One of the many things the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra does that has great appeal is collaborate with elements of our artistic community. Continued and substantial success in its “Carnival of the Animals” programs linking music, dance and art led music director Janna Hymes to venture into another such endeavor, “Ady’s American Adventure,” which took place Sunday afternoon in the Williamsburg Community Chapel.
This latest adventure involved the orchestra, the Virginia Regional Ballet and artist Bob Oller. It also, and most importantly, involved Ellen Cockerham Riccio, violinist with the Richmond Symphony, and the creative force behind “Ady.” Riccio is also a mover-shaker behind Richmond’s Classical Revolution RVA that takes music to all sorts of venues (e.g., bars, cafes, restaurants, art galleries) in hopes of expanding musical awareness, appreciation and support.
In fact, it was that desire to expand awareness of music to school children that was behind the “Ady” initiative. She felt a story merged with music would be a good way to introduce a variety of music to children. Consequently, she created European-born, violin-playing orphan Ady who came to America in 1923 to explore American music.
As the adventure unfolds, Ady arrives in New York and promptly goes to Carnegie Hall where he hears Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet in concert. Then on to Harlem in search of the American style of music where he encounters George Gershwin and his “Fascinating Rhythm.” From there it’s stops in such locales as Washington, D.C., where he hears John Phillip Sousa’s “Liberty Bell March” in a military parade; Richmond and Duke Ellington and his “Birmingham Breakdown”; Kentucky and the Irish folk song, “Drowsy Maggie”; St. Louis and Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and “St. Louis Blues”; west to Oklahoma and “Two Sketches on Indian Themes”; ending up in cowboy land and Copland’s “Hoe Down from “Rodeo, with a brief reflective czardas from Ady’s homeland.
At each musical stop along the way, Ady learns there is no such thing as rigidly defined American sounding music and, most importantly, that America is the sum of people from all walks of life and ethnicities who live or come here to live.
Throughout, there were colorful, often animated visual projections by Multi-Media Design on two large screens flanking the stage offering historical images of the composers and settings represented and heard, many of which cleverly juxtaposed images of Ady, created by local artist Bob Oller, within the visuals.
Enhancing the effort were Regional Ballet dancers who offered spiffy flapper dancing in “Birmingham Breakdown” and spirited down home hoe down dancing to “Rodeo.” It was a fun addition that furthered value-added aspects of artistic collaboration.
Riccio narrated “Ady” and did so with rightful and obvious pride of ownership. Hymes and orchestra fulfilled its musical requirements, offering sure-fire playing to the musical snippets used in telling this cute tale. It was a creative way to expose children to music and the important idea that we’re all more the same than not.
The merits of “Ady” seemed greater than the number of folk who attended. Granted, the Chapel’s seating capacity is huge and people were spread all over the place. Regardless of the actual number, it would have been nice had more children been there to experience the event. Maybe it was the day, the time of day, or the price. Whatever. It was an event that was worth seeing for its music and message.
The WSO has played in this venue before, and each time I’ve been reminded on hearing the first notes how very fine the acoustic quality is here. It enables a pure, unaltered sound that allows the orchestra’s essence to be heard and appreciated for the truly fine quality it offers.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for more than 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."