Music Review: RSO’s Spectacular 4th

On Saturday, July 6, at 8 p.m., the Rockford Symphony Orchestra and Rock Valley College presented the first annual ComEd Independence Day Spectacular at the Bengt Sjostrom Theatre. All ages attended the celebration of freedom conducted by Steve Larsen, and the American colors and spirit were everywhere.

As people settled in, they were brought to their feet for “The Star Spangled Banner.” After everyone was seated, the orchestra played a stirring rendition of John Williams’ “Summon the Heroes.” Morton Gould’s variations of “Yankee Doodle” were a highlight of the event, putting a fun spin on the renowned song. Next was the “Armed Forces Salute” (arranged by Bob Lowden), followed by an arrangement of John Philip Sousa’s works by Hermann, entitled “Sousa on Parade.”

The moving “Liberty for All” by James A. Beckel, Jr., was narrated by Kristine O’Rourke Cohn. Cohn’s poignant speaking part consisted from the famous words of Patrick Henry, excerpts of the Declaration of Independence, George Washington, Abe Lincoln, JFK, and “My Country ’Tis of Thee.” The first half of the performance was capped by the traditional “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (arranged by Peter Wilhousky), just before the intermission.

The second half of the evening kicked off with Robert Wendel’s “From Sea to Shining Sea,” songs inspired by America’s geographic regions. Next was E. Bagley’s “National Emblem March” with guest conductor, Karen Harding.

On a less formal note, the audience was delighted by the charming “Pop’s Hoedown” by Richard Hayman, featuring a harmonica solo by Conductor Steve Larsen. Then the sports fans were treated to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” by Albert Von Tilzer (arranged by Rosenhaus). This selection was amusingly narrated by trumpeter Mark Baldwin. Continuing the tribute to pops, the orchestra played “A George M. Cohan Salute,” a medley of many of Cohan’s famous tunes. A stunning version of Linda Worsley’s “America the Beautiful” (which Worsley made available for free after September 11) had the audience singing along with every word.

The finale of the spectacular was Pyotr Hyitch Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with a fireworks display that lit up the sky and had the crowd cheering and clapping. The dress was semi-formal in a casual atmosphere, but the professionalism of the Rockford Symphony Orchestra set the tone for a wonderful evening, leaving the audience with a pleasant afterglow and the hope of more celebrations to come.

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