower” and “Star Spangled Banner,” Metallica’s “One,” Alice In Chains “Rooster” and “Arlington” by Trace Atkins. The impact the “The Star Spangled Banner” has had on our culture and society is unfathomable; its just as important as the constitution!
The program begun with a James Lee III rendition of the National Anthem; John Stafford Smith’s “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It was a klangfarbenmelodie with the melody being dispersed amongst several instruments. Maybe James Lee III purposely composed the piece in this manner to add tone color and highlight the very visual nature of the song. Lyrics depicting scenes of Fort McHenry during battle and the repulsion of the Royal Navy.
Marin Alsop followed “The Star-Spangled Banner” with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov”s Scheherazade. Being that the Battle of Baltimore was in part a naval affair I believe was the reasoning for this selection. Scheherazade’s movements are loosely based around Sinbad’s ship. In the final movement the ship breaks against a cliff surrounded by bronze horsemen, reminiscent of the Royal Navy falling at Fort McHenry.
I’d appreciate any reason to hear Scheherazade! It’s such a beautiful song. Concertmaster Johnathan Carney was magnificent! First Violin has such a prominent role throughout the suite. His solos were amazing and evoked lightheartedness; the manner in which he accentuated the notes drew tears.
After intermission we were treated to a recently released John Adams composure. It was “Saxophone Concerto” performed with Timothy McAllister. This composure had a lot of swing! It reminded me of a Raymond Scott composure. Heavy solo sax accompanied with an orchestra. The sound was actually kind of gangster; like I was listening to the soundtrack of a mobster movie. Timothy McAllister performed it great! There was a lot of complex ornamentation performed fluently.
For the final piece the BSO along with the United States Navy Band Sea Chanters performed Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture Solonelle. Tchaikovsky wrote the infamous score as a patriotic piece celebrating Russia’s victory over Napoleon in the battle of Borodino. It has since been adopted by the United States. It opened with the United States Navy Sea Chanters singing the traditional Russian Orthodox chant “Save, Lord, Thy People.” It was powerful and inviting. The music then gradually escalates into a explosion of instrumentation. Timpani’s booming like cannons, horns sounding off triumphantly. Randall S. Campora on bass trombone really stood out, it was easy to match the slide movements of his trombone to the melody during the grandiose coda, a culmination of excitement and sound. Marin Alsop’s conducting was particularly expressive during the coda like a general commanding troops.
This program was excellently conceived and put together. I never pegged Scheherazade a patriotic piece but it fit the story of the program theme and made it all that much more enjoyable. Marin really has a niche at directing programs with variety and meaning. They tell a story from start to finish across an array of composers. Her conducting style in and of itself is to behold, distinct baton gestures usher grandeur. I would highly recommend seeing any BSO performance, especially if its conducted by Marin Alsop. It will be a memorable experience to say the least.