In ‘Tchaikovsky Spectacular,’ the band is on the march

The renowned USC Trojan Marching Band is as much a part of the Hollywood Bowl’s “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” as the event’s cascading fireworks and booming cannons.

In their signature golden helmets, band members have been doubling the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s brass in the annual event’s “1812 Overture” finale for 20 years.

Led by longtime director Arthur C. Bartner, the band will again join the orchestra in this year’s Tchaikovsky program -- conducted by Thomas Wilkins -- at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“I love the fact that we get to play with one of the top orchestras in the country,” Bartner said. “I like to offer unusual experiences that other bands don’t have the opportunity to do, and performing with great artists adds to the experience.”


Bartner, reportedly a benevolent tyrant -- he used to direct from a three-story observation platform nicknamed the “God Tower” -- has marched the band to fame through many such experiences.

In addition to its regular sports gigs at home and away, the USC band has performed for seven U.S. presidents, played at the Summer Olympics and on the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards telecasts, and appeared in “Forrest Gump,” “The Naked Gun” and other films.

The band first joined the Philharmonic at the Bowl in the early 1980s. “The orchestra didn’t want to play for the fireworks because of the noise and all the stuff that seeps onto the stage,” Bartner said, “so we started by doing Sousa marches.”

The Bowl’s end-of-summer Tchaikovsky program is “sort of the tradition of all traditions,” said Steve Winder, the Philharmonic’s director of presentations.

“One of the integral elements of that tradition is the Trojan Marching Band. It’s the big chorale moment at the end of the piece and the visual and aural moment that adds a sort of musical carpet to the fireworks.

“And it helps put the Hollywood back in the Hollywood Bowl.”

-- Lynne Heffley