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Tribute to war heroes concludes Redlands Symphony Orchestra’s season

04/14/14 • by Betty Tyler • The Redlands Daily Facts

“Connect With the Heroes” was the theme of the Redlands Symphony Orchestra’s final concert of the season, performed Saturday night in the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel.

The heroes in question were primarily the soldiers of World War II, as the concert was a musical tribute to the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the June 6 Allied invasion of Normandy.

However, with a color guard from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms presenting the colors at the opening of the concert and a recognition of service members and veterans in the audience, the evening was also a salute to the military of every generation.

Saturday’s audience connected enthusiastically with the heroes and the music, and from my seat in the balcony, it looked like the concert’s mixture of film and theater music linked to World War II drew one of the largest audiences of the season.

Jon Robertson, the orchestra’s conductor and music director, also connected with the music — with an emotional response that took him by surprise, he said in his preconcert remarks.

He said the music, ranging from William Walton’s “Spitfire Prelude and Fugue,” written during World War II, to excerpts from John Williams’ 1993 score for “Schindler’s List,” evoked many overpowering emotions.

Those include joy and sadness, but perhaps the most powerful emotion people should take from the concert’s war-themed music, he said, is gratitude. In remembering with gratitude the sacrifices that have won and preserved freedom, people can look to the future with hope — and perhaps make a better future, he said.

After the presentation of the colors and the playing and singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the concert opened with William Walton’s “Spitfire Prelude and Fugue.” The piece is excerpted from music Walton wrote for the film “The First of the Few,” telling the story of the creation of the Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane, according to the program notes.

In his preconcert talk, Robertson said no one does pomp and circumstance better than the British. That British pomp is evident in this music, and so is the roar of triumph in battle, though the Allies’ ultimate triumph in World War II was hardly a sure thing when Walton wrote “Spitfire.”

The fugue offers an interesting and somewhat lighter contrast to the prelude.

“Spitfire” was new to me, as was the following piece, selections from Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea.”

But the “Victory at Sea” music is apparently an old friend to many who were old enough to take in the early years of television after World War II. According to the program notes, “Victory at Sea” was an early 1950s television series of 26 episodes using footage shot during World War II.

Robertson said he remembered watching those episodes. I’m just a few years too young to have seen them and have Rodgers’ music, expanded and developed by Robert Russell Bennett, imprinted in my memory.

Still, I could picture war scenes and even a bit of undulating ocean in the “Victory at Sea” music.

I’m sure there were many in the audience who were swept back to the TV series and its real wartime scenes with “Victory at Sea.” While that wasn’t my experience, I can report that hearing “Victory” — and “Spitfire” — as unfamiliar pieces had its own emotional impact.

“Victory” was followed by quite a contrast, three pieces from John Williams’ 1993 score for “Schindler’s List.” Even if you’ve been in a cave in the past 20 years and have no idea what the story of “Schindler’s List” is, knowledge of World War II and the title of the first selection — “Jewish Town (Krakow Ghetto — Winter ’41)” — would be enough to tell you what this music is about.

Here, rather than noisy battle and triumph, is music quietly wringing figurative, if not literal, tears from its hearers for all the horrors of the Holocaust, though “Schindler’s List” is a story of salvation in the midst of the Holocaust.

Jeanne Skrocki, the Redlands Symphony’s concertmaster, played the violin solos in the “Schindler’s List” selections, making the music all the more heart-wrenchingly beautiful.

The concert included one more piece by Williams, the “Hymn to the Fallen” from the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan.” This was paired with Aaron Copland’s 1942 “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the only music on the program not written for film or theater.

The two worked well together as a tribute to every soldier, Copland’s “Fanfare” offering a dignified celebration and the “Hymn to the Fallen” a more meditative remembrance.

Another complete change of mood followed in “On the Town: Three Dance Episodes,” written in 1944 by a young Leonard Bernstein. This was the most playful, high-spirited music of the concert.

It’s a concert version of music that began as a ballet and grew to a stage play, and it depicts not scenes of battle or oppression but sailors on leave for a day in New York City. You can clearly see New York City in Bernstein’s brash, often lively, sometimes jazzy music.

And sailors taking a break are as much a part of war as the battles, suffering and victory.

The mood shifted again at the end of the concert, with Richard Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto,” music written for the 1941 British film “Dangerous Moonlight,” the story of a Polish pianist caught up in the destruction of his homeland, according to the program notes.

The piece is not a full-blown concerto with several movements, but a shorter, one-movement piece that’s never heard straight through in the film.

It’s written somewhat in the style of Rachmaninoff, but also has the flavor of 1940s wartime film music.

According to the program notes, the “Warsaw Concerto” became quite popular after the film was released. I’d say that 90 times out of 100 I’d rather hear a Rachmaninoff concerto, but in the context of this concert of World War II-themed film and theater music, the “Warsaw Concerto” worked, and judging from the audience’s reaction, it’s kept its wartime popularity.

Piano soloist Elvin Rodriguez, chairman of the La Sierra University music department, helped make the “Warsaw Concerto” work, with energy and musicality that made it a fitting finale to the symphony’s salute to the heroes of World War II.

I had wondered before the concert how this program built primarily of film music would stack up. It turned out that it held together musically and was a coherent, compelling salute to the heroes who have fought for our freedom.

I salute the Redlands Symphony Orchestra.

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