By David Dow Bentley III “The People’s Critic”
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They say, “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun,” and when I think back over the many times during the past quarter-century that I have had the privilege of reviewing the Houston Symphony’s “Star-Spangled Salute” concerts, held each year at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on the eve of Independence Day, it brings to mind many fond memories. Oddly though, my first such joyous report on America’s day of national observance was published here in our Montgomery County COURIER on July 8th of 2001, just two months before the now infamous SEPTEMBER 11th.* Needless to say, our great nation has continued to weather many storms since that tragic day, but it’s comforting to know Americans still gather in celebration on each 4th of July.
Like the many such concerts that preceded it, this one began with the orchestra’s rousing performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which was equaled in passion by the robust singing of the clearly patriotic audience. A neon-violet glow embraced the stage, and pleasant summer breezes circulated under the pavilion. Then it was on to Copeland’s thrilling “Fanfare for the Common Man,” with the excitement of its echoing French horns, the pounding power of the kettledrums, and the shimmering accents of the cymbals.
The excitement was compounded by the dramatically animated direction from conductor, Steven Reineke, looking splendidly summer-cool in a beautiful white silk shirt. Next, he guided his talented musicians in the brisk and explosive musical bursts of Gould’s composition of, “American Salute,” as it beautifully weaved its way around the familiar American tune, When Johnny Comes Marching Home.
A delightful surprise would follow as the audience was introduced to the amazing voice and talent of guest vocalist, Jimmie Herrod.
His soaring and rich voice blended elegantly with the orchestra’s soothing background as he beautifully performed Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” As the orchestra opened with the exciting rhythms of the bongo drums, Mr. Herrod then wowed the crowd with a uniquely original interpretation of the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen classic, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” His rendition seemed to even rise above the pleasing levels of the more familiar Sinatra version. It was rapidly becoming apparent why this handsome young man had so quickly moved on from being a finalist on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” to performances with the National Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and the Oregon Symphony, while in addition being the toast of such important venues as Lincoln Center in Washington and the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.
Next, movie fans familiar with the brilliant scores of composer John Williams were then treated to the orchestra’s elegant performance of his sweeping and regal “Liberty Fanfare,” composed for the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration in 1986. That had the crowd nicely warmed up to accompany the musicians with hand-clapping glee during Sousa’s classic, “Liberty Bell March.” With darkness descending, the audience lit up the arena as they waved about the electric neon glow-sticks they had been gifted when entering the Pavilion. And of course, fans of “The Lone Ranger,” were not disappointed when maestro Reineke conducted Rossini’s thrilling “Overture to William Tell.”
Following the intermission, Mr. Herrod returned to the stage to perform his original song, “Each Time,” which seemed well-designed to display his remarkable vocal range. Then he brought his artistry to yet another astonishing level as he seemed to do the impossible when singing Barbra Streisand’s classic “Evergreen” so beautifully that it seemed the equal of the great Diva.
Of course, no such concert would be complete without the traditional Kessler/Hayman arrangement of the “Armed Forces Medley,” during which the veterans in the audience were invited to stand for appreciative audience applause as the songs of each military branch were played.
As the concert moved toward conclusion, the symphony offered a shimmering and majestic, “America the Beautiful,” nicely complemented by both the voice of Mr. Herrod and the passionate assistance of the patriotic crowd.
Then, just as it seemed the program couldn’t be more wonderful, conductor Reineke lifted his baton to conduct Tchaikovsky’s magnificent “1812 Overture.” With its included sounds of distant cannons, the overpowering score seemed to remind us all that this was a celebration of something very important. If anyone had forgotten that the closing encore of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” was the perfect reminder.
CIRQUE DE LA SYMPHONIE will be the Houston Symphony’s next Pavilion event at 8pm on July 20th, 2023. For tickets and information call 713-224-7575 or visit www.HoustonSymphony.org. The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion is located at 2005 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, TX. 77380
*For readers who might enjoy a look back at the above referenced world just before the infamous September 11th, here is a link to that story:
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com