Take the 5th, Pops

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It was a good thing that we arrived early for six o'clock concert of the Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra, as we were in the first eighty or so people into the hall and able to get good seats in what turned out to be a full house. The centerpiece of the evening was to be Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf", so there were lots of kids in the audience. Many were a bit restless, as might be expected, but pretty well behaved.

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Kashima Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Keiji Ogawa

The orchestra's fifth Pops concert opened with John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever", which got everyone's blood pumping, and the enthusiastic audience clapped along during the trio.

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The piccolo solo by Yukari Endo in Stars & Stripes Forever was a hit with the audience.

The emcee for the evening, Koneko Edoya, then came on stage. I've always been impressed with the guest musicians and celebrities that this orchestra gets and this evening was no exception. (Mr. Ogawa has played clarinet professionally in the NHK Orchestra and as a soloist, and evidently has lots of connections.) Mr. Edoya is an expert at animal calls (and has also been a television game show host).

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Emcee, Koneko Edoya

To introduce the children in the audience to the instruments in the orchestra, several musicians in turn stood up and displayed their instrument, then played a bird or animal imitation. The audience would try to guess what animal was, and Mr. Edoya would offer his vocalization of it. Birds, cats, cows, horses, elephants and frogs were heard to come from the orchestra - and Mr. Edoya. Good fun. The winds had an advantage over the strings, I think.

Moody Minstrel convincingly imitated a seagull on his clarinet.

Then it was time for "Peter and the Wolf". Though written for children, it is an interesting enough piece of music for adults too, and holds its share of challenges for an orchestra. (I also like a jazz version that was recorded in the late 60's by jazz organist Jimmy Smith with the Oliver Nelson Orchestra).

The narrator was Hiromi Namaizawa, an actress who performs in Kashima and Chiba and is director of a theatrical company. She was great. She had very animated facial expressions and postures for each character and would walk in place imitating each of them as she read - Peter, cat, duck, bird, wolf, and Grandfather.

Hiromi Namaizawa narrating.

The part of the cat is played by the clarinet and was performed by the conductor's wife, Junko Ogawa. The Moody Minstrel was not left out entirely, however. In a surprise ending, the final march where they lead the wolf to the zoo was repeated a 2nd time in dixieland jazz style and a sousaphone, trombone, clarinet (Moody), and trumpet, (dressed as a tree, cat, grandfather, and Peter respectively) marched through the audience to the stage along with the hunters carrying the wolf on a pole. The wolf was great - a large plush one specially hand sewn by one of the orchestra members for the performance. You'll see it (sort of) in a pic below and better in the final video clip of this post.

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In another twist, rather than ending with the duck being heard inside the wolf (having been swallowed whole), the hunters performed a "duck-ectomy" on stage and freed it!

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Hunters free the duck from the belly of the wolf. Moody as the gray bearded Grandfather to the left.


The first piece in the second half was a waltz, "The Voice of Spring" by Johann Strauss.

Next, the guest vocalist was introduced with Puccini's "My Father". Kazuko Matsumoto is a soprano from Chiba, our neighbor prefecture. She attended the prestigious Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo (that's where Seiji Ozawa went) and completed post graduate studies there. She now is studying in Paris and has won awards in competitions in both Japan and France. I really enjoyed her performance.

Soprano singer Kazuko Matsumoto. That's fellow American expat Charles on the right in the red shirt. His custom made violin has a beautiful yellowish hue and he gets a nice sound out of it.

And here's a 50 second clip of the Puccini which I took with the digital camera. The sound is surprisingly good I think, but the host degraded the picture quality some.

Following that was "Inu no Omawarisan" (Doggy Police Officer), a Japanese children's song about a puppy trying to help a lost kitten. Arranged by the Moody Minstrel himself.

The next song - A Thousand Winds (or Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep) - was a moving one which has been popular in Japan, but the notes in the program about its origins were incorrect. They attributed it to a poem written by an Irish man who dies in their civil war, but in fact it was written by a woman in Boston for a Jewish friend who was unable to visit her mother in Nazi Germany. The confusion is understandable as the song has been recorded in many different countries and the poem on which it was based was never copyrighted and so has become the stuff of urban legends. Anyway, it's a pretty song.

Miss Matsumoto exited stage left and the orchestra played a medley from the Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". While we had been waiting for the concert to start, I had challenged K to name the seven dwarfs. We tried together. The first four were easy, then a couple more, but the seventh took us several minutes. Can you name them? The answer is at the bottom of the post under "trivia".

Miss Matsumoto returned to sing a medley from Sound of Music. A few days after the concert we watched the movie on DVD. I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, though I like them all right, but the cinematography in that one is really spectacular.

Here's "Edelweiss" - in Japanese, of course...

For an encore, the orchestra played "Exodus". I thought it might be a hint to the audience to leave (just kidding). Then Miss Matsumoto sang "Itsumo Nandodemo" - the ending song from the wonderful anime movie "Spirited Away".

For reasons that remain beyond my limited capacity of understanding, this orchestra ends every concert with Edward Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance". I guess it doesn't get played for graduations in Japan like it does in the US, so I forgive Mr. Ogawa for not knowing how many times (yawn) I have (yawn) heard it before (zzzzz), but still, I would hope he'd surprise the audience with something - I don't know - "else". I admit listening is different than playing - the trombone part is a challenge, as sections of it are fast, high, and written that awful tenor clef.

