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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
PACIFIC ISLANDER ENCORE:
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).
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.