How is this for an unforgettable sight in Kleinhans Music Hall: a 6-foot-tall chicken, screaming yellow with an orange beak, strutting out on its big webbed feet to conduct the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.
It was Associate Conductor Matthew Kraemer, there to conduct Symphonic Spooktacular, Sunday’s kickoff for this year’s BPO Kids Series.
The hall was full of kids in costume. Giant characters, including Elmo and Mickey Mouse, roamed the lobby before the concert began, posing for pictures with kids and/or their parents. Hilariously, the BPO was also in costume. Associate Concertmaster Amy Glidden looked to be a Spanish dancer, and the second violins were all barnyard animals. A twinkly witch’s hat sat rakishly on the harp.
This is one concert I will remember!
Kids’ concerts are fun. They’re all Sunday afternoons, and they last about an hour, maybe a little more, with no intermission. They are full of the kind of repertoire everyone likes. Sunday’s concert began with Modest Mussorgsky’s “A Night on Bald Mountain” and ended with Edvard Grieg’s stomping “The Hall of the Mountain King,” from “Peer Gynt.”
The beauty of this music is that grown-ups love it as much as the kids. For instance, I admire, more and more, Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” You have to live a little to understand that awful feeling of a situation spinning wildly out of your control, and Dukas expressed it with such painful eloquence.
Kraemer and the Philharmonic presented the music with easy charm. He gave a little intro, and then the orchestra played. They have modest special effects. Blinking Halloween lights lined the edge of the stage. Jack-o-lanterns on either side flashed off and on. Shadowy images of jack-o-lanterns, witches and skeletons appeared on the walls. It was all simple, but effective.
It’s nice they didn’t overdo the bells and whistles. Short as they were, and informal as the atmosphere was, even the smallest kids got a taste of what it’s like to sit still in your seat and just plain listen to music. This kind of concentration is increasingly rare for all of us, kids and adults. It’s a skill worth cultivating, and it’s great to be able to practice it in a unintimidating environment.
Our small fry – my niece Barbara, 8, and her little brother Georgie – seemed absorbed. They took a stab at following the imagery of Camille Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre.” And they loved snapping their fingers during the theme from “The Addams Family.”
And while Georgie was one of the shy kids who stayed in their seats, which is fine, Barbara, dressed as the Sugarplum Fairy, got up to join the costume parade. What a cute tradition this is. The kids parade across the Kleinhans stage as the orchestra plays. It’s a hoot to see owls, wolves, space aliens, pumpkins, princesses and bumblebees all parading past, with touching dignity, to the tune of John Williams’ imaginative “The Raiders March” from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and, even better, “March to the Scaffold” from Hector Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique.” One little boy was a cop. Another was a vaudeville dancer, with top hat and cane. There was even a tiny newborn, in his or her father’s arms, zipped into a Maurice Sendak outfit. Bravo to that dad! Get ’em while they’re young!
After the concert came another tradition, the talk-back. Kids are invited to ask questions.
Here I have a couple of suggestions. For one thing, Kraemer left the stage and took too long to return. He explained that he had to ditch that sweaty chicken costume, but he lost most of the crowd.
Also, he and the two musicians who answered questions with him – violinist Diana Sachs and oboist Brian Greene – were overthinking their answers. There were references to graduate school, the audition process, reeds, the Classics series, out-of-pocket expenses and other things I am sure went over the heads of the tykes asking questions like, “How much do you practice?” The musicians must mean well, not talking down to the kids. But, Maestro, you just sweated that chicken costume. Don’t sweat this.
The next Kids Series concert is “Jingle Bell Jam” at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 8.