But those thoughts don't really creep in until later. At the time there is too much going on to think about that. The hunters bring the wolf back on stage and the guest narrator, emcee, and singer come out too. Balloons and streamers fly down from the balconies and school kids in uniform skip through the isles with noise makers as the wolf is opened up yet again to reveal candy which is thrown into the audience. And just in case you think I'm making all that up, here's a clip:

I guess Moody was a bit disappointed that they did not get the standing ovation that they usually do. It was not for lack of appreciation. I really think it was more a practical matter of lots of parents (moms mostly) with little kids on their hands. Stand up for an ovation and there go the kids. I was ready and willing to stand, but being the only gaijin in the house, I wasn't about to go first.

In any case, from where we sat, the orchestra played well, the program was a lot of fun, and a splendid time was had by all. Bravo!

Update -


Moody Minstrel pointed out that he also arranged the song "A Thousand Winds", and was very pleased with the result (rightly so). I have added this clip of it which I omitted before only because it is kind of short (29 seconds). Pretty song, nice arrangement. I like the bassoon part (I'm always listening for the lower instruments).

"Sen no Kaze ni Natte"

Trivia - I found out later that photography was not allowed. Aren't you glad I didn't know that? (No flash, no foul?)
John Philip Sousa's father played trombone in the US Marine Band - Sousabonium?
The seven dwarfs are: Dopey, Grumpy, Doc, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Happy. We had trouble remembering Bashful.


The Moody Minstrel said...

Excellent post! Thanks a lot! I especially appreciated those video clips!

Actually, "A Thousand Winds" (or "Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep") was also my arrangement, and I was rather proud of it. I orchestrated it from a piano accompaniment music sheet (and had a bit of fun with it). "Inu no Omawarisan", on the other hand, I tossed together off the top of my head, as with the dixieland twist on "Peter and the Wolf".

Mr. Ogawa really tapped my arranging bone this time, and I was happy for it.

Speaking of Mr. Ogawa, I think the reason he has us play "Pomp and Circumstance" every time is that he knows I loathe the piece for the same reason any American musician does: graduation ceremonies...that trio over and over and over and over...

It was a fun performance, as the POPS concerts always are, but as I said before I just didn't feel as much in the groove as I usually do. Our playing in general seemed much lower in quality than at our classics concert last December. Oh, well. If the audience comes away happy, we've done our job.

Don Snabulus said...

It is good to see my old pal hasn't changed much. Good job to all!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - I'll have to update with the very short clip of A Thousand Winds I have, since you arranged it. Nice job.

I felt the orchestra played better than in the two 2005 concerts. I didn't hear you guys last year.
It was good fun. Thanks.

Snabby - has he always done bird calls?

ladybug said...

Yea, Bashful's the one I always forget too...

Loved to see Moody in action!

Would have been weird to hear Edelweiss in Japanese and sung by a woman-the Sound of Music's version is engraved upon my mind!

i*maginate said...

Wow! Interesting. It's hard to write about music, esp. classical, but you do it with talent.

Pandabonium said...

i*maginate - thank you (blush). you are too kind, but I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I felt the orchestra played better than in the two 2005 concerts.

Do you really think so? I thought the 2005 pops concert was pretty good. As for the 2005 double-header classics concert, the first one (in Kamisu) was kind of a low point in our career, but I thought the second one, the one in Kashima, went really well. The 2006 pops concert was wrecked by some really bad playing in the brass section, and we got lots of negative comments because of it. The 2006 classics concert, on the other hand, when we played Beethoven's 5th and the Mozart piano concerto #23, was definitely a high point.

I realize that, since I sit in the center back of the orchestra, I don't hear the same thing that the audience does, so it's hard to say. The strings and winds definitely seemed in good form this time, but the trumpet and horn parts were struggling throughout. At times they were just plain embarrassing. The wolf theme in "Peter and the Wolf" was so bad it hurt, and it's apparently the main reason Mr. Ogawa finally decided to throw in the towel.

Oh, well. You're the man in the audience, so you have more business judging than I do.

Thanks for the encore!

I've found I tend to use the bassoon a lot in my more recent arrangements, throwing in at least one strong countermelody if not a solo or melody line. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it's an instrument whose usefulness is often sadly overlooked. Maybe it's because I never saw one up close until my college days. Maybe it's because my father still irritably dismisses them as "farting bedposts". Maybe it's because, when played properly, they can have a very human sound.

Maybe it's because the Kashima Philharmonic has been hinting around that they want me to learn to play one since we have an overabundance of clarinets but only one bassoonist (who rarely comes to rehearsals).

Thanks again.

Don Snabulus said...

Snabby - has he always done bird calls?

Not when he was in the US, but maybe he misses the birds of home, so this is his melancholy calling to them.

Pandabonium said...

Moody - just my subjective judgment on the performance. I heard the things that didn't get played right in the Prokofiev, but over all I thought the sound of the group was good - and the trombones didn't blast everyone off the stage for once (perhaps they didn't have the chance). It could be that the rest of the orchestra covered up the wolf's theme - it didn't sound as bad as you say from out in the audience.

Then again, you are in a better position to judge the progress or lack thereof for the orchestra, and have a more educated ear than mine.

Bassoons are cool. There is a young kid who plays one really well in the Maui Community Band. Their voice stands out more than a cello or bass violin so are perfect, to my ear, for that counter melody role.

Swinebread said...

It’s Go Happy Fun Time “Pomp and Circumstance”
…but at least it’s different.

Somehow this seems more fun then the pops I’ve been to here at home