Boeing’s bygone days of marvel invoked through music

Langley concert features two orchestras and one really big piano

When a nine-foot Steinway concert piano makes a trip to Whidbey Island for one performance, it’s a clue something grand is planned.

It is.

Called “Musical Metamorphosis,” the April 6 evening concert scheduled at Langley High School involves two orchestras, a world premiere, a renowned pianist and the 25th anniversary of technology that changed the world.

Langley Councilman Peter Morton, a retired Boeing engineer and a pianist, pulled numerous strings to bring all the entities together for two days of performance. On April 5, the same concert is to be performed at Roosevelt High School in Seattle.

Anna Edwards, music director and conductor, will lead both the Saratoga Orchestra of Whidbey Island and the Seattle Collaborative Orchestra.

“Peter is the instigator behind it all,” Edwards said. “One of his bucket list items was dreaming about the day he could bring this concert to Langley.”

Mark Salman, an internationally acclaimed pianist, is the featured soloist. A nine-foot-long piano from Seattle, one of several concert rentals Steinway Gallery provides, will be waiting for him.

“I did have to make sure the South Whidbey High School stage could support the weight,” said Larry Heidel with the Saratoga Orchestra.

“I’m told it will.”

Seattle radio station, Classical KING-FM, will host a pre-concert chat on both evenings.

The theme of the concert is new beginnings.

Edwards has programmed works by composers Rimsky-Korsakov and Hindemith. Also featured is the world premiere of a new work by California composer Leanna Primiani.

The evening’s highlight, “The Miracle-Concerto for Piano and Orchestra,” celebrates the 25th anniversary of a performance that transformed a Boeing facility into a concert hall.

In the spring of 1994, the first Boeing 777 aircraft took to the air from Paine Field. A few months later, the company opened a state-of-the-art customer training center in Tukwila. Morton headed the training center where pilots, technicians, flight attendants and engineers learned about jet transports and engines.

Boeing stood on the brink of history.

“The 777 was Boeing’s ‘Camelot,’” Morton said.The morale was incredible. We were on a mission to deliver a magical airplane.”

The Boeing 777 effectively rendered four-engined jumbos like the 747 obsolete. It ushered in the era of the modern twin-engine, wide-body airliner, and it’s considered one of the most successful and revolutionary airplanes in aviation history.

The engineering marvel needed to be celebrated with an extravagant ceremony.

Morton, a lover of classical music who’d been playing piano since age 6, felt it a fitting moment for a great piece of music, original and powerful like the new airliner.

“Boeing allowed me to commission well-known Seattle pianist and composer Walt Wagner to create a new musical work for piano and orchestra as a celebration of the event,” Morton said.

The music not only had to stir hearts, it had to fill the cavernous space of the Boeing flight simulator bay where 777 guests wined and dined on the very spot where there would be humongous training equipment.

David Gallimore, a fellow engineer and friend of Morton, assisted with planning the concert.

“To those who were not in attendance that day, it might sound odd to be performing a classical concerto in the space where $20-million simulators would soon be installed,” Gallimore recalled. “The juxtaposition of the space and the event worked brilliantly. I remember looking around the audience with tears of joy, as we all stood and clapped with appreciation at the conclusion of the piece.”

The new composition then took off on its own flight.

Wagner continued writing the composition into a four-movement work, performing the completed work with the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra. It then was recorded in 1988 by the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz.

“Composing it took me a year and a half,” Wagner said. “It’s a piece that best expresses my personal faith in the story of how God reaches out to his creation.”

Wagner won’t be performing as a piano soloist on the 25th anniversary of its rather unusual debut because of scheduling conflicts.

“I am honored that pianist Mark Salman has agreed to learn and perform my concerto,” Wagner said.

“I can’t wait to sit in the audience and hear my music from this new perspective.”

No doubt, neither can a certain Langley councilman.

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