Last night at the National Gallery the public extended the enthusiasm that is has been bestowing upon the current American exhibits, to American composers as Richard Bales led the opening of the 37th American Music Festival. Not only did the majority of the audience remain to the end, but it also endorsed every work with expansive applause, calling back to the platform those composers who were present.

Although the music was, on the whole, not abrasively dissonant, its integrity and directness were equally important in generating the public's warm response. All of the composers possessed a strongly American quality, yet -- a few passages aside -- no one sounded like Aaron Copland, a possible reflection of this country's musical maturity.

After a spirited march written for Thomas Jefferson by an anonymous admirer back in 1903, Bales conducted his own brief, yet moving, tribute to Stokowski. From Gideon Waldrop, dean of the Juilliard School of Music, there was a forceful symphony written in 1952. The first movement was particularly taut, developed entirely from the opening measures, in strong linear writing.

Joseph Ott from Emporia (Kan.,) State University contributed a colorful work of short, repeating motifs and bold rhythmic accents. A flowing elegy by Richard Faith of the University of Arizona led to the concluding "music for Orchestra" by Frederic Goossen of the University of Alabama. It was the evening's most subtle work, based on a single theme subjected to various transformations in a dramatic fasion.