You got a paper bag with your program at the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s Friday morning Coffee Concert. And no, it wasn’t so you could take one of those yummy doughnuts to go.
It was so you could pop it during Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”
It’s not giving away too much to tell that. The real surprise is how it sounds. All those loud bangs, all over the hall – you can’t believe how effective it is. You really have to be there.
Bravo to Stefan Sanders, the associate conductor, for that rare touch. A Memorial Day concert, perhaps inevitably, has certain constants. A Sousa march. “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The Armed Forces Salute, always a highlight, when veterans rise and acknowledge thanks and applause.
But it’s nice to have a few surprises, too. Friday’s performance, which drew a big crowd, had several.
One high point was an a cappella turn by the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, led by its director, Adam Luebke. The singers sang the hymn “Unclouded Day,” by Josiah Alwood, a 19th century Midwestern preacher. It’s an uplifting, up-tempo song – Willie Nelson has sung it – and the choral arrangement has tremendous bounce and good feeling. Looking it up on YouTube, I wasn’t surprised to read that a listener wrote: “One of my favorite songs to listen to on a loop.”
The chorus’ singers, clearly enjoying their time in the spotlight, took this gem at a good clip and gave it their all. Their performance was joyous and crisp. One of these Memorial Days, maybe we could let them do a whole set of songs by themselves. This one song made me want to hear more.
Speaking of spirited songs, it’s always fun to hear “Over There” in the jaunty arrangement by Capitol Records’ Carmen Dragon. It rang out with elan. “God of Our Fathers,” our national hymn, crescendoed until it could remind you of a theme from an epic movie. “America the Beautiful,” beginning sedately, also rose gradually into something thrilling.
One new listener told me that several times during the concert, she got tears in her eyes. That is high praise.
I found a lot to savor, too. Having been to more patriotic pops concerts than I can count, though, I occasionally wondered if we could switch things up a little more. Morton Gould’s “American Salute,” Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea” – we hear these pieces, and a few others on the program, almost every year. Though not everyone goes every year the way I do, I don’t see the down side of giving these selections a break and giving the concert a few more twists. Maybe have the chorus sing more. I hate to see the singers sitting there idle.
At the same time, I was impressed, as I often am, by the energy and enthusiasm that Sanders and the musicians poured into the music, novelties and old chestnuts alike. The trombonists threw themselves into “Rolling Thunder,” which had circuslike sparkle. Their colleagues matched their zeal. Assistant concertmaster Ansgarius Aylward gave color and flair to the violin solo in “Victory at Sea,” damn the torpedoes.
“Star-Spangled Pops” repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall.