Conductor Keith Brion's "Sousa at the Symphony" concert with the National Symphony Orchestra Thursday night included just about everything needed for a perfect old-fashioned pops concert: a fine selection of familiar, well-written music; good soloists; excellent orchestral playing; and, most of all, a great sense of energy and fun.
Brion is a New Haven, Conn., band director who has dedicated much of his recent career to re-creating concerts given by Sousa. He dresses and conducts in Sousa's own style, and in this Kennedy Center program included music by von Suppe, Rossini, Johann Strauss Jr. and Percy Grainger, plus eight Sousa marches, commemorating concerts the Washington-born composer and conductor gave with the Marine Band a century ago.
All the music was appealing and cleanly played, but a couple of moments stood out. The Grainger selections -- "Molly on the Shore" and "Irish Tune From County Derry," better known as "Danny Boy" -- both came across with great warmth and rich color. A set of variations on "Annie Laurie" played by NSO principal trombonist Milton Stevens and three soprano arias sung by Kathryn Wright also were polished and entertaining. NSO cellist David Hardy did a particularly good job with the solo introduction to Rossini's "William Tell" Overture, which, along with two Sousa marches, closed the concert on a jovial note.