Sunday, January 17, 2010

Peter And The Wolf, Neil Gaiman, And Bold to Fall Withal and Gary Fagin

So last night (saturday), I went to a free performance of the Knickerbocker Orchestra ... the features were Peter & The Wolf, and "And Bold to Fall Withal" - a newly commissioned piece...

It was down in the World Financial Center, which would have been great, except this was the one weekend that the subway was all kinds of screwed up & it took a bit of extra finding (as did locating a seat) ... I was a bit surprised at how dismal that area of New York seemed ... really seemed like something out of a comic book (and perhaps it was, but if so, I've never read it)...

Anyway, so I got there at 6:45, (it started at 7) & discovered there were no seats left, so I had to sit on the stairs like many of the rest of the folks (which had a decent view). The downside to this was the sound. I *hate* the "back of the hall" sound ... I don't understand why it's so appealing to so many people who like classical music ... to me it's disconnecting & impersonal - especially when I can barely see the orchestra (who I know are all working hard & doing a great job, because I play one of these instruments!).

So 7:00 comes, the Orchestra starts with Tchaikovsky's Polonaise from Eugene Onegin - sounds exactly like the sort of stuff I played (and detested) in orchestra in college ... but then again, Tchaikovsky has never been my favorite composer. Either way, it was interesting to hear a piece in this style as an audience member (because I so rarely actually get to listen to any orchestral music, since I'm generally playing it) ... can't say it was my idea of exciting.

Next was Up and Down, Up and Down by Duke Ellington (orchestrated by Gary Fagin) ... this also failed to really capture my interest ... I think had I been able to hear it better, it might have caught it a bit more ... I'm really not turned on by a lot of jazz though ... especially when it becomes jazz for orchestra ... just not my thing ...

Then came the moment I had actually come for. Peter and the Wolf narrated by Neil Gaiman. Neil's banter with Gary Fagin when he first came on stage was incredibly hard to hear (because the mic was adjusted for Neil to be sitting), but it was interesting to discover that he and Gary Fagin were cousins.

Peter & The Wolf itself was interesting & you could clearly see its influence on film music ... looking at it historically, it's an incredibly significant and cool accomplishment. However, hearing it now, it felt a bit dated. It really would have worked great with some sort of animation (I was picturing a disney version ... and in fact they have done that!). Otherwise, it was occasionally hard to hear Neil Gaiman, but otherwise pretty cool. The other thing that would really have made this was a film crew & screen setup that could zoom in on instruments that had solos or melodies ... rock bands use them to great effect (Dream Theater is the #1 example) ... no reason an orchestra or a concert hall can't - it would do wonders for them... In general, this was a pretty cool experience ... Neil's narration was great

Afterwards, the concert actually got better! (talk about good programming order) ... the next piece was Charles Ives "The Unanswered Question" ... I studied it in music school, so it was great to get to hear a performance of it ... awesome piece - period. They did a great job with it.

Still, it got even better ... the next piece was the World Premier of "And Bold To Fall Withal - Henry Hudson in the New World". It was commissioned for the Orchestra & their conductor (Gary Fagin). Very cool piece ... I would love (and might actually even listen to) a recording of it ... the only weak spot was occasionally the lyrics (and this is something that classical music and musical theatre are plagued by) ... monologue is monologue and there's nothing that can fix it ... except maybe narration + monologue or dialogue ... either way, very cool piece, vocal part was awesome (I love the tenor range in general) & the orchestral part was very grand/Wagner-ish/awesome (I wish I had better words for it, but unfortunately, I don't, and I was not feeling too great at the time, so things didn't get stored so well...)

The final part of the concert was a Tchaikovsky waltz from Eugene Onegin (substantially better than the first piece!) ... the conductor invited the audience to dance & they did - it was quite awesome ... I think more groups ought to do this ...

In general, I liked the event ... am glad it was free though, not sure I would have paid money for it (because orchestra is generally not what makes my eyes light up, and my income is all kinds of very low right now) ... if there was a concerto or some amazingly cool piece, that might change my mind...

General Admission
Neat Venue (on the edge of the water)
Neil Gaiman
Lots of very different people
Lots of kids
New piece = awesome

FOH Engineer didn't have the sound loud enough
No Video Screens
The conductor's speeches in between felt more like lectures than genuinely connecting with audiences (something rock bands do real well)
I didn't have any friends to go with

Overall, cool event.


EFunkAmericana said...

thanks for the review. would have loved to have seen Neil Gaiman

Mike Lunapiena said...

Thanks for checking it out...

I wish he had been able to stick around afterwards to sign stuff (not that I had brought anything with me to sign)

But, living right outside New York, I think it's a safe bet that I'll probably be able to attend some future event of his...