Baritone John Brancy and pianist Peter Dugan have committed their careers to exploring and honoring the music of the First World War. Their performance of ‘Armistice: The Journey Home’ at the Kennedy Center was fitting on the day after the centennial of the Armistice that ended “the war to end all wars.”
Performing around such a pivotal theme with music that is haunting, charming, and joyous is a wonderful way to engage the audience, especially those who think that classical music isn’t for them.
The concert started with Dugan performing a piece of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Rather than Mars, the Bringer of War, Dugan chose to start the evening with Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. It was a rousing way to begin the night. Dugan is a dexterous and emotional player who fills the stage with electricity as he plays.
Then Brancy stormed onto the stage and sang Oley Speaks’ “When the Boys Come Home” with so much vibrant energy that it was explosive. His mastery of wordy texts and sultry voice had the audience hooked.
Throughout Dugan and Brancy shared insight and historical background on WWI and the musicians whose work they were performing. They perform together like a storytelling duo, each having an equal part in what the audience gathers. They work as a beautiful ensemble with contagious energy.
The concert included the world premiere performance of “In Flanders Field” by Leonardo Dugan, elder brother to Peter Dugan. This piece took the famous poem so closely associated with this war and gave it a sorrowful melody. It was partnered with another Leonardo Dugan piece with the words of another famous poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.” This piece was haunting and dark.
Trumpeter Tosca Penninckx played the Sounding of the Last Post followed by a moment of silence that ended with Brancy singing a cappella “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger. The audience was deeply moved by this incredibly emotional moment.
In the second act, Brancy and Dugan performed some German pieces, by Franz Schubert and Rudi Stephan, and Russian by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Brancy proved to be just as nimble with these complicated as with English.
The audience was filled with nostalgic joy again as they joyously performed “Goodbye France” by Irving Berlin.
Dugan and Brancy have taken art songs and rejuvenated them. Performing around such a pivotal theme with music that is haunting, charming, and joyous is a wonderful way to engage the audience, especially those who think that classical music isn’t for them.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with 1 intermission.
“Armistice: The Journey Home” performed by John Brancy and Peter Dugan by Vocal Arts DC performed at the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts. For more information click here.