//Ad libs: Orchestra unplugged

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Orchestra unplugged

When I imagine an orchestra, I think of a concert I once went to at the Franz Liszt music academy in Budapest. Pomp and precision, tux and tails, the whole nine yards (or whatever yards are in metric).

In marched the conductor in black; everyone please rise. And the Russian soprano, all huge bosom and spangly dress. Afterwards she got a bouquet the size of a house and took approximately 17 bows. I counted. Not really.

So there I was last night, getting dolled up for the
Peninsula Pops holiday concert. Not quite what I expected.

We were sitting in the gorgeous, renovated
Heritage Theatre in Campbell, when out came conductor Kim Venaas. The man could not have been peppier. He wore funny hats. He invited children onto the stage. And he warmed up the crowd with jokes ("That's no lady -- that's my fife!"). The punch lines were clean, the harps wore Santa hats, and the evening was ridiculously, old-fashionedly family-friendly. Fitting for a theater built in 1938.

My companion and I were new to the Pops, but we ended up blending in with the regulars. And even though there were lots of favorite tunes -- "White Christmas," "Sleigh Ride," etc. -- they didn't drag like chestnuts, thanks to the orchestra's spunk.

The best part was the spectacle of the
Bay Bells joining the Pops for a few numbers. I sat forward in my seat when they started playing the English handbells, wearing black gloves and swinging the bells so they gleamed in the stage lights. Somehow the men managed to lift the heftiest bells, and harmonies wove together seamlessly. The tones were clear and bright as a winter night.

Media referenced in this post

Listen to a sample from the concert (.mp3 file, 30 sec.)

Pictured: Trumpet player Noel Weidkamp (such a festive name) at the holiday concert. Photo courtesy of the Peninsula Pops.