July 21, 2017

Miami Music Festival's Salute to American Composers

Musically, thus far 2017 has been an eventful year. Much has happened across various music genres and we still have five months to go. This year, on the fourth of July I was able to enjoy a wonderful orchestral concert close to me in Miami Shores. Barry University once again was host to the Miami Music Festival. I was able to attend and feature a couple of events last year, but this year I was excited to attend the very special Independence Day Pop’s concert.

Months before the event, I eagerly anticipated the music of American Composers, a few of my favorite composers. Aaron Copeland, Leonard Bernstein and John Williams were featured among others. If any of you wanted to organize a classical musical event on the fourth of July, I don’t think you could choose a better collection of composers or music. I’m sure that everyone reading is familiar with some of the popular works of these three composers. As I looked over the schedule for the evening I knew this was going to be enjoyable. I found out the event would be much more than I anticipated.

I walked into the lobby of the Shepard and Ruth K Broad Performing Arts Center and immediately heard a very familiar sound. It was a sound that I had not heard for many years, yet I knew it well. It was the sound of musical instruments warming up. Especially the brass instruments. You see, being a trumpet player I understood the importance of that warm up before any performance or practice. However, this was a full orchestra complete with strings and woodwinds. That sound, I must admit, I had not heard since my days of college. That moment brought back wonderful memories.

I finally made my way down to the very front of the auditorium. With a program of the entire Miami Music Festival 2017 season in hand, I quickly found the program for the night’s concert. I browsed through to find that the evening would offer even more music from American composers than I was prepared to hear. Yes, there would be much music from Broadway including selections from Irving Berlin, John Kander. Of course being July 4th, we must have Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. This was absolutely a salute to America and American composers.

As the program got started, founder and artistic director Michael Rossi took the podium to inform the audience about the program and young musicians in front of us all. The Festival receives nearly 1,500 international applicants each season with only a small portion selected for participation through a rigorous audition process. This year, 250 students from over 25 countries will receive instruction from an assembly of world-class faculty while the community benefits from accessible public concerts featuring many of the industry's most talented artists. MMF was created to provide educational and performance opportunities for talented, emerging classical artists during the summer season when the culturally rich metropolis of Miami is all but devoid of classical music. The next piece of business would be to introduce the conductor, Yuriy Bekker.

The orchestra started with a powerful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. From the very beginning it was apparent that the participants within the orchestra were very good. The evening would prove just how brilliant the collective musicians could sound.

The first of the American composers’ music to be performed would be the great Aaron Copland. Selections from Rodeo – Saturday Night Waltz and Hoe-Down. Immediately I made a mental trip back to my college days as I studied Copland in Music Literature, as well as performed Rodeo in the college orchestra. As the orchestra began and played about five minutes, I realized this group of musicians were exceptional. Much more was yet to come.

Later, just before the intermission, the orchestra would perform Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.  Two things I must say about Leonard Bernstein’s fantastic musical work: 1) I have always felt that West Side Story is possibly the most important work that helped to develop modern music today and 2) West Side Story is collectively the most difficult music I have ever performed. The orchestra of young musicians performed the very syncopated, unusual music flawlessly.

Following the intermission, it was time for a treat. The orchestra played selections from the movie Star Wars, possibly composer John Williams’ most recognizable work. I still consider Mr. Williams my favorite composer overall. It was because of his influence that I worked hard at arranging music for large bands and orchestras. The young musicians really gave a great performance of the music from Star Wars. One thing I really appreciate about John Williams works is his extensive use of brass instruments. Even though I felt that the strength of the orchestra was the strings, the brass and woodwinds took advantage of their opportunities to exhibit musical skill and ability. Especially during various passages of John Williams' Star Wars.

By now I’m sure it’s apparent how much I enjoyed the concert. If I had to assign an overall grade it would have to be an A. I’m already looking forward to next year. Hopefully, if you missed this years’ event you will make sure to be in attendance next year as well. Please click on the link below and view the rest of the program this year. You might be able to attend another performance before the end of this years' festival.

Edward Reid