The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Matthew Kraemer, kicked off Memorial Day weekend with a concert featuring selections of appropriate music aimed at honoring the United States and all those who have served or are serving in its armed forces.
They brought in a pair of singers with military backgrounds – Niko Ellison from the Air Force Band and Danan Tsan, late of the Army Field Band – to showcase their talents on a few tunes while the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus provided vocal heft to match the instrumental prowess of the BPO’s massed musicians. The program repeats at 8 tonight.
When he wasn’t putting the band through its paces, Kraemer was a solid master of ceremonies – dropping informational tidbits about the music being played, telling short break-the-ice jokes, encouraging former military members to stand up and be counted, and plugging the orchestra’s summer agenda along with the upcoming pops season.
Ellison and Tsan delivered exactly what was expected of them – solid performances as soloists and in their duets – and the chorus was marvelous when its turn came to sing.
Considering the amount of music available to fill a Memorial Day program, the BPO did a fairly decent job of spreading the wealth around. It leaned heavily on the standards one usually hears this time of year, but allowed for a few lesser-known works to make an appearance.
Well-played arrangements of “America the Beautiful,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “God Bless America” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” generated audience sing-alongs while medleys by Victor Herbert (“American Fantasy” featuring snippets of “Hail Columbia,” “The Old Folks at Home” aka “Swanee River” and “The Star Spangled Banner”), Robert Lowden (“Armed Forces Salute” showcasing theme songs from all the military branches), and Morton Gould (“American Salute,” which is basically a series of variations on “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”) were well positioned to deliver the goods to an audience ripe for the familiar.
Cinematic patriotism was on display as well. A suite of tunes from “Victory at Sea,” a television documentary with music by Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett, and the John Williams’ score from the movie “War Horse” filled the instrumental side of the program, while Tsan sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Claude-Michel Schoenberg’s “Les Miserables.”
Some folks could probably quibble about material that didn’t make it onto the program, but it isn’t really an argument worth considering given the purpose of the concert. All of the really big hits were there, proper attention was paid to the veterans in the audience, and the performances were well reasoned and carried out. It was good, solid musical fare for a Memorial Day weekend.