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Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

Festival City Symphony Marches Right Along

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Men and women have been falling into line behind the sound of fifes, drums and bugles since time immemorial. Eventually, military marches became processionals as they migrated from battlefields to stages, cathedrals and boulevards. The music became more complex, elaborate and festive, for the listeners were no longer troops trying to keep in march tempo, but the general public who became the recipients of some gloriously colorful music.

In their first concert of the new season, the Festival City Symphony has chosen a program entirely comprised of orchestral marches. This is one of their “Pajama Jamborees,” with free admission and even the opportunity for some lucky attendees to conduct the orchestra!

Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Marche Militaire hails from a mass of four-hand piano music he composed, but in its orchestrated version it has become a light classics favorite.

Johann Strauss Sr. (1804-49) is one of those one-hit wonders of classical music (notwithstanding his renowned son’s vast and ever-popular output). Strauss Sr. composed his Radetzky March in honor of the eponymous Austrian general who put down an Italian insurrection in the turbulent year of 1848. Even if we may not agree with the sentiments behind it, the march’s headlong excitement is impossible to resist.

Few musicians have ever captured so completely the spirit of the written word as did Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) in his gossamer music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The world-famous Wedding March from this score has heralded many a marriage ceremony ever since.

The grandest of grand operas is surely Ada by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), a vast work composed to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal and given its world premiere in Cairo. The famous Grand March from this opera fully reflects all the spectacle and opulence of the proceedings.

Carmen was the last opera of Georges Bizet (1838-75), and his only lasting masterpiece in the genre (though the public was initially shocked by its brutality and realism). The March of the Toreadors, which arrives just before the tragic finale, paints a vivid picture of the atmosphere surrounding a Spanish bullfight.

Surely no concert of marches would be complete without hearing from America’s great March King, John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), composer of more than 100 marches as leader of the U.S. Marine Band and later his own ensemble. Perhaps the best known and most beloved of them all is the rousing Stars and Stripes Forever of 1897.

As it has accompanied countless high-school graduation processions, one might think the Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 to likewise have been by Sousa, but it’s not even American. Rather, the composer was Edward Elgar (1857-1934) of England—a Sousa contemporary, but a composer of many more variegated works. But to the casual listener, this march is his calling card.

Finally, the Festival City Symphony performs the January-February March by American composer Don Gillis (1912-78), who, in a rather straightforward style and much like Copland, Grofé and Gershwin, drew inspiration from jazz and the American West.

This concert takes place in the Bradley Pavilion of the Marcus Center on Sept. 15.

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