You could not ask for a better venue. You could not ask for a better regional orchestra. And you could not ask for a better crowd, as more than 10,000 people packed into LeClaire Park on Saturday with blankets, wine, snacks, and the desire to end the summer right at the Quad City Symphony Orchestra’s Riverfront Pops concert.
They were treated to the exquisite tuba playing of Patrick Sheridan, who has established himself as one of the world’s premier tubists.
This year’s concert fell almost a year after the nation suffered through the September 11 terrorist attacks. Yet an American-dominated program and heightened patriotic sentiment lifted spirits and might have helped boost crowd attendance over last year’s level.
From the very beginning, the tone of this year’s concert was both stoic and whimsical. Mixing national hymns and playful medleys, the concert spanned the entire realm of emotions. In the middle, after a brief intermission, Conductor and Musical Director Donald Schleicher combined the playful and stoic with the movement “Jubilee” from George Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches.
Chadwick, one of America’s most influential composers, moved American composition in a direction that capitalized on the buoyancy and snap of American culture. Even more helpful to American music, Chadwick modernized the New England Conservatory and helped train hundreds of American composers.
Yet the highlight of the evening was Patrick Sheridan, whose personality shone through during the performance. Sheridan has been featured on the Today show and NPR’s All Things Considered and also maintains a busy performance schedule with the world’s best orchestras.
Frequently breaking in between pieces, Sheridan humored the crowd with anecdotes about his northern roots, why Donald Schleicher became a conductor, and his mother’s vest-making ability and her insistence that he wear the vests.
Unfortunately, Sheridan’s superb playing was lost on the crowd. Both the acoustics and speakers inadequately conveyed the deep range of the instrument, and chatter and the inattentiveness of the crowd overshadowed the performance. What the audience missed was a performer who pushed the tuba to its limits.
Sheridan’s skill and character was epitomized perfectly with his choice of encore. After a second set with the QCSO, Sheridan left the stage. Kai Swanson talked a bit about Sheridan and what was to come, only to have the soloist come back on stage decked out in a giant bee costume. At this point, one had to expect that Sheridan was going to perform the swift and darting Flight of the Bumblebee. One was correct. Though a little muffled, Sheridan moved quickly through the piece, and the orchestra was pressed to do the same.
As usual, the concert concluded with a rousing performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Though extravagant in its orchestration, Tchaikovsky describes the events of 1812 – beginning with the battle of Borodino, moving through various Russian losses at the hands of the French, and concluding with Napoleon and his beleaguered army being chased from Moscow. How this overtly Russian program music became a staple of American pops concerts is beyond me. But the audience loves it.
For many, the Riverfront Pops concert is a musical diversion, an opportunity to spend the waning days of summer with friends and food along the Davenport riverfront. Others view the show as a premature start to the QCSO season. September 7’s concert played to both tastes perfectly.