Last month, Washington observed the 100th anniversary of Richard Wagner's death with a properly ambiguous symbol: one of the worst blizzards in the city's history. This might not stop the Marine Band, but it stopped the Kennedy Center audience on Feb. 13, the anniversary date. So it was not until last night that the oldest professional music ensemble in the United States gave its tribute to the great composer. The event--the only significant concert in this city marking the Wagner anniversary--was worth waiting for.
The Marine Band, which was active before Wagner was born, long has been associated with his music, much of which transposes superbly into the band idiom. The association was made clear in the first number: "The Star-Spangled Banner" in an arrangement by John Philip Sousa (a former leader of the band) that borrowed some striking ideas from "Tannha user."
The program was a bit long--in true Wagnerian fashion--and it concentrated on musical muscle more than small subtleties. There were one or two small technical slips, and baritone Michael Ryan did not sound as good in "King Heinrich's Call" from "Lohengrin" as he did in his second number, the "Evening Star" song from "Tannha user." But flaws were small and insignificant amid some of the most glorious sounds I have ever heard in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. In sheer power, precision and opulence of tone, the Marine Band is a most impressive organization. Lt. Col. John Bourgeois conducted with a fine sense of style and superb control.
The second half of the program was dedicated to orchestral excerpts from the "Ring" Cycle, which sounded as though they had been composed for this ensemble. The first half was devoted mostly to such rarely heard selections as the "Huldigungsmarsch," the "Faust" Overture and an abbreviated version of "Das Liebesmahl der Apostel." After last night's hearing, the relative neglect of this music does not seem unjustified, but that was not a fault of the performance.