Classically Trained: Appeal for the casual listener as well

October 18, 2010|By Bradley Zint
  • Darleen Sanchez, 6, blows through a trumpet as she participates in Instrument Test Drive activity during "Halloween Goes Hollywood" musical carnival at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on Saturday. Sanchez, from Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana, was treated to the concert, along with around 200 others.
Darleen Sanchez, 6, blows through a trumpet as she participates… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

COSTA MESA — Orchestration and instrumental color are a few of my favorite things. These sounds of music were the hot topics of discussion this past week at the Pacific Symphony's first program of the "Music Unwound" series.

Thursday night's pre-concert talk by Jonathan Beard was a great introduction to the concept of orchestration, the art of writing for the various instruments of the orchestra. He compared it to painters choosing colors that ultimately affect the mood and tone of their paintings. Music is the same way; even the same melody can take dramatically different turns, depending on which instruments are used to play it.

Participants had the chance to "orchestrate" by choosing the various sounds from a quintet — consisting of a violin, viola, trumpet, cello and clarinet — that then played the "Promenade" melody from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." I'm sure audience members found it enlightening when various orchestrations from "Pictures" were played one after another and evoked different emotions.


In all, Beard's lecture was geared especially well for the orchestrally new and curious, therein achieving the symphony's goal of both entertainment and education.

French guest solo pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's performance of Ravel's Piano Concerto was inspired, but the show-stealers came later from the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony's own ranks.

Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf," played alongside the 2008 Academy Award-winning cartoon short of the same name, took me in a few unintended directions. The playing of the piece — long a showtime standard of the classical repertoire — was perfectly fine (with wonderful woodwind solos throughout), but the film was so dark and zany that at times the wonderful live music seemed at out of place.

Beautiful, but more evocative of Tim Burton's shadowy worlds, was this film version of "Peter and the Wolf." The music, some of Prokofiev's most bright and happy, didn't gel as tightly as, say, the classic 1946 Disney cartoon version does with its narration and music.

But the concert ended on a strong note with the show-stopper, "Pictures at an Exhibition." The 10-movement piece, originally written for piano and later written for the orchestra by Ravel, musically describes a series of paintings by a friend of Mussorgsky.

"If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then no number of words can explain music," conductor Carl St. Clair said.

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