Keith Brion's "Sousa at the Symphony" act dates back some years now - his own mustache replaced the glued-on one in 1983 - but it never seems to get old for audiences.
Witness its latest incarnation Friday at Abravanel Hall, as lustily applauded as if it were the very first time. Well, maybe it was for some people. Maybe they had never seen him before, striding on-stage in his black, gold-braided bandmaster's uniform, wire-rim glasses, white gloves and hair to match.I'd be surprised if they had heard all the regular pieces, with the possibly exception of Weber's "Euryanthe" Overture and the Strauss, Gounod and Jerome Kern selections. Even the Sousa encores contained a few surprises, such as "The Bride Elect," with its flavorful brass quavers, and "On the Campus," here made memorable by the waving of a couple of University of Utah banners.
Jerome Kern on a Sousa program? Given the fact that Sousa died in 1932 and the song in question, "All the Things You Are," did not appear in a Kern show until 1939, Brion may have fudged a bit here. But most everything else dated from the March King's era, incluidng his own as-yet-unpublished variations on George Gershwin's "Swanee," a bit tentative in spots Friday but liberally spiced with quotes from other songs, including "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here," "Listen to the Mockingbird" and "Old Black Joe."
Happily there was nothing tentative about Percy Grainger's delightful children's march "Over the Hills and Far Away," here tunefully exuberant with its unique textures and a few harmonic surprises.
Ditto the swirling excitement of Fucik's "Entrance of the Gladiators" - for generations now, the circus march - and Victor Herbert's "Auditorium Festival March," with its characteristic dollop of sentiment in the form of "Auld Lang Syne."
Guest soprano Charleen Ayers likewise comported herself fearlessly in Sousa's setting of "In Flanders Fields," making the most of its controllled poignancy, and "Juliet's Waltz Song" from Gounod's "Romeo et Juliet," which showed off her wide-ranging coloratura to generally resplendent effect.
Nor did the home-grown soloists take a back seat, beginning with Utah Symphony principal trombonist Larry Zalkind's easeful virtuosity in Arthur Pryor's "The Patriot" - sort of a "Carnival of Venice"-type fantasy on the national anthem - and, as an encore, Fritz Kreisler's "Liebesleid," sporting some hauntingly lovely soft playing.
He was followed on the second half by his piccolo-playing colleague Michael Vance, who contributed some coloratura stylings of his own in the "Cleopatra" polka-fantasy of one E. Damare, every superfast run and ornament firmly in place. All of which pulled down a deservedly big ovation.
Once again, though, the biggest response was reserved for the familiar Sousa marches, from "El Capitan," here songful and unhurried, to "The Stars and Stripes Forever," carefully built to a rousing climax.
In between came "The Pride of the Wolverines," upbeat but subtly colored; "The U.S. Field Artillery," with its subtle little pushes, unsubtle gunshots and audience participation on the "Caisson" song; and "Semper Fidelis," in which they clapped along without any prompting from the podium.
That clapping returned for the "Stars and Stripes," with its bracing piccolo trio and this time a formal color guard excorting Old Glory to center stage. And forgive me, but somehow that never gets old either - which may have a lot to do with Sousa's lasting appeal. What he felt, we feel. And vice versa.