American Festival Pops Orchestra

Previews and Reviews

American Festival Pops sparkles in Manassas

April 2, 2011 - Curtain Up! by Terry Ponick of The Washington Times

Manassas, VA—The American Festival Pops Orchestra returned to the Hylton Performing Arts Center, the scene of its initial triumph roughly a year ago, last weekend to present another sparkling trip down memory lane. Under the baton of the ensemble’s founder and music director, Anthony Maiello, the ensemble uncorked a party of hit tunes from yesteryear, ranging from Sir Arthur Sullivan’s "Overture to The Gondoliers," to John Williams’ poignant, signature theme from his score for the film “Schindler’s List.”

Prince William County residents will proudly recall the Orchestra’s celebratory opening concert last spring as Manassas celebrated the Grand Opening of the Hylton, the community’s first full-fledged performing arts center, constructed as part of George Mason University’s still-growing branch campus in Prince William. The Orchestra re-created that sense of fun and fellowship in its latest concert at the Hylton.

As it did last year, the orchestra's concert opened with Maestro Maiello’s adaptation of “The Star Spangled Banner,” a rousing arrangement notable for the fact that it’s blessedly pitched down far enough for most of the men in the audience to actually sing it. And sing it they did, out of patriotism no doubt, but also out of gratitude, we suspect, simply for the fact that it actually allows the guys to sing.

After Sullivan’s sprightly overture to The Gondoliers which, BTW, the Washington Savoyards are hinting they might perform at the Atlas next season, the Orchestra shifted to more familiar American pieces, a number of which were wildly popular on middle-of-the-road radio and TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s.

Highlights included Neal Hefti’s sprightly “Cute,” featuring the wildly inventive Harold Summey on the drum set; Bryan Kidd’s upbeat, Ella Fitzgerald-style arrangement of Cole Porter’s classic “Night and Day,” featuring soprano and GMU professor Kathryn Hearden in the solo spot; an ample sampling of almost-forgotten, but still great Henry Mancini hit film tunes; the aforementioned Theme from "Schindler’s List," with concertmaster Peter Wilson as the soloist; and an upbeat rendition of Leroy Anderson’s “Buglers’ Holiday,” featuring Denny Edelbrock, Dave Detwiler, and Kenny Rittenhouse on a variety of trumpets, set off from the orchestra once again by the talent of percussionist Harold Summey.

Other highlights of the concert included an off-the-charts-but-not-off-your-hearts medley of Baby Boomer hit TV theme songs, again arranged by the indefatigable Brian Kidd (…and yes, yours truly correctly guessed all 13 of the tunes, showing his age, no doubt); and an amusing rendition of Leroy Anderson’s classic “Typewriter” song, long a staple of 1950s radio.

Percussion soloist John Kilkenny rather amusingly explained beforehand that he could no longer come up with an old-style office manual typewriter in the 21st century, so he jury rigged a MacBook computer and a hotel counter-bell to substitute, much to the amusement of the audience which, of course, still loved the irresistible pre-office-cubicle tune.

As with last spring’s concert, Maestro Maiello concluded the evening with a medley of U.S. Armed Forces classic marches, encouraging vets from each branch of the service to stand and be acknowledged as their own march came up, a welcome touch in a metro area that often seems reluctant to show gratitude for the sacrifices our brave servicemen and women have made, particularly over the last few decades.

The service marches segued into the evening’s concluding rendition of “America, The Beautiful,” with Maestro Maiello encouraging the capacity audience to sing along, which they promptly did, once they recognized their cue.

The orchestra itself performed crisply and with great enthusiasm under the baton of Maestro Maiello who also serves as associate director of George Mason University’s School of Music.

It seems as if the American Festival Pops is fast becoming a popular tradition at the Hylton Center, bringing both professionalism and an appreciation of durable American classic tunes and marches to Prince William County’s growing audience for serious American and international music, both classical and popular.

A thought: these talented area musicians ought to get together and put out a CD. We’d just bet there’s a considerable nationwide audience out there for classic, upbeat, popular Americana performed with professionalism, affection, and more than a bit of pizzazz.

Whaddaya say, guys?

Rating: *** (Three stars.)