Fort Worth — You know it’s late June in Fort Worth when each weekend night is capped off by the sound of distant fireworks. As clockwork as cicadas, those thundering booms following seconds after color-flashed smoke plumes signal it’s time to make Independence Day plans. Choosing where to take in your Fourth of July fireworks is serious business. Look no further than the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s Concerts in the Garden. On Monday night in Fort Worth’s Botanic Garden the Old-Fashioned Family Fireworks Picnic was a tasteful and patriotic evening in the hands of our graceful and dynamic FWSO.
Newly appointed Associate Conductor Alejandro Gómez Guillén, enjoyable as an emcee, led the audience, reclining on the Garden’s lawn, through a survey of great American composers.
1972 wasn’t the last time John Williams ripped off Aaron Copland on the soundtrack to the John Wayne movie The Cowboys. The former’s cinematic overture with marimba-driven, rapid-fire, single-pitched unisons sound like they were lifted straight out of the latter’s “Hoe Down” from his Rodeo ballet. The FWSO was at its galloping best in this rallying opener. The Maestro instructed the audience before a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story to yell “mambo!” at his cue. They did. What else are you going to do on a hot evening but have fun? They did.
And more, they played with personality. The strings’ tone was glossy and supple. The tuba showed off his high range. The sparkling percussion section nailed it every time. And the frequent French horn highlights stole the show. The players coped admirably with the challenges inherent in playing classical music out-of-doors. Most of which was the difficulty in attaining impeccable tuning across sections in unregulated humidity. This didn’t intimidate our symphony though the dozens of floor fans helped. Their all fingers on deck command of the music is worth showing up for.
Mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte joined next to sing “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Oh! Susanna” by the father of American music, Stephen Foster. Her lovely tone brought out the charm at the essence of Foster’s songs.
The audience’s connection to the concert and our most patriotic national holiday reached the next level with Armed Forces Salute. As Guillén called out each of the five branches of the military those with a connection to that branch stood while the orchestra played their respective theme songs and everyone honored them with deeply sincere applause. (No space force yet.)
Like “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the traditional opener for all FWSO concerts, these kind tributes are appropriate and expected. An entire concert of just the music of John Williams would be a similar-sounding celebration. Three more pieces by Williams were to come: “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan, “Liberty Fanfare,” and “Midway March.” Kudos for the programming of various American musical influences, especially the acknowledgements to the jazz greats Duke Ellington and W.C. Handy. But the welcome surprise were the delightfully engrossing pieces “Yankee Doodle” and “American Salute” by Morton Gould. They charged at hairpin turns, multi-meters, tone clusters and flexible textures. It kept the symphony on their toes and the audience on the edge of their blankets.
While Guillén, originally from Colombia, directed, and Duarte, originally from Mexico, sang “America the Beautiful” a giant American flag was raised at the back of the stage and all sang along with the phrase, “my home sweet home.” A still shared and increasingly precious sentiment.
Of course, there is no other way to end a concert right around the corner from the Fourth of July than with a massive firework display and the marches “The Washington Post March” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Phillip Sousa playing. A classic end to a classy concert of classical music.
There are two more chances to take in this Fort Worth tradition, tonight and Wednesday night.