Friday, October 08, 2010

Abigail's Viennese Orchestra Performance!

Abigail with Russell McGregor tonight in the auditorium of Trinity High School

Who is Russell McGregor, and what's going on in that photo?  I'll tell you!

Our family once again has season tickets to the Dickinson Area Concert Association's series of concert performances by touring artists.  The first performance was held at Trinity High School (just down the street from our house) tonight by the Schloss Schönbrunn Orchester Vienna ["Schoenbrunn Palace Orchestra Vienna"], a small orchestra (a dozen members, I think) from Vienna, Austria.  They specialize in classical Viennese music (e.g., works by Strauss and others of the era), and tonight we heard waltzes, polkas, marches, and more.

They are phenomenal!  For such a (relatively) small group, they produce a full, rich sound and do so in perfect unity of dynamics and tempo (including ritardando and accelerando).  Each musician sat to perform except for Russell McGregor, the concertmaster, who stood in the center and played lead violin for each song, bouncing around in time to the music, smiling at the other musicians, motioning to audience members (e.g., to invite us to clap along).  He also spoke to us between numbers to introduce a song or explain a style of music or share something about the history of Viennese music, etc.

Before one number, he set down his violin and picked up an oblong wooden block that appeared to have a bottom hinged in the middle and connected to the top by accordion-like bellows at either end.  It was essentially an odd whistle that played two tones, one by squeezing one end up against the top part, and the other by doing the same with the other end.  After witnessing his expertise on the violin for several numbers, it was funny to watch him pretend to have to concentrate really hard in order to play the simple two-note wooden squeeze whistle during that song!  (The other orchestra members played along by rolling their eyes whenever he made a big "to do" about playing that thing.)

At one point during the number, he looked out into the audience for a volunteer to play the instrument.  We always like to sit front-and-center (at concerts, plays, church services, etc.), so we were right in front of him when he scanned the house.  He set his eye on Abigail and asked her to join him.  She did not hesitate in the least, popping out of her seat immediately, joining him in front of the stage, taking the instrument, and playing it right on cue . . . in fact, without a cue from him because she herself could hear where and when in the song each note should be played, and she did it by ear.  She impressed him and many an audience member!  And that explains the photo above.

By the way, for humorous effect, Mr. McGregor had "built up" to the revelation of the whistle box by saying that he was about to show us a unique instrument so challenging that only two people in the world know how to play it: his professor in Vienna and he himself.  After Abigail returned to her seat after playing the whistle box, she leaned over and said to me, "Now there are three people who can play it."  Brava, Abigail!

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