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Classical Connection review: July 1 Patriotic Pops by the Phil at Parkview Field

Despite the threats of showers and thunderstorms, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic was able to present its annual Patriotic Pops concert at Parkview Field in downtown Fort Wayne on Saturday.

This program, which also offered at other locations in northeastern Indiana, was conducted by music director Andrew Constantine and featured former WPTA news anchor Melissa Long as host and narrator. The orchestra was set up in the infield of the Fort Wayne TinCaps' minor league baseball stadium and the concert took place without an intermission.

Complete with a color guard, the orchestra performed the National Anthem and the audience stood and sang Francis Scott Key's familiar patriotic work. It was a very stirring and moving performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Music from Elmer Bernstein's familiar score for the 1960 western feature, "The Magnificent Seven" began the actual concert. This included the popular syncopated main theme of a star-studded film that was inspired by the Japanese film "Seven Samurai." Photos from the American film were projected on Parkview Field's giant screen in the outfield; indeed, the screen was used to illustrate a number of the musical selections. Bernstein's music was given a very strong and exciting rendition. Bernstein (1922-2004) composed over 150 film scores and he particularly excelled in his works for American westerns.

It was Bob Lowden (1920-1998) who arranged the wonderful medley of Armed Forces tunes that was again performed by the Philharmonic. This collection of five songs includes "The Caisson Song" (U.S. Army), "Semper Paratus" (U.S. Coast Guard), "The Marines' Hymn," "The U.S. Air Force," and "Anchors Aweigh" (U.S. Navy). The arrangement does not include a song for the new Space Force, which was created several years ago. As each tune played, members (current and past) of each force stood and were recognized by the audience.

Perhaps the best-known work by composer, conductor, pianist writer, and television host Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) is his music for the musical drama "West Side Story," which was first presented on Broadway in 1957 and then adapted into a major motion picture in 1961. It is considered an American adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragic play "Romeo and Juliet," which is set in New York City and is the story of rival gangs in the 1950s. The medley of tunes from the musical captures some of the gang warfare as well as the dances and love song that have become American classics. The orchestra was particularly strong and sensitive in capturing the shifting moods of Bernstein's memorable score.

"The National Emblem March" is a familiar work that was composed by Edwin Eugene Bagley (1857-1922 ) in 1902 as a tribute to the American flag and its status as a symbol of the United States of America. It's hard to believe that the composer initially rejected the work because he didn't like the ending; fortunately, the members of his band recognized its greatness and performed it at their next concert. Constantine and the Philharmonic gave the march a particularly distinguished performance.

On September 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Foellinger Theatre in Franke Park, Chia-Hsuan Lin will lead the Philharmonic in a performance of the musical score for "Star War: The Empire Strikes Back" by John Williams (born 1932) as George Lucas' classic 1980 science fiction epic is presented on the screen. As a preview of that special performance, Constantine and the Philharmonic played excerpts from the exciting score, notably including the menacing Darth Vader theme. The Philharmonic has become known for its performances of John Williams' music and this was yet another excellent example of Constantine's appreciation and understanding of such great works.

Melissa Long played a more active role in the concert when she read the text of "I Am the American Flag" by James A. Beckel Jr. (born 1948). This is an inspirational work that recounts the history of the American flag from its creation during the Revolutionary War to modern times. Unfortunately, there were times when it was difficult to hear the text because of the louder passages in the score. Nevertheless, the overall impression of this work by a longtime Indianapolis Sympony principal trombonist was very solid, given the excellent performance by the Philharmonic.

Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) became known for his short, delightful, and often innovative works, many of which were written for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Among the more memorable compositions is his haunting "Blue Tango," which he composed in 1951 and conducted in a 1952 Decca recording. This is one of the best-known orchestral versions of the tango and the Philharmonic's performance was top-notch, capturing all of the nuances and syncopation of the music.

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) is considered the "March King" and he composed hundreds of marches during his long career as a bandleader, first of the U.S. Marine Corps Band and then of his own touring ensemble. Sousa rarely made recordings, which he called "canned music," but he did appear on at least nationwide radio broadcast, leading his own band in his most familiar work, "Stars and Stripes Forever." The Philharmonic performed both that march (composed in 1896) and another popular work, "Washington Post March," which he wrote in 1889 as a tribute to the famed Washington, D.C., newspaper. These marches are American classics and both were given definitive and exciting performances by the Philharmonic.

"Sing Out America" is a popular medley of classic American patriotic songs in which the audience joins the orchestra in some very familiar and memorable tunes. This medley was particularly appropriate for the Fourth of July weekend and most of us enjoyed singing along with Constantine and the Philharmonic.

A particularly spectacular fireworks show concluded the concert, as the orchestra played John Williams' "Raiders March" from the 1981 Steven Spielberg thriller "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the finale to Peter Tchaikovsky's bombastic "1812 Overture," and "Stars and Stripes Forever" by Sousa. There were times when the fireworks, which were launched from a site behind center field, drowned out the music. The overall impact of the fireworks and music were a very fitting climax to a wonderful concert in Parkview Field.

Rob Nylund is the host of WBOI's Classical Connection every Saturday evening from 6 to 8 p.m.