Originally published in The Observer
Date: October 10, 2012
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist
Once upon a time there was a regional orchestra filled with an international array of talented musicians, many of them young, all of them exceptional.
One day, a young princely conductor named Dirk Meyer created a program on a new series of “Innovations” concerts devoted to musical fairy tales: The Prelude to Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” a couple of sections from Tchaikovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Enchanted Garden” from Ravel’s enchanting setting of “Mother Goose,” the lullaby and finale from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” and the bewitching Suite from Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” ballet.
What’s so innovative about this program? Yes, it’s all truly great music, and it’s a cleverly balanced musical concept based on fairy tales. What made it brilliantly innovative was the way Meyer put it together with multimedia and live performances. That’s innovation — and that’s brilliant.
So was the idea of inviting a group of social networkers, who, seated in one or two of the rear boxes (so their smartphone tweets wouldn’t distract the rest of us), were urged to tweet and blog during the performance. (Their reports of this concert were around the world and back before we even got our car home!)
But, is innovation enough to make a concert good? It helps, because it gives the concert a freshness and definition that sets it apart, enlightens and refreshens. Best of all, the orchestra and Prince Dirk performed beautifully.
The Humperdinck Prelude —which opens with the famous “Evening Prayer” sung later by Hansel and Gretel as they’re surrounded by 14 angels keeping watch — was given a slow but sonorous sound that resonated beautifully through the gorgeous acoustics of the Opera House. (Oh, would that the Van Wezel had that sound … ) The accompanying pantomime of Hansel and Gretel (Vincent Pearson and Leah Henry), The Witch (Carrie Mills) and the Father (Brent Pearson) was sweet but innocuous.
“Sleeping Beauty” had a glorious bite in the orchestra while we all read, silently, the story, told on charming slides projected above the orchestra that seemed to be clipped from the very book of fairy tales my father read to me before kissing me goodnight.
Ravel’s short, but enchanting, bit of “Mother Goose” swirled with orchestral color and brilliant lighting effects, and concert master Daniel Jordan absolutely swept me away with his gorgeous solo. But Stravinsky’s “Firebird” would have done better on its own than with the selected photographs by Brian Braun that seemed musically unrelated.
Finally, Robert Turoff —playing it straight as a 1950s radio reader with his beautifully mellifluous baritone —held us in thrall with his reading of “Cinderella” while the orchestra and conductor set him magnificently to Prokofiev’s music.
This is the kind of innovation that enhances already great music, and, looking at the audience of kiddies and grandparents, it’s also serving to open this wonderful world to new listeners.