Just in time for the Days of '47 weekend, along comes "The March King" oompahing right out of the 19th century in the form of Keith Brion.
Brion's Sousa is a delight to watch, and the Utah Symphony - decked out in its summer whites - is a joy to listen to in the confines of Symphony Hall. Friday's concert had all the trappings of an outdoors bandstand - the only thing lacking was the outdoors, which Brion and the Symphony will remedy Saturday and Sunday in the mountains.The first half of the program was filled with the "classics" of Sousa's day interspersed with the familiar "rest" songs to keep the audience on its toes.
Highlighted was Larry Zalking on trombone performing "The Blue Bells of Scotland." Zalking ran the gamut of notes, making his instrument behave more like a trumpet than a trombone. Somehow he deftly managed to catch his breath between excruciatingly long runs. No sooner was Zalking's solo over than he joined three other trombonists for another workout before the "Songs of Grance And Songs of Glory" number, which includes a stirring rendition of "Nearer My God to Thee" written for a presidential funeral.
Vocal soloist of the evening was soprano Charleen Ayers, whose talents were showcased in "Ah, Fors E Lui" and "Sempre Librea" from Verdi's "La Traviata" and Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer," the latter accompanied only by harp. Ayers range was stunning in the Verdi selections and soothing in Foster's.
Intermission was ushered in with a rolicking rendition of "U.S. Field Artillery," with symphony members and audience joining to sing, "As the Caissons Go Marching Along," complete with gunshots. Give the edge to symphony members - they had the words in front of them.
The second half brought out the Sousa marches, and Brion performed impeccably, with back rigid as a Marine at attention and arms sweeping and swooshing, signaling the audience to clap to the cadence, which it did with delight.
Following "American Patrol," containing excerpts from "Dixie" and "Yankee Doodle," and "Washington Post" marches, Brion led the symphony in Sousa's waltz "Reine De La Mer," featuring each section of the orchestra in turn - percussion, strings, then woodwinds and brass.
Sousa loved matching uncommon instruments, and Michael Sanders (tuba) and Michael Vance (piccolo) performed a duet "The Elephant And They Fly." Afterward "Whistler and His Dog," with the audience trying to pucker up to whistle the melody and the symphony, "arf-arf-ing" its approval.
As his finale, Brion chose "The William Tell Overture," with the cellos and bass leading off, supplemented later by violas and winds, then the violins and percussion section joining in. The familiar passages - "daybreak" sounds and "Lone Ranger" theme - were executed crisply and expertly. Hi-Ho, Symphony!
The encore included "Semper Fidelis" and "Stars and Stripes Forever," which Brion noted was named this year as the national march by Congress and President Reagan. The concluding march included a patriotic unrolling of a 20-foot flag.