Americans in all their diversity streamed onto the west lawn of the Capitol last night, bearing blankets and food and children and pets, to finish off celebration of the 204th with a National Symphony concert and fireworks.
It was strictly an all-American affair from the down-home commentary of the guest host, weatherman Willard Scott, to the friendly jostling for an upfront spot on the lawn. "We want a good view of the band," explained members of the crowd (estimated to be nearly 100,000), some of whom apparently were turning up from the earlier Beach Boys concert.
Whatever its taste, the public got a program that appealed, a mixture of theater, human interest and music both rousing and moving. For starters there was Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory" a crowd-pleaser from almost two centuries ago that depicts the British leader's victory over Napoleon. To spice up the already colorful music, conductor Sarah Caldwell enlisted the aid of conductor Fred Scott, who marched across the lawn with a British flag to lead the small drum corps representing the British army. From the other side of the podium, conductor Hugh Wolff -- in beret -- marched forth with his French musical forces under the tricolor. Following Beethoven's musical format, the French musicians were driven off the field and the British with, appropriately, "God Save the Queen," -- the American "My Country Tis of Thee" won the day and hearty cheers from the onlookers.
Beethoven's brassy battle calls led naturally into trumpeter Adel Sanchez's appearance as the soloist in a spirited Haydn concerto. Sanchez's animated handling of the first-movement cadenza -- the traditional place in classical music for the soloist to shine -- brought the kind of immediate, spontaneous applause that is usually reserved for a jazz improvisation.
Caldwell, with her sure sense of what will appeal to the public, trotted out one of the more impudent works by that true American individual, Charles Ives, the world's only composer-insurance man. The work, Ives' sassy variations on "America," also happened to be perfect for the occasion. Its brassy sounds and bold statements seemed the essence of American independence.
The moving elegy by Eliot Carter that followed caught the other side of the American character. Its bonestrong material sang of quiet strength and endurance, touching the hearts of many as they sat in the freedom of the cool American evening.
The final flourish was a rousing tribute to Yankee enterprise, as an American citizen named Jim Tully from McLean, Va., took the baton from Caldwell and led the NSO in a Sousa march. Tully had purchased the honor at the NSO's radiothon fund drive as a surprise for his wife, a native of Guatemala, who just became an American citizen. Tully did not allow the orchestra to get away from him. His spirited direction and considerable style won cheers and prolonged clapping from his fellow citizens.
After two more Sousa marches, the musical spectacle gave way to the visual as the fireworks brought the Fourth to a splendiferous close.