When the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) and Donald Schleicher took to the bandshell in LeClaire Park on September 8, ominous rain clouds hovered overhead with the promise of rain. That didn’t keep an estimated crowd of nearly 8,000 from trickling in, spreading their picnic munchies, and readying themselves for a Quad Cities late-summer staple: the annual Riverfront Pops concert. In the end, the weather was kept at bay with the help of superb music, dazzling trumpeting, and pronounced singing.

Arranged in the style of Sousa and sprinkled liberally with his marches and favorites, the concert also highlighted the narrative skills of Augustana College’s Kai Swanson. Only inappropriate comments from the soloist dampened the evening.

Starting with the Star Spangled Banner, conductor and musical director Schleicher got us in the mood, and he followed with Suppe’s standard Light Calvary March. These first two pieces set the tone for the concert; throughout, the program mixed the best of pops-worthy American music with traditional classical pieces. The concert was a confluence of two different musical worlds.

Near the middle of the first half, David Greenhoe, a trumpeter with the symphony, took the stage as a soloist and performed H.L. Clark’s Carnival of Venice. His blinding brass bravado, coupled with the able playing of the symphony, brought the crowd to a standing ovation. Shawn LaFrenz, the symphony’s percussionist, took to the stage next and performed Xylophonia, a piece requiring bounding xylophonic playing.

Helping to close the first half was Hector Berlioz’s precocious Hungarian March. Though French compositions are typically not rousing, Berlioz is usually an exception to the French paradigm, and the QCSO – drawing on its extensive expressive abilities – captured the audience, temporarily freezing it during the piece.

The second half began the same way the first half ended, with bold classical music. Schleicher programmed the prelude to Act III of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, and the QCSO filled the music out, dousing listeners with the true lushness of Wagner’s music.

Before soprano Lisa Williamson took the stage, the orchestra paid tribute to the area’s veterans with Salute to the Armed Forces. Arranged to include the signature works of each branch of service, Swanson requested veterans to stand when their branch hymn was played. Though not a tear-jerking moment, the piece fit with the patriotic idiom that ran through the music.

Shortly thereafter, Williamson – a Riverfront Pops veteran – took the stage and belted out three pieces: Vilja from the Merry Widow, Csardis from Johan Strauss’ opera Die Fledermaus (The Bat), and Art Is Calling Me by Victor Herbert. Regrettably, Csardis was performed in English and not German.

A capable soprano, Williamson unforgivably acted boorishly. As one would expect, as dusk approached and the floodlights were turned on, insects gravitated to the stage area. When a train passed by, breaking the flow of Csardis and briefly stopping the performance, Williamson took the opportunity to gently complain about the bugs that she might or might not have swallowed. For what seemed like an eternity, the soloist persisted with her bug comments. Williamson definitely could have handled herself better.

As with previous Riverfront Pops concerts, the crowd was dazzled with Tchaikovsky’s intensely romantic 1812 Overture, cannon fire, and a brief fireworks display. The performance was crisp and edgy, highlighting the best of Tchaikovsky’s penchant for wrought music.

Were it not for Williamson’s crude comments, the concert would have been a dandy. As the “star” performer, her social gaffes hung on the total impression of the evening, and even the astounding performances of LaFrenz and Greenhoe seemed less impressive.

While the concert was still strong, unfortunately for Schleicher and the QCSO, a train passed by, bugs were in the air, and the primary soloist was very talkative.

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