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‘Rise’ to the occasion Daniel Rodriguez sings, Daniel Roebuck narrates, in ASO Veterans’ Day concerts

Friday, October 26, 2018 by DIANE WITTRY Special to The Press in Focus

The Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, was the document that ended the fighting on land, sea, and air in World War I between the Allies and their opponent, Germany. The signing of this document took place at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. It is a national holiday in many countries.

Over time, the name was changed in the United States in order to honor veterans who have served in the military. We now call Nov. 11 Veterans Day.

In honor of 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the Allentown Symphony commissioned Grammy-nominated Chinese-American composer Zhou Tian to write a new piece of music to open the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 and 3 p.m. Nov. 11 concerts. The opening piece, “Rise,” was inspired by diaries written by American soldiers during World War I.

Wrote Zhou Tian about his latest work:

“While visiting the Library of Congress, I was drawn to the personal and unmediated experiences and emotions that the soldiers themselves wrote on the battleground.

“Whether it is a brief note about the weather, a long entry about losing a comrade, or a touching moment when a letter from home arrives, the stories moved me deeply.

“‘Rise’ attempts to convey the emotions of the servicemen, their fears, frustrations, love and awe, through the intimacy and power of the symphony orchestra.”

Each piece in the Nov. 10 and 11 concerts is thematically-connected to a particular United States’ war.

Daniel Roebuck, renowned movie and television actor born and raised in Bethlehem, will read the narration for Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” that features text from Lincoln’s State of the Union address of 1862 and the Gettysburg Address during the Civil War in 1863.

To commemorate the Vietnam War, the Allentown Symphony will perform Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which has been heard on soundtracks for the films “Saving Private Ryan” and “Platoon.” The “Adagio” is one of the most moving pieces of music I know and shows how music can communicate emotions so much more powerfully than words.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the world turned to music to express its grief and sorrow.

In the weeks that followed, Daniel Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican-American who worked for the New York City Police Department, became known as “The Singing Policeman.” He received widespread attention with his rendition of “God Bless America,” which he sang at memorial events commemorating those who died on 9/11. For the Allentown Symphony concerts, he will sing “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”

The second half of the Veterans Day concerts program commemorates the end of World War II.

Shortly after the Battle of Normandy in the summer of 1944, Russian composer Serge Prokofiev was hard at work at a composer’s retreat outside of Moscow on his Symphony No. 5. After having lived through many years of being surrounded by war, his Symphony No. 5 was written to “celebrate the spirit of man.”

Prokofiev said, “In the Fifth Symphony, I wanted to sing the praises of the free and happy man, his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul.”

During the difficult war years in Russia, the government dictated that music “was meant to console and uplift, to encourage and exhort; nothing else mattered.” The officials wanted music that was “happy” and “for the people.” Underneath the surface melodies and textures of Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 5,” however, one hears insinuations of the violence of warfare, the drama, the brooding, the irony, the searching for meaning, the grief of facing of death, and finally, in the final movement, the release of joy and triumph.

The performance of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 was much anticipated and the audience was excited because at that time, Russia was winning the war. Immediately before the concert began, it was announced that the Russian army had had a big victory on the River Vistula.

But when Prokofiev took his place on the podium to conduct and lifted his arms to start the piece, he had to stop because suddenly artillery sounded nearby in the city of Moscow. It was only after the canons had stopped their barrage that he was able to begin the piece. It was almost like the signal of a turning point in the war.

Because of Symphony No. 5’s close connection to the end of World War II and its celebration of the “spirit of man,” I felt it was the perfect piece for the second half of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra’s concert commemorating the veterans who have served in war, protecting and preserving freedom and human rights for all.

Throughout the concert, we will be using quotes from servicemen’s letters, along with famous speeches, as well as photographs from United States’ wars to enhance our musical journey.

If you have family photographs or letters that you would like to be considered for inclusion in the concert, please scan them and send electronically as an attachment to:

The United States was built on the strong foundation of freedom for all, and so many men and women over the years have sacrificed their lives to sustain that vision. The music performed by the Allentown Symphony during this musical tribute to our veterans will communicate far beyond what words can say about our appreciation for their dedication and their great sacrifice.

“Meet the Artist,” with Allentown Symphony Music Director-Conductor Diane Wittry, actor Daniel Roebuck and vocalist Daniel Rodriguez, noon-1 p.m. Nov. 9, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. The talk is free and open to the public.

Diane Wittry, Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra and The Garden State Philharmonic, New Jersey, is author of “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics.” She teaches conducting workshops throughout the United States and Europe.

Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown;; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets available for Allentown Symphony Orchestra concerts.