Montgomery County residents were already mobbing the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion entrance gates when they were finally opened just after 6:30 p.m. on Fourth of July Eve. The Houston Symphony’s annual “Star Spangled Salute” would not get underway until just after 8 o’clock, but the mood of celebration was already well established. Picnic baskets in hand, the early arrivals hurried to secure the best locations for the free event. Area weather forecasters were united in their belief that the night would be marred by storms; but my instincts as an optimistic “meteorologist” would be vindicated under a nearly full moon, and no rain would fall.
Conductor Michael Krajewski, dressed in a cool, formal white jacket, brought both his skill on the podium, and his amusing dry wit to the occasion. Opening with “Fanfare and Star-Spangled Banner,” Krajewski quickly capitalized on the sincere patriotism of the capacity crowd. Then came Sousa’s thrilling “Semper Fidelis” and a shimmering symphonic edition of Richard Rodgers’ highly visual score from “Victory at Sea.”
A highlight of the evening was the performance of narrator and bass baritone, Kevin Deas, who enriched the meaning of the occasion with his powerful recitation of quotations from American patriots during the symphony’s performance of Beckel’s “Liberty for All.” The first part of the program concluded with a medley of familiar favorites in “American Fantasy, A Salute to the Patriotism of George M. Cohan.”
Following intermission reminders that Red Cross donations were being accepted to aid Montgomery County victims of the recent floods, the program continued with John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare.” Another Sousa hand-clapper was “The Liberty Bell.” Country music fans enjoyed a humorous symphonic rendition of “Turkey in the Straw.” The annual “Texas Sing-Along Medley” featured enthusiastic audience participation in “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Red River Valley,” “Back in the Saddle Again,” Deep in the Heart of Texas,” and “Texas, Our Texas.”
Then came the much-deserved yearly recognition of armed service veterans during the Hayman concert arrangement of “Service Medley.” It brought a tear to my eye as veterans of each service branch were invited to stand for appreciative applause as their respective military themes were played. Dressed in the colorful red, white, and blue tee-shirt his grandson Blake had bought him in Washington, D.C., Woodlands’ resident and veteran, Bob Tabor, was among the first to proudly rise as the Coast Guard theme opened the segment.
Mr. Deas then performed a moving “God Bless America,” and invited the audience to join him in song. Then, at last, it was time for the grand finale, Tchaikovsky’s powerful “1812 Overture.” The skilled conductor and magnificent orchestra would only be out done by the cannons on the hill, and the church bell chimes which rang out, once again, in a free nation enjoying peace and prosperity. For those fond of the phrase, “God Bless America,” it seemed clear, that on this night, He had done just that.
(The Courier 7.8.01)