River City celebrates 1950s
Local music lovers traveled back to the 1950s last Thursday at Carnegie Music Hall when the Pittsburgh-based River City Brass band played several famous ’50s tunes for an enthusiastic audience.
Founded in 1981, the brass band features a 28-piece ensemble and tours throughout the United States. The group now boasts a total of 15 recordings, and continues to play a repertoire spanning from Broadway to big band swing and jazz.
Under the musical direction of James Gourlay, River City Brass is quite successful. The charismatic conductor was the star of the show on Thursday. A native of Scotland, Gourlay is musically gifted and holds the band together well. Between numbers, Gourlay gave short, entertaining introductions that explained the background of each piece.
The band opened with a sweeping rendition of “Guadalcanal March” by American composer Richard Rogers. This number captured the attention of the audience. Perhaps the most moving number of the entire performance was the second piece: famed American composer Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront,” which serves as the soundtrack to the 1954 classic film of the same name. The band captured the spirit of the film with this piece. Sophomore vocal performance major Kati Richer said, “I felt like I was sitting in the actual movie score.”
The night’s program yielded many other notable performances. One such performance was “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” This work by composer Louiguy (pseudonym for Louis Guglielmi) had a distinctive Spanish flare, making it an exciting contrast to the typical marching band-style brass bands. River City Brass’ principal cornet player, Bernard Black, gave a lovely solo performance during the piece.
The band also integrated the Pine-Richland High School band into its program on Thursday. Pine-Richland is a high school in Gibsonia, located north of Pittsburgh. The band of around 90 members performed two numbers before intermission. Conducted by Pine-Richland band director James Stillwagon, the students put on a beautiful performance.
As a brass band, River City Brass is obviously not known for its presentation of vocal music. This performance, however, featured two numbers with solo singers and while the band was successful instrumentally, it was disappointing vocally. The singing was quite underwhelming and although the addition of vocals certainly added a jovial element to the performance, it ultimately took away from the concert’s professionalism.
At the close of the concert, the Pine-Richland students joined with River City Brass to perform a powerful interpretation of the famous “Stars and Stripes Forever” by American composer John Philip Sousa. This moving rendition closed the performance with a bang and left the audience with happy, patriotic feelings.