Review: ‘Advance Always: A Celebration of Frank Battisti and Garwood Whaley’ at The Kennedy Center

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The Baldwin Wallace University Symphonic Wind Ensemble (BWUSWE), conducted by Dr. Brendan Caldwell, and the Bishop Ireton Symphonic Wind Ensemble, conducted by Dr. Randall Eyles, performed the concert Advance Always: A Celebration of Frank Battisti and Garwood Whaley at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Concert Hall last night. The concert, which honored musical-education luminaries Battisti and Whaley, featured impressive trumpet and xylophone solos and vocal support from several DC-Area high schools. The concert was a musical cornucopia of new compositions and aged classics.

Photo courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University's facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University’s facebook page.

Caldwell and the BWUSWE opened the concert with a rousing rendition of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. Composed in 1942 for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Fanfare for the Common Man, as performed by the BWUSWE, brought to mind historical tales of FDR and the New Deal.

Next up was Edvard Grieg’s Funeral March, which saw the ensemble physically act out the evident grief of the march though sullen body language. Grieg wrote the march in honor of his friend Rikard Nordraak and reportedly always kept the sheet music with him. BWUSWE’s rendition of the march was emotionally compelling.

Conductor Frank Battisti, one of the honorees, and who first led BWUSWE from 1967 to 1969, brought composer Michael Gandolfi’s lively, Latin-flavored Vientos y Tangos (“Winds and Tangos”) to life. As the song climbed to an energetic crescendo, one could imagine a smoky, alcohol-filled bar in Cuba circa 1952.

Trumpeter Graham Breedlove soloed impressively on his own composition, French Quarter Fantasy, which unfurled in three divergent movements. The first movement was an up-tempo, foot-tapping, touch of boogie, circa 1942. The second movement, written to invoke memories of Hurricane Katrina, was mournful. The third movement recalled the famous New Orleans funeral parade dances, called the “Second Line”. Breedlove’s trumpet solo brought the soul of Mardi Gras to D.C.

The Bishop Ireton Symphonic Wind Ensemble (BISWE), conducted by Dr. Eyles, started the second half of the concert off with The Washington Post March (often played on the Fourth of July), by household-name-composer John Phillip Sousa; though it was a cool night in March, one could imagine fireworks in the Concert Hall ‘s air.

Next up was Gabriel’s Oboe, by composer Ennio Morricone, who recently won an Oscar for his score of the Western film The Hateful Eight.  BISWE’s Catherine Green soloed impressively with her oboe. Next, the audience was transported back to the days of silent, Charlie Chaplin comedy films by the light-hearted “The Golden Age of the Xylophone,” by Floyd Werle. The song invoked ragtime dance tunes from 100 years ago—with a touch of George Gershwin. Patrick Roulet exhibited pure joy as he tickled the xylophone, producing pleasurable note after note.

BWUSWE and BISWE, conducted by Brian Balmages, performed the somber, military-drum-infused “Light at the End of Forever” beautifully. “Advance Always,” composed by Clint Needham, filled the Concert Hall with fiery inspiration and was enthused with unforgettable energy by The Advance Always Festival Choir, which included mostly local high schools, including Suitland High School (Kenneth Boucher, conductor), Bishop Ireton High School (Dan Kosko, conductor), Northwestern High School (Dawn Jones, conductor), Dr. Henry Wise High School (Valancia Howard, conductor) and John Paul The Great High School (Kelly Kingett, conductor). Based on the writings of Saint Francis de Sales, “Advance Always” was a majestic ending to an incomparable evening of music.

Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.

Photo courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University's facebook page.
Photo courtesy of Baldwin Wallace University’s facebook page.

The Baldwin Wallace University Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the Bishop Ireton Symphonic Wind Ensemble and several area high schools performed for one night only on March 11, 2016 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For future events at The John F. Kennedy Center go their calendar of events.