Some think that the robin is the harbinger of spring, and others that it is the cherry blossoms, but for many the National Gallery's American Music Festival really heralds the approach of the season and has done so for the past 38 years.
As usual, last night's festival opener was a concert by the National Gallery Orchestra, and, as always, Richard Bales was on the podium. His program blended the old and the newish and ended with some old favorites and patriotic ditties that included "Old Folks at Home," "Hail to the Chief" and "Yankee Doodle," all put together as "Jullien's American Quadrille," presumably someone named "Jullien," in 1853.
The heart of the program was William Schuman's Piano Concerto, its first Washington Performance, although it was written in 1942. Somehow the 1940s were not vintage years for American classical music. Composers tended to exploit jazz without appreciating its implications; to substitute ninth chords for ideas and repetition for structure. All of this afflicts Schuman's concerto. Although pianist Cary McMurran gave it an admirable reading, he could not rescue it from tedium.
A nice performance by the orchestra's strings of a Quintet by Peters, and Ives' marvelous Third Symphony, rounded out the program.