This Sunday morning, the WMU cello quartet Cellicatessen will play on behalf of Fontana Art’s Crybaby Concert Series at the Kzoo Baby and Family Expo. Selections range from Telemann and Piazzolla to Lady Ga Ga and John Williams. Come by and see us at 11:30 AM.
If the AM is too early for you, kickstart your afternoon with the WMU University Symphony Orchestra and an ambitious concert (3PM at Miller Auditorium) featuring Richard Strauss’ Don Juan, Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances, and the Maurice Ravel transcription of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Don Juan bolts from the starting line as Strauss weaves the narrative of this famous playboy. Themes are introduced to signify Don Juan's enthusiasm for his ideal woman but each is replaced by a new idea as he moves to his next conquest. In an almost unrelenting fashion, the music is boisterous and full of bravado. However, a feeling of sincerity and pure love does come with a beautiful oboe solo midway. But true emotion cannot keep Don Juan from his libertine ways. Strauss brings back his opening material at end of the tone poem (Don Juan's return to amorous pursuits) but surprises the audience with an unexpected ending... Many of the individual instruments' parts are notoriously difficult so hold on tight as anything can happen in performance.
The Malcolm Arnold English Dances are an attractive set of pieces contrasting in style and affect. All sections of the orchestra get showcased at one point or another. The orchestration is reminiscent of other modern British composers such as John Rutter or John Barry. My personal favorite is the piccolo solo in the first movement.
Last but not least, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel, is full of Russian flavor while also having French sensibilities. Mussorgsky's original set of pieces for piano are based on paintings by Viktor Hartmann. It is sometimes hard to believe that Mussorgsky conjured his soundscapes from this visual art. Movements such as The Hut of Baba Yaga or The Great Gate of Kiev are a massive extrapolation on a single idea (such as the grandeur of the gate or the menacing folk-tale of a hut on legs). Ravel's transcription also includes excellent instrumentation for the orchestra that can wash the audience over like a wave and other times plays like a breeze.
One of my favorite renditions of this piece is by the prog-rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Their album 1971 live recording takes Mussorgsky's classical masterpiece and transforms it into a modern spectacle. There is an amazing organ solo at 38:00 in which Keith Emerson tortures his keyboard equipment all while displaying his sweaty chest, rockstar hair, and killer 70's shiny garb.