At 8:20 p.m. Wednesday evening on the Esplanade, a bolt of lightning over the DCR Hatch Shell put a premature end to the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s final performance of the season. The BLO has been plagued by inclement weather all summer, but it was a particular shame not to be able to finish this concert, which was set to conclude with Michael Gandolfi’s new “Chesapeake: Summer of 1814.”
The focal point of the imaginative program, conceived by BLO music director Christopher Wilkins, was the bicentennial of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which Francis Scott Key wrote in 1814. Dudley Buck’s 1879 “Festival Overture on the American National Air” opened the evening, a truly festive piece from 1879 that begins with a splashy polonaise before introducing as its surprise second subject the “Star-Spangled Banner” melody. For the upbeat finale, Wilkins turned to face the audience, prompting everyone to stand as members of the 25th Marine Regiment from Fort Devens paraded the colors.
Next came two Beethoven works that premiered in 1814, the Overture to “Fidelio” and Symphony No. 8. “Fidelio” is an opera about liberation from tyranny (Europe was still defending itself from Napoleon in 1814), so it fit the patriotic theme. So, in a way, did the underrated Symphony No. 8, with its martial outbursts and pastoral beauties. Wilkins delivered robust, extroverted performances, but he also brought out the humor of the symphony’s metronome-parody second movement and heavy-footed-minuet third.
Wilkins had advised everyone at the beginning of the evening that the intermission would be just 10 minutes. When the orchestra reassembled, at 8 p.m., he announced that Charles Ives’s “Variations on ‘America,’ ” which had been scheduled to open the program’s second half, would be omitted in an attempt to get the Gandolfi in before the weather worsened.
Written for double chorus and orchestra, “Chesapeake: Summer of 1814” is a musical retelling of the War of 1812. At its 2013 premiere by the Reno Philharmonic, video projections keyed the music; here, the distinguished local actor Will Lyman provided a running narrative.
As the British won the Battle of Bladensburg and then marched on Washington, the Boston Landmarks One City Chamber Choir sang “Rule Britannia”; Dolley Madison’s rescue of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington was accompanied by “Mrs. Madison’s Minuet” and then “See the Conquering Hero Comes,” from Handel’s “Judas Maccabeus.” But before the choir could sing “Yankee Doodle,” representing the defense of Baltimore, and the audience could stand to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” that lightning bolt exploded like a rocket’s red glare. Even as the crowd packed up and left, though, Old Glory still waved proudly over the Esplanade.