SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - Symphonic sounds filled the air, bouncing off downtown buildings.
A first thought was a speaker system on Mead Public Library was operating Saturday night, with sweet and flowing sounds playing to create a classy atmosphere.
It was quite the aura.
Then it dawned on me: The Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra was playing inside the nearby Weill Center for the Performing Arts. The sounds were coming through the building’s walls, bouncing off exterior building walls to the south of the center and bouncing off the library wall. Enhancing the effect, the sounds were reaching into the large empty water feature – many right angles of concrete – off the northeastern edge of the library. The deep space served as an additional resonator.
Overall, the effect was that of an extremely large stereo system, amplification system or surround sound system. Whatever you want to call it, it was dynamic.
The people inside the center wouldn’t have noticed it. They were on time. I wasn’t. It usually doesn’t pay to be late, but this time it did.
It would be an exaggeration to say the effect is a phenomenon, but it is special. It takes an orchestra playing in the right place in the right location in the right season for the effect to come into play.
Meantime, I bought the ticket for seat in the last row. The center was filled. That isn’t always the case for Sheboygan Symphony concerts, but Saturday the carrot was “Memorable Movie Music.” People like movies.
“Star Trek Through the Years” – arranged by Calvin Custer
“Lieutenant Kizhe, Symphonic Suite, Opus 60” – Sergei Prokofiev
I. “The Birth of Kizhe”
III. “Kizhe’s Wedding”
V. “The Burial of Kizhe”
“Theme from ‘On Golden Pond’” – Dave Grusin arranged by Bob Lowden
“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” – Harry Gregson-Williams and Steve Barton, arranged by Stephen
“Somewhere in Time” – John Barry, arranged by Calvin Custer
“Titanic” – James Horner, arranged by John Moss
“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” – Hans Zimmer, arranged by Paul Lavender and Robert Longfield
“Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” – Harold Arlen, arranged by Mark Hayes
Sheboygan Symphony Chorus
“Concert Suite from ‘Dances with Wolves’” – John Barry, arranged by Steven L. Rosenhaus
“Suite from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – Howard Shore, arranged by Douglas E. Wagner
I. “Old Friends and The Adventure Begins”
II. “Axe or Sword?”
III. “Song of the Lonely Mountain”
IV. “The Dwarf Lords”
V. “Dreaming of Bag End”
“Nella Fantasia,” a theme from “The Mission” – Ennio Morricone arranged by Audrey Snyder
Joelle Barrett, soprano
Sheboygan Symphony Chorus
“Themes from 007” – Arranged by Calvin Custer
Encore: “Goldfinger” – John Barry
This was an opportunity to hear moving or exciting themes played by a large number of musicians live. Repeat: live. That’s an important thing. In a cinema, the music seems to come from a distant mystical place. At a concert, the music comes from real people. You can see them, right there in front of you, making music. In the case of movie themes, it often is of music you know and like.
Saturday’s concert was notable in that John Williams’ “Star Wars” blitz was NOT on the program. Instead of that been there/done that music, music director and conductor Kevin R. McMahon selected colorful material from moviegoers’ nooks and crannies – “Lieutenant Kizhe,” “The Mission” – to blend into such blockbuster titles as “Titanic,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and James Bond movies (27 now!)
“Somewhere over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz” has been done a zillion times, but Saturday’s version included the Sheboygan Symphony Chorus. That was an expanding element – very beautiful – with the sound playing in lovely ways through the auditorium. Of note, was the final long-held note – a challenge met by the chorus.
The concert was laced with energetic splashes that had McMahon’s feet lifting from the podium because of the music’s drive. That would have been for “Troika” from “Lieutanant Kizhe,” “Chronicles of Narnia,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and the “007” stuff.
On the other hand, “The Hobbit” music was an aural version of paint drying – five short segments of musical ideas depicting shadowy moods. Yawn.
Twice, soprano Joelle Barrett from the chorus soloed in front of the orchestra and did justice to the music. She was given a microphone. Now, there are better amplification systems than the building has, and Barrett’s strong voice could have carried over the orchestra. The microphone created a hollow effect.
McMahon made use of the hall for added touches in two selections. Trumpet solos for “The Burial of Kizhe” emanated from a corner of the wood-paneled stage – the better for the sound to reach out to the expanse of the hall. Also, “Dances with Wolves” includes a skirmish, and Saturday’s presentation included one “gun” percussionist “firing” from one part of the balcony and another “gun” percussionist “firing” from another part of the balcony. The audience was in the midst of the “crossfire.”
Overall, the orchestra was up for the evening. Yes, there were missed notes, but there’s nothing like a large crowd to stir musicians to luster, as Saturday.
NEXT: “With a Little Help from My Friends,” March 11
VENUE: The 1,153-seat French Family Auditorium in the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts is a renovated, majestic movie palace that dates to 1928 – just before the arrival of “talking” movies. Located in downtown Sheboygan, the building is easily spotted by its long, horizontal marquee that says, “Sheboygan,” the original name of the theater. In the late 1990s, efforts swung into motion to restore the building. In October 2001, the theater re-opened as home to several local performing arts groups with additional programming of its own. The design is of the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The lobby areas and auditorium are adorned in elaborate architectural designs that evoke a courtly era. Huge flowers, medallions and human forms in relief add visual punch. The rectangular auditorium is light and airy, with the blue ceiling sprinkled with blinking lights representing stars. To heighten the orchestral/choral sound, the stage area includes a set of wavy, wooden acoustical clouds along with floor-to-ceil wooden panels. The theater was constructed as part of the Universal Pictures circuit for $600,000 – a whopping sum for 1928. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of Wisconsin’s remarkable old theaters – and well kept.
THE PEOPLE: The auditorium is named for a local entrepreneur whose JL French Corp. manufactured automotive components. Stefanie H. Weill and her husband, John Weill, emigrated from Vienna, Austria, to the United States in 1941. John Weill was a businessman – president of American Chair Co. and board chairman of the parent Thonet Industries in New York. He died in 1967. Stefanie Weill was active in community and civic activities, including serving on the board of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and being part of Friends of Sheboygan Symphony. The Stefanie H. Weill Charitable Trust was established in 1969 to support such ventures as the center for the performing arts.
Contact me at email@example.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays.
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