Review by Oona Baker – Portland mom and PDX Kids Calendar reader
The lobby of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall was positively abuzz when my daughter and I arrived for the Sunday matinee performance of Castles and Wizards. The Oregon Symphony hosts a series of three concerts for children every year, each with a different theme, to encourage musical awareness and appreciation of the arts. With tickets starting at only $10, this was a packed crowd! There were many children dressed to the nines, in ruffly gowns (we even spotted a red velvet cape) and their Sunday best, but the majority of the crowd was strictly Northwest casual – you would be not be at all out of place in rain gear and jeans.
Younger children were greeted with paper crowns, to add to the majestic theme of the afternoon. I do recommend showing up at least 30 minutes early: the bathrooms are on the lower level, so plan accordingly. If you are shown to your seat early (the ushers were very friendly, personable, and helpful), relax and peer at the orchestra tuning up. In addition, the program had some great info about the four musical families of instruments: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Impatient symphony-goers might be momentarily appeased by sorting the instruments they see on the stage into various categories. If you attend with small children, you may want to linger in the lobbies and be seated at the last minute, so little legs can roam around as long as possible. We were impressed with the historic beauty of the concert hall and our view of the stunning architecture from the upper mezzanine.
As the lights dimmed, an audible hush fell over the crowd. Dressed in an orange-hued costume fit for a queen, an elaborate pointy hat, and clasping a wand that had seen better days, Princess Tangerine introduced the concert, and set the tone for the afternoon. Pamela Mahon had a lilting, energetic voice, and wove pop culture (jokes about Facebook, email, the X Factor, Top Chef) and make believe into a show that engaged the crowd and drew in the audience. “Musical Whoopla!” was a fantastical phrase that when repeated by the audience, allowed the music to work its magic.
The conductor, Gregory Vajda strode across the stage, lifted his hands, and the sounds of John Williams’ magical music from Harry Potter began. Even with the booming of the timpani drums, the sound was perfect, and did not seem excessive (or prone to startling sensitive audience members). Chimes, strings, and violins soared through the hall and commanded attention.
For the second number, the Pacific Youth Choir joined in. (We were mightily impressed by the formally dressed group of young adults, who sat at attention quietly and still as mannequins when they were not standing in song.) Their voices added an angelic quality to the piece Come, Ye Sons of Art by Henry Purcell. In between each number, Her Royal Highness, Ms. Tangerine would appear, and keep the crowd engaged, always with orange-themed puns and interaction with the front rows of the audience. She also soloed in two different numbers: one from the Princess and the Frog, and another from Camelot. Her soprano was impressive and her stage presence was exuberant! Experienced ears could pick out pieces in the concert from Vivaldi (with two guest piccolo trumpets taking center stage) and Beethoven. We noticed several small conductors in the audience, wildly gesturing along with the rousing music! The Pacific Youth Choir joined in three additional pieces and continued to stun with spot-on pitch and sweet voices.
The concert concluded with two last rousing numbers. The first, from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban brought the thrill of the movie to life with wildly woven music and song! My daughter’s ears definitely pricked up for this one–you could practically see Hermione and Harry running through the halls of Hogwarts, and the PYC’s chants were especially enthralling:
“Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing.”
Finally, Stravinksky’s Finale from the Firebird Suite was a stirring finale to the afternoon’s performance. The crowd applauded with great enthusiasm for lovely Princess Clementine, the skilled conductor, and all the players of the orchestra who made the music come alive. The Princess lingered in the lobby to greet her fans, and she was approachable and friendly. We headed out in the rain to catch our Tri-Met bus, with the drama of the drums and all the vim of the violins echoing in our heads.
The performance ran just around 60 minutes. The Oregon Symphony suggests that their Kids Concerts are best for ages 5-10, and I would say the themes/skits skew a bit young (we saw plenty of three and four year olds), while the musical selections are more sophisticated. Because of this range, you could easily bring younger/older siblings, and keep them both entertained. Overall, this was an attentive, well-mannered, and interested audience. Maybe not the best place for infants, as the whisper-quiet moments of a single flute or violin are peppered throughout the performance.
As Princess Tangerine reminded us at the end, “Music is magic!”, and an introduction to the symphony is a perfect way to foster a lifelong relationship with instruments, imagination, and a love of the arts.
Oona and her daughter were given tickets to attend this performance on behalf of PDX Kids Calendar for review.