On September 15, at the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s From Stage to Screen (September 14 and 15), I experienced why it is so important to make classical music accessible to a wider variety of audiences. Two songs in, I found myself looking for a DJ who was playing the backing track. As I scanned the stage, I suddenly stopped and reminded myself – no, this is the symphony, there is no backing track. A few songs later, I was looking to see if, and how, the instruments were plugged in and trying to figure out where the mixer was sitting. Wait, no! The instruments aren’t plugged in, and the mixer is the person standing in the middle of the stage, waving his hands… what’s that word again? Conductor? That’s it!
Taken aback by my own lapse in musical sophistication, I began to wonder if the way we currently consume recorded music – without paying attention to the source – is having an effect on how we consume live music. Are some audiences are being shocked by the sounds some instruments (such as vibraphones and upright bass) make, the same way audiences were shocked by the arrival of electric guitars and microphones?
Once I realized everything I was hearing was being played right there, in a space of time that will never exist again, the music instantly became much more impressive and meaningful. Regardless of the numerous rehearsals the ESO has likely had, a thousand things could affect what was played in the moment – no one had altered the sounds I was hearing. The performers controlled it all. The experience was sort of like when the kid who thinks corn is literally produced in a factory sees a farmer’s market for the first time.
Now, onto the concert. Wait! While you’re reading the review, listen to this rendition of “Bring in the Clowns.”
I really enjoyed the concert. Conductor Steven Reineke did a fantastic job choosing and ordering the songs. At The 1950s: The Golden Age of Black & White, I felt that the singers spent a little too much time on stage – I had the sense that I was at a concert with a backing track. Not so with From Stage to Screen. Starting with two songs of unaccompanied orchestral music was a great choice immediately making me focus on the musicians and music instead of the singers. While singers Ashley Brown and Aaron Lazar joined the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra for most of the evening’s performances, there were a few unaccompanied orchestral versions of popular songs, my favorite of the night being “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music (which, if you followed my instructions, you’re listening to now).
Another high point was the performance of selections from West Side Story (written by Leonard Bernstein, arranged by Jack Mason). Even though I’ve never seen the Broadway production of West Side Story, the arrangement showed the power of music to tell a story. With a little bit of background about the musical (hint: it’s a 1950’s take on Romeo and Juliet), it was easy to sit back, close your eyes, and see the story play out in your mind.
Ashley Brown and Aaron Lazar were truly complements to the ESO. While that might not sound like a good thing, it was. Brown and Lazar’s humbleness and attentiveness to the orchestra made me pay more attention to it. It would have been very easy for either of the singers to grab the spotlight, but instead they deferred to the symphony often. Of course, both the singers did shine. Brown (with her Disney-princess-like trill) was absolutely stunning in “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, while the suave Lazar charmed us, especially with Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady” and “Moonlight Becomes You”.
The Robbins Pops Series bridges the gap between a musical, a pop music band, and classical music. Tickets for the Robbins Pops Series range from $20 – $89. Students can get the new ESO Student Pass for $100 – the pass gets you into almost every show in the 2012/2013 season.
– Jenna Marynowski