Arts and Entertainment

Saratoga Chamber Orchestra presents: 'An American Portrait'

Legh W. Burns conducts the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, now in its third season. The orchestra will play two performances of a program by American composers entitled
Legh W. Burns conducts the Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, now in its third season. The orchestra will play two performances of a program by American composers entitled 'An American Portrait.'
— image credit: David Medley photo

Put a little patriotism in your step this month and celebrate the great American presidents with music.

The Saratoga Chamber Orchestra, now in its third season, will perform a program of American composers entitled “An American Portrait,” under the artistic direction of conductor Legh W. Burns.

Whidbey resident and performer David Ossman will be featured as the narrator in Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait.” Renowned for his work as a member of the comedy quartet Firesign Theater, and his contributions over the years to National Public Radio, Ossman will be bringing to life the words of President Lincoln as set to Copland’s reverent score.

The program also includes the rousing “American Salute” by Morton Gould, William Schuman’s “New England Triptych” based on early American themes, and the emotionally stirring “Adagio For Strings, Op. 11” by Samuel Barber.

Conductor Burns happened to have played principal trumpet in the orchestra that gave the world premier of “New England Triptych” in 1956 under the direction of Andre Kostelanetz, who also commissioned Copland’s portrait of Lincoln.

But beyond the nostalgia the Whidbey Island conductor must feel for Schuman’s piece, the entire program is inspired, he said, by Presidents Day and by the vast canon of great American music.

“I finally decided on the program when I chose to present Aaron Copland’s ‘Lincoln Portrait’ as the featured work,” Burns said.

“When David Ossman agreed to narrate the unforgettable words of Lincoln, I knew we had a program of interest and importance to present to the people of Whidbey Island. Those words, taken from his second inaugural address and the Gettysburg address, were prescient. There will be those in the audience that will think to themselves, ‘He could be speaking about the America of today.’”

After that decision was made, the other pieces fell into place, Burns said.

“I chose William Schuman’s ‘New England Triptych’ for several reasons. First, it was a contemporary piece that focused on the music of the early days of revolutionary America. Secondly, and selfishly, because I happened to have been a member of the orchestra that gave the world premier performance in 1956. It’s moving, historic and patriotic. The audience will love it,” he added.

The “Adagio for Strings” of Barber may be recognized by audiences as the background music for such films as “Platoon” and “The Elephant Man.”

Burns noted that a composer friend of his calls Barber’s adagio “the most perfectly composed piece in the orchestral repertoire.”

For the opening of the concert, he chose Morton Gould’s “American Salute” simply because it’s a lot of fun to play, and because it uses a very familiar World War I song, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” as its centerpiece.

“Our biggest challenge may be to keep the audience from singing along,” Burns said with a wink.

The North End concert will be on Monday, Feb. 15 at Oak Harbor High School and Tuesday, Feb. 16 at South Whidbey High School in Langley. Both concerts start at 7 p.m. General admission tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors or military and $15 for students.

Tickets are available in Langley at Moonraker Books, in Freeland at Bookbay, in Coupeville at Bayleaf and in Oak Harbor at Bayleaf and ClickMusic. Credit card sales for both concerts can be used by clicking here and cash and checks are accepted at the door. For more information, click here or call 221-2353.

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