If there was one drawback to the wonderful trip I made to Australia in the summer of 2003, it was that I had to miss the annual “Star-Spangled Salute” the Houston Symphony Orchestra brings to The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion each year on the eve of Independence Day. But happily I was able to be one of the thousands of lucky audience members at this year’s concert. It was, as always, a delightfully spirited, deliciously musical, and unapologetically patriotic event. It seemed to be just the right medicine for a war-weary nation.
Dressed in a crisply cool white formal jacket, conductor Michael Krajewski raised his baton as the sun set and the heat of the day gave way to some pleasant breezes. The audience gave one of the strongest crowd performances of “The Star Spangled Banner” that I have ever heard, and the conductor commended them for it. With flags flying from every music stand, the fine orchestra offered a resounding rendition of Bagley’s “National Emblem March.” Then there were the rousing variations of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” in Gould’s “American Salute.” Next came Copland’s “The Promise of Living” from “Suite From the Tender Land,” and tenderness was clearly the operative word for this fine performance.
Local broadcaster, Elaine Kennedy, joined the orchestra to offer a fine narration during the performance of Beckel’s “Liberty for All.” Accompanying the music were memorable passages from the words of such Americans as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and other patriots. Then came an audience favorite, the Prechel arrangement of the “American Sing-a-long,” featuring tunes like “America,” “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and “This Land is Your Land.”
Following intermission came Munford’s snazzy marching arrangement of W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” Country music fans were then treated to a hand-clapping “Country Medley” that included “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Rocky Top,” “Y’all Come,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” and an “Orange Blossom Special” that featured dazzling work from twenty symphony fiddlers.
The Hayman arrangement, “Service Medley” is yet another highlight of the annual program. As the themes of our military branches (Coast Guard, Army, Navy Marines and Air Force) were played, veterans of each branch were invited to stand for the appreciative applause of the audience.
Tchaikovsky’s thrilling “1812 Overture” is the traditional climax of this exciting concert, and this year it had an added excitement. Seated in the audience, just a row ahead of me, was the entire U.S. Olympic Diving Team. Taking a break from their Woodlands practice for this summer’s Olympics, the divers were honored with the task of firing the hilltop cannons during the final passages of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. It was a fitting conclusion to a truly Star-Spangled Salute.
(The Courier 7.9.04)
(The Villager 7.15.04)