'Carnival of the Animals' concert a clever artistic collaboration

The Virginia Gazette

The Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra pulled out all the collaborative stops in its cleverly conceived "Carnival of the Animals" program Saturday in the Williamsburg Community Chapel.

With abundant talent that spans the artistic spectrum here, WSO chose to embrace music, dance, art and theatre into its concept with winning results.While this was programmed before the orchestra's name change, it's a moment of proud boasting for the new identity and further indication of the high level contribution Janna Hymes has been making to the community since assuming the orchestra's helm 12 years ago.

This endeavor was one of the most, if not the most, complete unification of artistic skills to be seen in the region.In addition to the WSO, the participants included the Virginia Regional Ballet, artist Bob Oller, and Elisabeth Reiss, who narrated the delightful poems of Ogden Nash heard in the program's featured fare, the Saint Saens "Carnival of the Animals."

Although essentially a children-family concert, its many dimensions made it a concert for all who appreciate creativity.The clever factor defined multimedia;the orchestra played out musical imagery, while dancers physically carried out the imagery and Oller, through live video feed to two giant screen flanking the stage, painted whimsical images of the animals being depicted. It was almost sensory overload, except it wasn't; it was downright clever.

The ballet segments were charming and the costuming wonderfully creative and colorful, as the performers danced out such assorted roles as a lion, hens, elephants, birds, a rooster, birds and a cuckoo, water and fish, and, most famously, a swan.The choreography caught the essence of the narrative, the music and the mood.

Musically, the orchestra was in fine sounding shape, ably assisted by pianists Sarah Puckett and Lily Li, all of whom lent dimension and color to the characterizations. Hymes superbly coordinated the music and the movement and shaped an effortless flow of both sound and sight.Reiss, an actress and wife of Mitchell Reiss, President of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, delivered the Nash poems with polish, perfect enunciation and appropriate whimsy.All the while, Oller continued to paint out his clever take on the music and nature of the work--a highly successful and entertaining team effort.

While "Carnival" was the set piece to the event, it was not the only nod to animals.The program also included such animal-themed works as "Flight of the Bumblebee"; an excerpt from Haydn's "The Hen"; and Anderson's "Waltzing Cat," which was danced by Adelle Carpenter in choreography that delightfully captured the nature of a cat.

Throughout the program, Hymes provided ongoing narrative designed to involve kids (not to mention many adults) in the nature of the music and how its can create moods.When it comes to that sort of narrative, nobody does it better than Hymes.Regardless of her audience, her comments are always engaging, entertaining and informative.

Following the program, children and parents were encouraged to interact with Oller, the dancers and the musicians, furthering the fun of the moment.

As a side note, the Community Chapel facility is a fine performing space.The stage is large, acoustics are good, seating is plentiful, and parking is convenient and substantial.Plus there are technological enhancements.Something to keep in mind for performances by both the WSO and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra as well.Just saying…

John Shulson, a Williamsburg resident and former professional musician, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."

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