DESPITE the inclement weather, music lovers of all ages were radiant last weekend as they poured through the ivory-white doors of the Slovak Philharmonic. Bubbling with excitement, many stopped for a moment to enjoy a trio of dedicated woodwind students performing in the foyer before filing eagerly into the gilded concert hall, where, with eyes fixed closely on the stage, they were posed some of music's most pertinent questions:
How much kofola can fit into a tuba? Or how many saxophones are heard in a Wagnerian overture?
Well, pertinent to this season's final Young People's Concert, a concert/lecture series hosted by conductor Larry Newland and hostess Jana Ďuriačová. A continuation of January's How to Listen to Music: Evolution of the Orchestra, in which Newland delighted families with his unique combination of humorous interaction and music, this concert was subtitled Unusual Instruments and focused on orchestral instruments that usually play inner voices or supporting roles, such as the tuba, French horn, bassoon, and double bass.
Also in attendance were American Ambassador Rodolphe Vallee and his family, proudly lending support to a tradition that was made famous by the great American conductor Leonard Bernstein.
After a brief introduction, the afternoon started with the prelude to Wagner's opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, a piece that uses all the instruments the lecture would address. Applause still ringing through the hall, Newland turned to the audience with that trademark twinkle in his eye and inquired:
"How many of you heard the accordion?" A few hands went up. "Interesting," he said. "The orchestra doesn't have an accordion. And how many saxophones did you hear?" One step ahead of him, fewer raised their hands. "That's right," he said. "We don't have any of those either. And the sarussophone?" No hands. Newland smiled.
Eager to profile some individual instruments, violist Marián Banda and bassist Róbert Vizvári took the stage to perform Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf's Sinfonia Concertante for Viola and Double Bass, an 18th-century work that resonates with the richness that provides such effective support to higher string instruments.
The focus then changed to the brass section as trombone soloist Albert Hrubovčák played the third movement of Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson's Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra, which used deep, stuttered rhythms and slides to evoke jazz music.
The young audience members obviously stayed involved in the music, sometimes dancing in their seats and imitating the conductor with the arms of their stuffed animals.
"I think Larry's great, and I was really impressed with how attentive the children were," Ambassador Vallee told The Slovak Spectator.
As the concert drew to a close, Newland assigned some tasks - "try to hear each of the instruments" and "think about which instrument you might enjoy playing yourself" - and treated everyone to Dvořák's Slavonic Dance No. 1.
Ďuriačová also walked around and asked children to name some of the instruments they had heard that afternoon. The fact that many now knew the bassoon or French horn was a testament to what they had learned.