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BSO gala program includes rare Grofe score, unusual 'Rhapsody in Blue'

The Baltimore Sun

by Tim Page

[EXCERPT] The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has been showing a lot of love for the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore and the poem Francis Scott Key was inspired to write after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

The BSO celebrated that anniversary on Sept. 13 during the nationally televised Star-Spangled Spectacular concert at Pier Six, then kept the theme going for its annual gala, an all-American concert held Saturday night at Meyerhoff Hall.

There was a good deal of novelty on the short program (in between dinner and dessert offered for premium gala-goers in a tent set up outside), starting with Ferde Grofe's "Ode to the Star-Spangled Banner." First heard at the 1932 opening of Radio City Music Hall under the title "September 13, 1814," it's a quick-moving tone poem weaving together snippets of "Rule, Britannia" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" to evoke the conflict and, of course, the outcome. Other than a radio performance in the late 1930s (in a jazz orchestra arrangement), the music was forgotten until now. The revival came about through a nice bit of serendipity. Neil Grauer, assistant director of editorial services for Johns Hopkins Medicine, had the program from the Radio City Music Hall opening, which his father and grandfather had attended. Grauer thought the Grofe item would be a good fit for the BSO and the anthem anniversary. He sought assistance from Charles Limb, a Hopkins doctor, researcher and BSO friend, who contacted the Library of Congress, the repository for Grofe's papers.

Nicholas Alexander Brown, a music specialist at the library, uncovered the neglected, never-published piece. With permission from the composer's son, Ferde Grofe Jr., arranger Jari Villanueva reconstructed the score. To add to the occasion, a video using clips from a 2004 History Channel program on the War of 1812 was assembled to accompany the BSO's performance.

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