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The Fools of Time

Cleo Laine and John Dankworth at the Kennedy Center - Washington D.C.

Jazz singer Cleo Laine's gossamer vocal style was perfectly suited to premiere three sometimes-ethereal compositions Friday at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Laine is four decades into her career, but she still nails every note up and down her operatic vocal range. Her durability helped her sell the Kennedy Center-commissioned works, which revolved largely around the theme of celebrating life despite the relentless passage of time.

The Fools of Time, by Frank Proto and John Chenault, won the warmest applause, and deservedly so. The piece opened wistfully, but the tempo quickly picked up, providing for the finest instrumental improvisations of the night along the way to an exuberant ending.

John Dankworth, Laine's husband and longtime collaborator, has made a habit of setting works by Shakespeare to music, dating back to their 1964 album, Shakespeare: And All That Jazz. The flowing bridge of his new Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind sounded as if it might have been written by Burt Bacharach.

Tommy Smith and Edwin Morgan wrote The Morning of the Imminent in three sections, taking the audience from the birth of Christ through the first millennium and on to the present. It seemed to take about that long to get there, with themes that meandered badly rather than coming to any clear resolution.

Dankworth--who played clarinet and alto and soprano saxophones--and Laine sound like an old married couple, in the best sense, whether he was finishing her musical sentences or they were romping in perfect sync through a rapid-fire melody like Turkish Delight.

Alan Greenblatt
Washington Post

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My Name is Citizen Soldier

Evocative tunes turn stage into battleground

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra launches its 10th season with world premiere.

They were ordinary men who did extraordinary things. The guys from Main Streets and meandering country lanes who found themselves in such far-flung places as Guadalcanal and Anzio, Saint-Mere Eglise and Iwo Jima, Casablanca and the Ardennes Forest. And the bloody beaches of Normandy. The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director Klauspeter Seibel paid Tribute to these men Thursday night as the philharmonic's season opened with the world premiere of a powerful work commemorating World War II and D-Day.

My Name is Citizen Soldier, by composer Frank Proto and librettist John Chenault, is a mammoth piece deserving attention and praise. Commissioned through the American Composers Forum, it doesn't fit easily into a particular category of style. Music-drama is what the creative team calls it. Music-experience might be a better one.

Through the use of music and narration, plus a variety of sound and lighting effects, Citizen Soldier successfully transports the audience through time to the very battlefields of Europe.

Opening with fanfare, the work uses a series of radio broadcasts to elicit year by year, decade by decade, a trip back to the 1940s, where the orchestra becomes a smoothly swinging Big Band.

However, any sense of nostalgia doesn't last long. The agitated rumblings of war are quickly heard throughout the orchestra. In richly cinematic fashion, dreamy strings give way to sharp, pulsating beats. The music erupts as we hear, for example, Hitler leading rallies at Nuremberg. It grows into a foreboding but determined drive as Roosevelt announces that date which will live in infamy and America enters the war.

The heart of this piece is the depiction of D-Day. A musical calm that belies the underlying tension mirrors the crossing of the English Channel. Then, aboard those vital Higgins boats or with airborne paratroopers, the drama and chaos of the landings resound with gripping and moving power.

This is not an 1812 Overture or Victory at Sea medley. The pride felt throughout this piece isn't mere flag-waving. Instead, through Proto's evocative music and Chenault's poetic words, it comes across in a deepening appreciation of the pain and heroic sacrifices made by these regular Joes. Those people are depicted with dignity and simple elegance by actor Paul Winfield, who narrated the work.

The multimedia aspects of the piece give it a theatrical flair but results in a lot going on all at once. As commander of these varied forces, Seibel wields a decisive baton, keeping the work tightly wound and on track. However, on a first hearing of Citizen Soldier, some details may have been lost in the sheer tumult of it all. The use of radio broadcasts, for example, to traverse time occasionally seemed gimmicky, since many were a bit difficult to understand or weren't recognizable enough as distinct moments of history. And while the focus of the piece's ending may have been a bit too ambitious-endeavoring to ask pretty big questions about the ongoing questions and legacies of the war - these are minor quibbles. My Name is Citizen Soldier is an important and stunning work. New Orleans is fortunate indeed that, along with the new National D-Day Museum, Seibel and the LPO have helped bring this "greatest generation" the applause it so richly deserves.

Music Director Klauspeter Seibel and the musicians of the LPO paid vivid tribute to those citizen soldiers who fought the war through composer Frank Proto's music and librettist John Chenault's words. Under Seibel's precise hand, throughout the orchestra each musician played with sharp formation and an impassioned verve.

Following the world premiere of Citizen Soldier, the concert closed with a fine performance of Dvorak's Ninth Symphony (From the New World). The blending of melodies inspired by folk music, spirituals and dances, both of the Americas and the composerŐs own Czech homeland, sparkled without falling to cheap sentiment. Helen Erb on English horn deserved special mention for her performance in the greatly loved largo. In a fitting match for a night celebrating the citizen soldiers of the Second World War, Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man opened the concert.

Theodore P. Mahne Classical Music Writer
The Times-Picayune, New Orleans

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