Some professional musicians at the level of the players in a major symphony orchestra probably resent having to play family concerts. Happily for those of us who have families, some do not. (No, I do not take Master Ionarts to regular concerts, a trend that Brian at the fine Out West Arts disparaged yesterday.) So, thanks to the members of the National Symphony who took the stage of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday afternoon, not only to play a short program of spooky music for Halloween, but to do so (mostly) in costumes. Master Ionarts (costumed as Mater, the tow truck in Cars) and I were there with an impressive crowd of Harry Potters, princesses, devils, lions, ninjas, ghosts, and goblins and their parents.
To the bass-heavy introduction of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" (from Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite), the treble instruments crept to their places, led by principal second violinist Marissa Regni (a whoopi cushion, complete with flatulent sound effect). Associate conductor Emil de Cou (a white lab-coated mad scientist) rolled a stretcher on the stage and brought a last-row second violinist (Skeletor) to life. Mentions for good costumes go to harpist Dotian Levalier (a blue-robed sorceror who cast spells around the house before the concert) and one of the bass players (the bemustached Borat from Kazahkstan). The program combined classical works with scary themes and excerpts of horror film scores, like the second selection, the title music from Max Steiner's score for King Kong.
Concertmaster Nurit Bar-Josef (a fetching purple gypsy) mistuned her famous violin for the Saint-Saëns Danse macabre, op. 40. The clattering col legno effect from the strings seemed to please the skeletal figures in the chorister seating to either side of the stage (patrons left over from the last Friday matinee, as de Cou quipped). Parts of John Williams's score for Harry Potter and the "Witch's Ride" from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel provided some ear-pleasing effects before the meat of the concert.
The main attraction was a charming reading of Dukas's Goethe-inspired scherzo known as The Sorceror's Apprentice. The score featured fine playing from principal bassoonist Sue Heineman, herself costumed as Mickey Mouse was in the Sorceror's Apprentice sequence in Fantasia, with a broom somehow protruding from the end of her instrument. Master Ionarts most enjoyed this music, of which I am going to give him a copy to play in the little CD player in his room. We galumphed our way back to the car humming the broom theme. Although Master Ionarts liked the Saint-Saëns music, all the talk of skeletons, which he finds very scary this Halloween, made him uncomfortable.
Emil de Cou's genial and respectful narration at the microphone was appreciated by all the parents, I am sure. I have never heard a more delicate explanation of what the music represents in the final two selections, Bernard Herrmann's famous music for the shower scene in Psycho ("Norman Bates surprises Janet Leigh and . . . makes quite a mess in the shower") and the Witches' Sabbath movement of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique. In the latter piece, principal percussionist F. Anthony Ames (a murderous demon-clown) stood on a ladder to strike the tubular bells with mallets, to intone midnight, something that Master Ionarts immediately mentioned to his mom when we got home.
Best of all, as we walked out and ever since, Master Ionarts has pestered me about when we are going back to see the orchestra again. Obsessed with repetition as are people his age, he wants to hear the same concert, exactly the same, again. While I can't give him that, you can be sure that we will be reviewing the NSO children's concerts scheduled for January. So, thanks to all of you musicians who get children interested in classical music, especially if it means wearing a costume while you play Dukas.