Monday, January 12, 2009

Something's fishy at the Orchestra

Something truly was fishy when I was at the Koger Center for the Arts to attend Dancing with the Phil, the annual South Carolina Philharmonic Pops series concert that is the traditional Viennese New Year concert, complete with some ballroom dancing, the winner of a singing contest (with Tina Stallard and Maestro Morihiko Nakahara as two of the judges), and some things that I never thought we'd see.

I never knew how strange it would be when my voice teacher and friends, fresh off a lesson that afternoon, saw me already waiting at the ticket line when they knew they were in the line too.

The first thing that had me piqued (since I had never attended such an event) was the overture to Crazy for You -- I'd heard the pieces but as I am still admittedly not as experienced, I had to learn more about the movies of the past. I wish I could have seen Ken Jennings because he has a much bigger library of movies (as he's admitted in the past) than any of us could know. Also, since I had never experienced the Viennese New Year experience, Mori told the crowd (first with a laugh about English!), but then had me understanding that the waltz was the dance of a new year's concert in Wien, and also the Dvorák Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2.

Obviously there's a reason my voice teacher and friends were there -- a student had won the singing contest, singing "Tutto è gioia, tutto éfesta" from La Sonnambula. The poor direction of the publishers of the program had me asking questions, since neither Mori nor the program described the opera, or the soprano's aria. The orchestra was loud at points that neither my teacher nor I could hear the aria.

The orchestra finished with some tango, and I wondered about the women's costuming -- it was a bit too over the edge for the classical music types who are accustomed to finely dressed sopranos. I don't think I'd see the soprano show as much leg as what the tango dancers showed. It was a bit too sultry and makes me wonder what lust would be there if I take ballroom classes so that I can find that lady that God has calling for me to dance! Waltz, tango, and swing (see later) would be much better than the country line material we see too many of this generation want.

The break came after the tangos, but my voice teacher and friends didn't show up in the balcony as I thought I would see them (but the winning soprano did show up, and we chatted for a few minutes; her friends seemed to forget proper concert dress -- no jeans or sneakers please!).

I think I can see why Mori is who he is when a friend of the Philharmonic's conducting was a bit suspect when the guest conductor took to the stage (won a fund-raising bid) for Thunder and Lightning Polka, Op 324.

But the thing that was fishy, and the subject of my ire was Disco at the Pops. Surely, from having seen new Jewish music debuting at the Schermerhorn, Händel's masterpieces, and the best of Mozart, Bach, Strauss (all of them! I've been known to stand for Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, Einleitung; I learned to stand on it at football games, and they played it for graduation; when a former voice teacher admitted to me that she was scared of it as a girl, yet for her master's, she had to stand for it), what did the orchestra demean itself with so many songs from the 1970's? Some of these songs were before I was even born, and it had me thinking how low orchestra could go when playing music of a genre that led to a forfeit at a Major League Baseball game 30 years ago when albums of that genre were burned at Comiskey Park.

I was amused at the orchestra's interpretation of "I Will Survive," but what took me to irritating at its worst was a percussionist deciding midway to wear an Indian feather hat, then having Mori in a hard hat and taking off his tuxedo jacket and wearing an emergency vest, as the orchestra started playing one of the most annoying party songs -- what I would say is (Hillary's) Village People -- "YMCA". The worst part of it was when the peanut gallery started to do the whole shooting match in regards to "singing" and doing the infamous moves with that song. I was not too amused and wished my voice teacher would have something to say! A good friend of mine who is a dancer I cannot say what she said, but we met afterwards and didn't comment much (but I exchanged an e-mail today asking her).

Finally some swing dance at the end, with some "Sing, Sing, Sing," but it was finally something to appreciate more. Meeting with the soprano soloist again in the green room and the dancers (who had taken off their risqué outfits for something more feasible), the soprano and I started to laugh and probably knowing my voice teacher, thought I had my sense of humour from her!

But what can be more fishy than silly songs you've grown to hate being used by the orchestra? I cannot stand some of those stupid pop songs, and seeing the orchestra do it was just amusing. Is this how low culture can be? Would they play this in a New Year celebration in Wien?

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