It's not every day (or every year) that you get to celebrate your tenth season in the elegant Koka Booth Amphitheatre at Regency Park. But during these present days, the North Carolina Symphony and Summerfest Artistic Director William Henry Curry are doing just that. On this sultry Saturday evening they were joined and powerfully assisted by the Concert Singers of Cary, with their director, Lawrence Speakman.
Hovering over and enveloping the large crowd was vintage Regency Park weather: Temperature and humidity were approximately equal, both lofty.
The first half of the program was given over to venerable standards of the literature. Works of Shakespeare inspired the two orchestral selections. Otto Nicolai's Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor followed Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" from A Midsummer Night's Dream. From Wagner's Lohengrin came the Prelude to Act III, with the Concert Singers of Cary constituting the grand :Bridal Chorus." The Singers again joined the orchestra for the Triumphal March and Ballet from Verdi's Aïda. The latter work, identified by Curry as a selection in the players' 2001 Amphitheatre debut, received a particularly august and imposing treatment.
The audience seemed quite smitten by the second half offerings. The orchestra presented an extensive Robert Russell Bennett arrangement of selections from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" came from Symphony No. 4 by Roy Harris, a composer described by Curry as "America's greatest symphonist." While Hanson and Piston partisans might want to discuss that contention, the work did represent a fine effort by players and singers alike.
The Concert Singers chose Carmen Dragon's arrangement of "America the Beautiful," an especially elaborate one with a coda tacked on. Many in the enthusiastic audience rose in a display of patriotic fervor. They also greatly approved the orchestral/choral version of Tchiakovsky's Overture 1812, an exciting combination not often heard. Curry rewarded their exuberance with a fitting encore, the Wilhousky version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
To judge by the size and zeal of the crowd, this Summerfest Series enjoys enormous popularity, for which they can thank the Town of Cary and series presenter Rex Health Care. Seeing the numerous food and drink containers, one can conclude that the rewards were musical, social, and gustatory. On this Fathers' Day eve, many of the patrons were obviously well fed. All of them were well served.