Season opener anything but trivial

Orchestra members concentrate during presentation of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

The season opener for the Okanogan Valley Orchestra and Chorus featured trivia, but the Oct. 20 concert was anything but trivial.

The groups tackled a variety of musical styles and invited audience members - those with smartphones, at least - to join in the “Musical Pursuit” theme by tackling trivia questions as the afternoon progressed.

Chorus director Jonathan McBride was credited with putting together the Kahoot app quiz, which featured questions about the pieces being performed. The questions appeared on a large screen above the performers’ heads and also, I presume, on players’ cellphones. (I have a dumb phone, so I couldn’t play along.)

Those who played could answer the multiple-choice quiz, with a leader board posted after each piece concluded. A pair of spring musical tickets was on the line during each half of the concert.

Questions ranged from the predictable - the year a piece debuted, the birthplace of the composer or the time signature of a piece - to the truly geeky, as with the alternate language (besides English) in which “May it Be” could be sung (the answer is Elvish - the piece is from the movie “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”).

A few concert-goers commented afterward that they found the overhead projection distracting or they couldn’t read the questions and answers, but orchestra conductor Matt Brown said musical ensembles all over are trying to find new ways, such as the quiz, to engage audiences.

Trivia aside, Sunday’s audience remained engaged from the opening notes of “Beethoven’s Wig,” a choral take on the composer’s 5th Symphony in C minor, to the closing fireworks of Hector Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold” by the orchestra. McBride spiced up the opener by donning a gray wig, complete with 18th century-style ponytail.

The chorus’ second number, “A Chopin Prelude,” used only “ahhh” for the vocal element. The music was familiar to many, both as a Chopin standard (Prelude, Op. 28, No. 20) and also as the underlying theme for Barry Manilow’s “Could it Be Magic.”

Next came a leap into Gilbert and Sullivan with a choral suite from “HMS Pinafore.” The piece concluded the old-fashioned portion of the concert’s choral selections; then came the new-fashioned section.

I will admit to being skeptical when I saw “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s 1975 rock standard (also featured in the movie “Wayne’s World”) on the program. But the piece as enough of a classic, operatic quality to it that it worked.

I could tell the musicians enjoyed it as much as the audience - a couple singers even broke into very mild head-banging (not full-on, as Wayne and Garth do in the movie) at one point.

“May It Be,” popularized by Irish artist Enya, was a sweet, melodic piece, providing a nice segue to choral highlights from the 2016 musical “La La Land.”

After intermission, the orchestra took the stage with “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” from Edvard Grieg’s “Peer Gynt Suite.” The piece started with the low-toned instruments sort of creeping along, as through a dark forest, then built and built to a full orchestral assault. Percussionists Don Pearce, Riverside, and Nancy Woodruff, Oroville, got a workout.

“Mars,” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, followed. Brown described it as “pretty intense,” which it was, but the orchestra handled it beautifully.

I suspect Brown knew both the musicians and the audience would be a bit wrung out after the two fiery openers, so the group took a turn, musically, to the lilting “Sleeping Beauty Waltz,” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Disney fans will recognize the melody as “Once Upon a Dream,” from the 1959 animated film “Sleeping Beauty.”

The group handled the transition beautifully, then returned to another heavy, but beautifully performed, piece, “March to the Scaffold,” from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

I wasn’t familiar with the piece, although the program notes said it is one of the most popular movements from the Symphonie Fantastique. An undertone of tympani (Woodruff) rolled along throughout, and bassoonist Julie Alley, Tonasket, performed a notable solo.

It’s a shame Sunday’s audience filled only about half the seats in the 560-seat Omak Performing Arts Center, because the concert provided a stellar opening to the season. I was encouraged that a number of people brought small children, who got a great introduction to some wonderful music.

Next up is the Dec. 8 “Winter Magic Returns” holiday concert, which will feature live music to accompany the film “The Bear,” selections from the movie “The Polar Express,” and holiday favorites.

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