On the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, much of the nation was involved in somber reflection and solemn ceremonies.
Piano duo Fischer and Lutes opted for a different sort of homage during their Richland Concert Association performance that day.
The Seventh Day Adventist Church on Crestview Drive provided a comfortable setting with good acoustics. The pews were nearly filled with an appreciative and responsive audience.
Pianists and classical singers Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes did not initially announce that they are husband and wife, although they did make that clear midway through their concert. However, by that time, their marital status was likely obvious to listeners; conveyed through the couple’s affectionate and highly synchronized interaction.
At the outset, Lutes announced that he and Fischer didn’t realize that their scheduled Richland Concert Association performance would be held on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. As the date drew near they decided that their concert would be “a celebration and joyful acknowledgment of American music; a mélange and cornucopia of diverse American music.”
The pieces selected were presented in chronological order of the compositions’ style, not necessarily in order of composers’ births.
For instance, the concert opened with Appalachian ballets composed by Aaron Copland (1900-1990), followed by “Beautiful Dreamer” and “Nellie Bly,” composed by Stephen Foster (1826-1864), described by Lutes as “America’s first great songwriter.”
Taking turns both at the piano and in singing lead, Fischer and Lutes proved their considerable talents at both accomplishments. Occasionally, they played duets on the keys and sang harmonies as well as call-and-response type lyrics.
Their obvious enjoyment onstage was evident to the audience, which was generous in its applause and laughter.
Both performers were animated in their delivery, especially in comical numbers such as “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun” and “It Takes a Woman” from “Hello Dolly,” presented during the American Musical Theatre portion of their concert.
Their skill at the piano was evident both in their mastery of the material and in their ability to effortlessly switch places.
Their performance was enjoyably enhanced by the history provided on composers and their compositions, as well as the time periods in which they were originally introduced.
Considerable emphasis was placed on the evolution of ragtime music; with roots in Stephen Foster’s use of syncopation, and in social customs such as minstrel shows and the cakewalk, according to Lutes. He said ragtime was a phenomenon that many considered “new music” and that it was a symbol of what was happening in America at the time.
Lutes also discussed the importance of George Gershwin, who he said “went on to become one of the creators of the great American songbook.” The duo performed a medley of Gershwin’s tunes and Lutes urged the audience to listen for the ragtime influence therein.
Lutes said, “A composer who inevitably turns up in American music celebrations is Leonard Bernstein,” with the duo playing his overture to “Candide.”
The second half of the concert was devoted to what the couple termed “Love, Marriage and the Battle of the Sexes on Broadway,” with compositions by luminaries including Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Lerner and Loewe, and Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The audience laughed at the often-comedic lyrics and at the facial expressions and body language of the duo. However, Fischer and Lutes proved they could also evoke a greater depth of emotion in more serious compositions.
Their performance provided a welcome respite from recalling the attack on our nation a decade ago, while paying tribute to the significant contributions of American composers.