Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Symphony Preview: Fast away the old year passes

In my last symphony preview post, I gave you a glimpse at the upcoming Christmas concerts. This time, let's look at the post-Christmas action.

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December 27 and 28: Pixar in Concert - For some years now, the orchestra has been using the weekend after Christmas for movie-themed programs. In 2011 and again last year, for example, David Robertson conducted an entertaining evening of the film music of John Williams. Mr. Robertson is an unabashed admirer of Williams' music, and the concerts were a great showcase for his work.

December of 2012 brought us a showing of the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" film with the soundtrack performed live by the orchestra while the late December treat in 2010 was a showing of Charlie Chaplin's classic "City Lights" with Mr. Robertson conducting Chaplin's original score—a completely enchanting experience. And so it goes.

This year it's "Pixar in Concert," as Resident Conductor Steven Jarvi conducts music from 14 Pixar animated films while the movie excerpts are shown on the big Powell Hall screen. Featured movies include "Toy Story," "Brave," "Cars," "Monsters," and two of my favorites: "Up" and "WALL-E". Licensed by the Disney/Pixar organization, "Pixar in Concert" is a touring show that was presented by the Florida Orchestra in St. Petersburg last month and moves on to Lille, France in January. According to the company web site, the show has bookings through this coming June around the world, so it's obviously a popular event.

Press notices for the show have been generally good. Reviewing the San Francisco Symphony edition back in July, for example, Chad Liffman at spinningplatters.com called it "a fantastic musical evening." "Even if you've seen the films and know them well," wrote Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk of the Grand Rapids Symphony appearance, "'Pixar in Concert' is a different experience. Don't tell Pixar, but it's often more exciting than the original films themselves."

Pixar has come a long way since the early days of the late 1980s when it upheld the banner of digital animation virtually alone with delightful shorts like "Luxo Jr." (the source for the animated lamp in the Pixar logo) and the sweetly nostalgic "Red's Dream." Beginning with the phenomenally successful "Toy Story" in 1995, the company became a major force in full-length animated films. By the time Disney bought Pixar out in 2006 it was valued at $2.4 billion. Not bad for an operation that started out as a part of Lucasfilm's computer division back in 1979.

David Robertson
December 31: New Year's Eve Celebration – David Robertson conducts the orchestra in the annual New Year's Eve gala. "Full of surprises and enchanting music," says the SLSO web site, "this best-kept secret is a memorable way to ring in the New Year!" And they're not kidding. The concert content is, in fact, a secret that won't be revealed until the music starts at 7:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

Still, we can make educated guesses based on previous years. Expect lots of good humor, both from the music and from Mr. Robertson, who can be a very funny guy when he gets his hands on a microphone. In 2012, for example, the orchestra did Morton Gould's "Tap Dance Concerto" and featured some good-natured sing-alongs with the audience. Dance music has, in fact, been a major part of the New Year's concerts. And waltzes are always associated with New Year's Eve in any case.

The concert is a big seller, but if you can't get tickets, don't despair. Last year St. Louis Public Radio began broadcasting the concert live.

"Pixar in Concert" performances are Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., December 27 and 28. "New Year's Eve Celebration" starts on Wednesday, December 31, at 7:30 p.m. All concerts are at Powell Hall in Grand Center. For ticket information, visit the SLSO web site. Note that on the 31st, Grand will be closed from Lindell to Delmar for First Night, to plan accordingly.

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