Sunday, March 23, 2014

Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra soars amid "The Planets"

Review by Janet I. Martineau

It's not every day a laptop computer is held aloft by a percussion section musician taking a bow at a symphony concert.

But, then, it's not every day a symphony orchestra goes techno.

Such was the case at the delightful Saturday night Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra concert, subtitled "The Final Frontier."

As the  title might suggest all the selections on the evening's program dealt with exploration and/or outerspace.

The techno piece, titled "Mothership" and by composer/DJ Mason Bates, imagines the orchestra as a mothership that is docked by several visiting soloists.

An apt description, that, because it was commissioned for one of the neatest ventures in music history -- theYouTube Symphony Orchestra. Musicians from all over the world auditioned via YouTube, a panel picked finalists, YouTube fans voted from those finalists, and then the winners all assembled to perform "Mothership," and other pieces, in Sydney, Australia. Technology meets classical music.

Something like 101 musicians from 30 countries. And, of course, it was broadcast live over YouTube. It was the most-watched live music concert on the Internet and the most frequently viewed concert in the history of the video-sharing website.

So that Saginaw was privileged to hear this composition literally live was a treat in and of itself. But that it was so utterly charming and fun, with its electronic beeps, bleeps, bloops, blurps and burps, was even more delightful. And it did indeed sound otherworldly.

But it was not the superstar of the evening.

As a long time concertgoer I think I have heard Holst's "The Planets"  performed at least four times. But never ever like I heard it Saturday night.

I have no idea how maesto Brett Mitchell did it, but he made our orchestra sound like twice as many players were sitting up there on the stage, delivered every nuance you could possibly find in the piece, and generally raised  hair on the back the neck.  The colors in this performance were as brilliant as the sun.

The seven-movement please visits the seven companion planets in our solar system,  from a thundering and bombastic Mars to a quiet and gentle Neptune with its contingent of eerie female wordless  voices floating in from offstage.

In the subtitles of each piece Holst visits war, peace, a winged messenger, jollity, old age, magic, and the mystic. Indeed all that is there and more. Lots of little solo interludes from various musicians. All out attack when they combine. Always has been a  marvelous piece of music, and on Saturday night even more so. It is still reverberating in my mind.

The evening also included Jabert's visit to "The infinate Spaces" and a couple of John Williams pieces, including… obviously…the theme from "Star Wars" as an encore.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Les Miserables" hits home run at Midland Center for Arts

Review by Janet I. Martineau

Alrighty Midland Center for the Arts... bravo, bravo, bravo on your barricade for the musical "Les Miserables," which opened Friday night. It was as clever as heck, and we just didn't see it coming.

Mum is the word though. Not going to say anymore about it because seeing it in action is part of the fun – maybe all of the fun. Very impressive.

Bravo, too, on the staging of Javert's death plunge. Hope the actor in that role is OK. It looked a little too real. The massive set was appealing to the eye with its various levels, especially the trap doors leading underground.  And the gunfire was rip-snorting loud and flash-filled.

But enough about the detail-rich look of this show because director Carol Rumba has hit a home run when it comes to the cast ... all 58 of them, ranging in age from 4 to 72. Imagine overseeing and corralling something of that breadth, the majority of them amateurs.

Things did get off to a slightly sluggish beginning Friday night, but it just kept building and building like a steam engine heading down the track until you realized somewhere along the way you were witnessing one of best musicals ever at the Midland Center for the Arts.

There is no way a review can do justice to all 58 people in the cast. Suffice it to say that yes there standouts, and I will discuss them, but this is an ensemble piece bar none with a chorus to die for.

From start to finish Rumba  created various attractive tableaus with her cast members, and they stayed in character solidly in them; sometimes in the shadows when the action was taking place and was lit on another part of the stage. And the chorus dynamics just rocked the place.

Ten members in particular caught our attention: Dominic Zoeller as the hero Jean Valjean, True Rogers the thug Javert, John Saint Jones as the bishop, Laura Brigham as the dying Fantine, Madeline Day as the ignored Eponine, Celeste Lang as the lovely   Cosette, Tony Serra as the student leader Enjolras, Matt Fox as the love struck Marius, Jamie Miller as the tiny revolutionary warrior Gavroche, and Ruth Pasek as Little Cosette.

Zoeller nicely captured the aging process, starting as a young man and ending as a feeble old man. Day knows how to totally sell a song emotionally and dramatically. And all 10 of them delivered goosebumpy singing and heart-tugging acting.

Behind the scenes, kudos to scenic designers Evan Lewis and Kristen O'Connor for the whole look of the show, not just the barricade; costume coordinator Laurelei Horton for the wealth of costuming, dressy and slummy; lighting designer Matt Kidwell, for those moody shadows, and Jim Hohmeyer and his glorious orchestra.

Some of the set changes were a little clumsy and noisy, but that was but a small glitch in the three-hour show that delivered in abundance.