SLSO's American celebration is a patriotic treat

Ward Stare
St. Louis Classical Examiner

By Bill Townsend

Patriotic music always sounds best when played by a great symphony orchestra. At least that’s my not-so-humble opinion.

Friday night’s “Casual Classics” concert at Powell Symphony Hall was like a Fourth of July pops concert, only without the flies.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra featured an all-American agenda and gave every number on the program its just deserts, with a couple of encores for great measure.
Resident conductor Ward Stare—a confident, gifted young man—started the concert with “The Star-Spangled Banner.” His “choir” (the audience) was in good voice throughout. The band played well, too.
Morton Gould’s “American Salute” was a terrific kickoff, and it was followed by selections from the score of “The Red Pony” by Aaron Copland. The middle movement, “Walk to the Bunkhouse,” was especially jaunty and worth the price of admission by itself. But there was more a-comin’.

A medley from “Oklahoma!” wrapped up half No. 1, with the crowd almost unable to keep from humming or singing along. This arrangement sounded crisp, and the SLSO played it with great style and enthusiasm.

A high-spirited “School for Scandal” overture by Samuel Barber opened the second portion of the evening. Stare called it one of his favorites, and it’s truly one of Barber’s masterworks. The SLSO made the conductor smile broadly.

The program got a bit more somber for the next two numbers. First, the theme from “JFK” by John Williams featured a beautifully haunting performance by trumpet Susan Slaughter, who is delaying retirement to play for the “Casual Classics” concerts, and we’re delighted she has remained.

Stare dedicated the string section’s performance of George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings” to all of the men and women in the armed forces who have given their lives for our country. It was a moving tribute, to say the least.

During Richard Hayman’s rousing “Servicemen on Parade,” Stare invited current and retired members of each service branch to rise when they heard their theme song. It was stirring to see these people on their feet, and I’m so glad Stare gave the audience a chance to thank the soldiers for their service.

An “America, the Beautiful” singalong was next, followed by the “National Emblem March” by Edwin Bagley, with John Philip Sousa’s “Liberty Bell March” closing out the program … but not quite.

The “Col. Bogey March” got whistlers whistling during the first encore, and all the clappers in the audience got their wish as “Stars and Stripes Forever” closed out the show for real.

All of these numbers are familiar to the performers, but they played them with a fresh zeal that St. Louis should treasure. For this concert on a holiday weekend, the SLSO attracted a near full house. Let’s hope that keeps up.