American Festival Pops Orchestra

Previews and Reviews

American Festival Pops salutes veterans

November 23, 2011 - Curtain Up! by Terry Ponick of The Washington Times

Manassas, VA—The American Festival Pops Orchestra celebrated Veterans Day and Thanksgiving together last weekend in a lively, patriotic concert at George Mason University’s Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas. Under the baton of the ensemble’s founder and music director Anthony Maiello, the ensemble performed patriotic music and nostalgic popular music by composers as diverse as John Williams and Stephen Foster, assisted by guest artists Angela Knight, Scott Shelsta, and Harry Waters.

Special highlights of the concert included a performance of “Ashokan Farewell,” the poignant Jay Ungar tune popularized by Ken Burns’ “Civil War” series on PBS; and the Washington area premiere of a new march by WWI veteran Robert Rice.

As has become customary for this relatively young ensemble, last Saturday’s concert opened with Maestro Maiello’s adaptation of “The Star Spangled Banner,” notable for the fact that it’s pitched down far enough for the gents in the audience to hit all the notes.

After a crisp, lively, brassy encounter with John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare,” the orchestra accompanied soprano Angela Knight in an emotional adaptation of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Ms. Knight was in brilliant voice—and, if we may say so, appeared on stage in a stunning, best-ever sunshine yellow gown.

Following the “Battle Hymn” was a real treat and a genuine first—the aforementioned DC area premiere of Robert Rice’s new march, “The American Veteran’s Last Salute.” Now 92 years young and currently a resident of Lakewood, Ohio, the composer proudly served in World War II in numerous roles, including that of U.S. Army composer, bandleader and arranger. Returning to Ohio, he taught music and band on the high school level for many years, composing and arranging official marches for many Cleveland-area public schools.

With the assistance of his son Gary—also a musician, bandleader, and music teacher—he composed his new march to honor America’s veterans, after discovering to his astonishment that no such march had yet been written.

Over the past year, the march has been performed at several American Legion and local events. But the performance in Manassas, arranged for the orchestra by Bryan Kidd marked the new composition’s first performance by a large ensemble.

Making things more special, Mr. Rice was on hand to conduct the orchestra in the area premiere, assisted by his son who played a traditional Revolutionary War marching drum decked out in an authentic Revolutionary era costume. Lively, bright, and irresistible, the new march won raves from the enthusiastic audience, as did the efforts of both Rices.

Mr. Kidd himself conducted the Orchestra in his original composition, "Turning Point," a highly effective and evocative tone poem depicting a key U.S. Naval battle in WWII's Pacific Theater.

Other highlights of the concert included a pair of trombone solos by Scotty Shelsta—Stephen Foster’s “Gentle Annie, and MR. Shelsta’s own adaptation of an old “Simon Bolivar” march (pre-Hugo Chavez); a performance of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific, featuring Harry Watters as trombone soloist; and a touching rendition of the “Ashokan Farewell,” with Major General James A. Marks (U.S. Army-Ret.) reciting the narrative; and additional solo appearances by Angela Knight, who sang “God Bless America” and “America, the Beautiful.”

Maestro Maiello reprised his traditional medley of U.S. Armed Forces classic marches, and concluded the concert with an enthusiastically received, Leopold Stokowski-arranged version of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Rating: *** (Three stars.)