Have you ever had fun at a classical music concert with Beatles sing alongs, Godzilla and confetti party poppers?
That is what happened at the concert by the Santa Monica College Wind Ensemble with Kevin McKeown as the conductor at the Broad Stage at the Madison Campus on Sunday, one of the most terrific, enchanting concerts I have ever experienced.
The performance began after a 10-minute delay but that did not spoil the afternoon. After an audience ranging from people young and old quickly took their seats, the show began with a magnificent performance of a montage called "Disney at the Oscars" which had songs such as Mary Poppin's "Chim Chim Chiree," "Wish Upon a Star," and the Jungle Book's "Bare Necessities."
The Wind ensemble played so flawlessly, it seemed like if they replaced the orchestra at the Oscars, there would be no protest or difference for that is how seamlessly they played.
"There Will Never Be Another You," by Harry Warren, famous composer of works including "Jeepers Creepers" was played next which used special emphasis on the trumpet, trombone, and the most heavenly of instruments, the vibraphone.
The vibraphone is similar to a xylophone, but it uses aluminum bars instead of wood. Naomi Sato rocked the house with the vibraphone's resonating sounds that sounded like the doorbells of heaven. One wonders why musicians do not use that instrument more often.
A Beatles tribute was next which McKeown talked about.
"Forty-five years ago Beatle mania happened and people are still playing their music. I don't think in 45 years, someone will be playing Kanye West. If they do, I'll quit," said McKeown to which the audience laughed. Taking a cue from the famous Las Vegas Beatles show called "Love," the ensemble interwove songs such as "Drive My Car" and "Eleanor Rigby" impeccably. When they got to "Hey Jude," the ensemble began to sing the chorus of that famous mop-top tune and invited the audience to sing in, which they happily did. In an instant the song immediately changed to the famous "Sgt. Pepper Reprise" and ended with the "Day in the Life's" final piano chord.
The audience would soon witness one of the most wonderful orchestrations with the ensemble playing the famous George Gershwin composition "Rhapsody in Blue," with help from Pianist Anne-Lise Longuemare. From the beginning of the clarinet solo which evoked the famous tune tribute to New York City in the 1920's, to Longuemare's outstanding, passionate piano playing, accompanied by booming cymbals and the fervent conducting from McKeown. I was probably not alone in feeling shivers down my spine since their playing seemed exactly as the famous recording heard around the world, with no faults, like a dream. It was like hearing the piece for the first time, all over again.
The minute it finished, a standing ovation and roaring applause ensued, having Longuemare come out twice to the crowd that had quickly fallen in love with her.
"I always wanted to say this and this is the best and most appropriate time to say it, ‘And now for something completely different'," said McKeown quoting Monty Python.
And something completely different and fun then occurred.
With the help of a humorous low budget slideshow and melodies that seemed to evoke those old monster movies from the 1950s, "Godzilla Eats Las Vegas", a composition written by Eric Whitacre in his freshman year of Julliard, stated McKeown, became the most fun experience ever with the musicians wearing sunglasses, stomping their feet like an army, some screaming and running, and one who chose to remain anonymous barked like a dog. They shouted, emitted confetti poppers into the audience, and cheered at all the Las Vegas "Elvises" or "Elvi" who were going to kick Godzilla's butt after the creature had stomped on Frank Sinatra and Wayne Newton. As the composition ends on whether Godzilla was killed or not, a little boy dressed in a Godzilla costume came out to catch McKeown which started roaring applause and laughter.
"How can you follow something with that?" said McKeown after "Godzilla," "But you can't have a program without John Williams," McKeown said. The ensemble played their last song, John William's "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" because of the 25th anniversary of the 1984 Olympic games which were held in Los Angeles. McKeown said his thank yous to the audience and the ensemble played a beautiful powerful rendition of the Olympic theme which was watertight perfect.
This ensemble definitely should be in the big leagues with the philharmonic or John William's Orchestra because they are unquestionably impeccable, each musician of this ensemble. You want to have the memorable experience I just had? Catch them when they are in concert.