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Friday, November 4, 2011

Concert Review: A Reboot in Toon Town

The "new" Brooklyn Philharmonic debuts in Brighton Beach.
by Paul Pelkonen
On Thursday night, the newly rebooted Brooklyn Philharmonic offered its first full symphonic concert: a program of music from Russian cartoons in Brighton Beach under the baton of Alan Pierson. This was the orchestra's first full concert, designed to bring great music to the borough's diverse neighborhoods.
That Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh is a little...different.
Image from Vinnie-Puh Goes Visiting © 1971 Soyuzmultfilm.
On Thursday night, the newly rebooted Brooklyn Philharmonic offered its first full symphonic concert: a program of music from Russian cartoons in Brighton Beach under the baton of Alan Pierson. This was the orchestra's first full concert, designed to bring great music to the borough's diverse neighborhoods.


The performance was held at the Millenium Theater (a converted movie-house turned Russian theater. Great pains were taken to ensure that the evening was bilingual. Mr. Pierson introduced each piece, with help from an interpreter. But no translation was needed for the program: a series of fascinating musical discoveries.

The concert opened with "One Destiny to Share" from Gennady Gladkov's score for The Bremen  Musicians. Although a German folktale by the Brothers Grimm, Bremen is among the most popular Russian cartoons. Apparently, it's so popular that the audience didn't get to see it. However, the music elicited looks of recognition and pleasure among the older members of the audience, an augur for the evening's success. 

The intricate Shostakovich score for A Silly Little Mouse followed. This accompanied a faded print of this Disney-style animated short. The performance featured an accomplished cast of singing voice-actors, playing barnyard animals, determined to get the titular rodent to settle down for the night. Leah Isabelle Kun made a strong debut as the Mouse. Liudmilla Joy was particularly impressive and sweet of tone as the Cat, who nearly eats said title character. Hard-working sound effects man Ian M. Coletti added to the orchestral wit.

The second piece was a bizarre cartoon called Doom from 1992. It featured a town sheriff (a clever but slow-moving tortoise, right out of Rango) who defeated a desperate gang of villainous bank-robbing caterpillars. The soundtrack: the first movement of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. This famous Allegro received a clipped, staccato interpretation from Mr. Pierson that matched the animation perfectly. The same can be said for the award-winning short which followed, Boy is Boy, a surreal series of line-drawings with mysic by Vyacheslav Artyomov.

Far better was Vinnie-Puh Goes Visiting the enjoyable 1971 version of Winnie-the-Pooh. The exploits of the famous bear were given a humorous spin. He and Piglet paid a call on Rabbit with the object of emptying his pantry. This take on the familiar story received a bright, cheery score by Moisei Vainberg reminiscent of Prokofiev's pieces for children.

The Dictator, from Lev Polyakov's Only Love.
Image © 2008 Lev Polyakov, used with permission of the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
Lev Zhurbin arranged Mr. Vainberg's work, and provided the voice of the bear. He also wrote the music for the last cartoon on the program, the 2008 political satire Only Love. Written and drawn by Brooklyn animator Lev Polyakov, this is the story of a dictator's repeated confrontations with a revolutionary. Only Love drew its influence from independent comics and the exaggerations of anime. The result: a funny, but bloody tale with appropriate soundtrack music.

The concert concluded with a reprise of the Bremen music, this time designed as a sing-along with the cast of voice actors. A few members of the audience clapped along. A few lifted their voices But the finale seemed to confuse the audience. Perhaps it's because the English translation was the only text shown on screen. After all, this was a Russian audience.
Watch Part One of A Silly Little Mouse with music by Shostakovich. Film © 1940 Soyuzmultfilm.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.