Peter and the Wolf


This past Sunday afternoon, I attended a family concert at the Minnesota Orchestra’s Sommerfest.  Peavey Plaza overflowed with people and music, food and drinks.  Children chased each other through the lobby while parents tried to catch them.  In the Orchestra Hall auditorium, I sat in the first tier overlooking the main floor where squirming little bodies gave the illusion of an undulating mass.

The one tall (6 feet 5 inches, according to Sam at the Inside the Classics blog) conductor I know of, Mischa Santora, conducted the Minnesota Orchestra in a program of Russian favorites — Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture, short pieces based on Russian folksongs by Liadov that reminded me of poems, selections from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf with actors from Theater de la Jeune Lune acting out the story.  In summer, concert dress changes from white tie and tails for a conductor, to white dinner jacket and black tux pants.  Mr. Santora introduced each selection after the Glinka.  I thought the Liadov was a little too quiet and light for the children in the audience, but I really enjoyed these whimsical and lyrical pieces.  The Prokofiev was a joy and wonderment, from the actors introducing each character to the wolf on a mini-bike to the blue wading pool that functioned as the duck pond.  The music is fun, too, and after the first 3 pieces on the program that had an adult flair, it was refreshing to visit the world of child’s play and imagination.  Mr. Santora did an excellent job and the orchestra has never sounded better or more expressive.  It is sad that Theater de la Jeune Lune has disbanded due to financial difficulties and they will no longer be offering their unique brand of theater to Twin Citians.

I’d heard stories of how often conductors break their batons, but I’d never actually seen one break a baton.  Mr. Santora was conducting the Tchaikovsky and brought his baton down a bit too hard, hitting his music stand.  The baton snapped and the pieces flew into the viola section.  He didn’t miss a beat, and conducted the rest of the concert without a baton. 

When I was researching conductors and conducting, I wondered how attached a conductor might get to a particular baton.  That’s not the case at all.  Nor does a conductor have several special batons that he might use according to his mood or type of concert.  Batons are expendable.  They are a tool.  A baton can help the orchestra musicians see the beat, but it’s not a required tool for a conductor to use.  Years ago a conductor developed “tennis elbow” and his doctor advised him to stop using the baton and conduct without it.  So, how a conductor holds the baton, moves it, how the baton influences how he moves his hand and arm, can cause him injury.  Only recently I learned that the Minnesota Orchestra’s stage manager is an expert in making batons for conductors.  And he is kept busy…..

Now I need to consider how Evan Quinn deals with batons, especially in the second book of the Perceval series.  As a guest conductor, who makes his batons?  Are they available to buy in music stores?  Or perhaps I’ll have him change his thinking about conducting with a baton and let him conduct without one for a while….

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