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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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Nine Variants on Paganini
for Double Bass and Orchestra
François Rabbath performs with Honolulu Symphony

In most classical music, string basses saw humbly away in their corner, anoymously holding down the nether regions to provide a structural foundation for the music. It is not the role of romantic leads. Not, that is, until a virtuoso such as François Rabbath took hold of the instrument on Sunday and transformed it into a dashing hero a la cyrano de Bergerac.

Performing with the Honolulu Symphony, Rabbath was riveting, spell-binding, a poet with a lightning-fast touch (yes, on a string bass) and with dead-on intonation. His technique was phenomenal, but who was paying attention to how clean his harmonics were, or how crisp his arpeggions? His music sang, it joked, it floated lightly above the orchestra, it carried on a jazzlike conversation, and every phrase told a story.

Rabbath performed the world premiere of Nine Variants on Paganini, the fifth concerto-like piece Frank Proto has composed for him. The performance was recorded to be broadcast on National Public Radio and was received with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Before the concert Proto mentioned that "being a composer in the real world means writing in a wide variety of styles." Nis "Nine Variants" combined elements of traditional classical, jazz, film music and contemporary classical, reflecting a trend toward increasingly eclectic styles.

The theme, introduction and form spoke of classical traditions, but the middle "Variants" slid into a smoky, jazz-club style that at times seemed on the verge of Gershwin's "Summertime" or "an American in Paris." Some were serious, some lyrical, some exotic, as in the eighth "Variant," with its tango-ish syncopations, drons, ostinatos and harmonic minor scales. The result was a witty, thoroughly entertaining piece.

Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star Bulletin

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Nine Variants on Paganini
for Double Bass and Orchestra
Honolulu Symphony features François Rabbath

Legendary double bass virtuoso François Rabbath preceded intermission with a wild ride on Frank Proto's Nine Variants on Paganini. The double bass is thought of as a concerto instrument about as often as a Mac truck is thought of as a racing vehicle, but the musical depth of Proto's piece makes it far more than just a novelty. The puckish opening sets the "anything goes" tone for the 20 minute work, and Rabbath's improvisations were a big part of the fun.

Whether capering nimbly up and down the fingerboard or plucking triple-stopped pizzicatos, Rabbath brought a consummate technical skill to the piece that had the audience chuckling in amazement. He also quite obviously takes great joy in what he does, as he had a wide grin on his face for most of the performance. At its conclustion he graciously acknowledged everyone else involved.

Gregory Shepherd
The Honolulu Advertiser

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Nine Variants on Paganini
for Double Bass and Orchestra
Honolulu Symphony: François Rabbath

On March 31, 2002, soloist François Rabbath and the Honolulu Symphony, Samuel Wong Conducting, dazzled Honolulu concertgoers with the world premiere of Frank Proto’s Nine Variants on Paganini for Double Bass and Orchestra. This most recent of many Proto-Rabbath collaborations is perhaps also the most successful, marrying extraordinary compositional craftsmanship with staggering instrumental virtuosity. The piece, set for solo double bass and a chamber orchestra of strings, winds, percussion, harp and piano, is loosely based on the theme of the famous 24th Caprice and incorporates elements of jazz and various conventional and unconventional embellishment techniques, including some free improvisation by the soloist. The resulting concentration of charm, humor, poetry and fireworks elicited clearly audible chuckles, gasps and sighs from the audience, which at the conclusion of the piece leapt to its feet, cheering wildly. The concert took place in Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall as the concludingl event of the recent 2nd Biennial Hawaii Contrabass Festival and was recorded for broadcast on National Public Radio’s Performance Today. The solo part with piano accompaniment is available for purchase from Liben Music Publishers.

Fumiko Wellington
The Bass Line

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