American Festival Pops Orchestra

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American Festival Pops Orchestra Headlines

May 21, 2011 - Entertainment by Emily Cary of Special to The Washington Examiner

Fairfax, VA—George Mason University Center for the Arts in Fairfax has been a showcase for world-class artists since its opening in October 1990. Two decades later, GMU's Prince William Campus in Manassas welcomes the Hylton Performing Arts Center to serve both students and the growing community.

The state-of-the-art center, which was built through the partnership of GMU, Prince William County, the city of Manassas, the commonwealth of Virginia and private donors, flings open its doors Friday for its grand opening weekend.

Following a performance Friday by Leahy, the Canadian family of master fiddlers, the black-tie-optional fundraiser features the American Festival Pops Orchestra under the direction of GMU's Anthony Maiello.

This is the second performance of AFPO since its founding last season by Maiello, pofessor of music and director of instrumental studies at GMU. Comprised of more than 60 professional musicians from the area, the service bands and guest faculty artists, along with six outstanding GMU music majors, it specializes in music from America's popular culture.

The musicians will back pianist Thomas Pandolfi performing George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and soprano Lisa Vroman singing selections from Broadway musicals. Her own Broadway career includes starring as Christine Daae in "The Phantom of the Opera" and roles in "Les Miserables" and "Aspects of Love." She makes many guest appearances with symphony orchestras, the New York Festival of Song and the Boston Pops.

"When I put AFPO together, I wanted to emphasize the American influences in patriotic, pop and jazz music," Maiello said. "I grew up with pop music, playing gigs at Elks clubs and other such groups when I was young, and I have a strong jazz background. After teaching for so long, I wanted to have fun in my remaining years. The National Symphony Orchestra has a pops series, but we didn't have anything like that in Northern Virginia, so I thought it was a good time to form a group similar to the Boston Pops that specializes in mood music and numbers from movies and Broadway. We made our formal debut last fall."

The program opens with the "The Star-Spangled Banner" followed by Dmitri Shostakovich's "Festive Overture" played with long-bell herald trumpets and antiphonal horns. A medley from the James Bond "007" movies and solos by the saxophone and brass sections precede Pandolfi's solo turn. Following intermission, Vroman sings Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Andrew Lloyd Webber favorites, closing with an arrangement of "The Trolley Song" by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane that modulates into Lerner and Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night." An Armed Forces Medley tops off the evening.

"Lisa has a wonderful presentation, and the audience will long remember the way she sings 'America the Beautiful,' " Maiello said. "Gershwin's 'Rhapsody' is always popular, and 'Five to Go' will be a showstopper. Jack Bullock, a friend and prolific composer, wrote it for a band. I asked him to reorchestrate it for saxophones and invited a guest quintet (Sam Brady, Jim Carroll, John DeSalme, Rick Parrell and Michael Vitale) to perform with us at the gala. They wail away while the orchestra plays in the background. I'm a sucker for these kinds of things.

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