Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sun & Surf with the MPO

Every two months, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) will present a weekend programme called Family Fun Day. It is a great way to introduce children to orchestral music in a fun, colourful and interactive manner. Last Sunday was one of them which ACE took the opportunity to enjoy. The Orchestra titled their performance 'Sun and Surf' and it was truly apt for this season of summer that many countries experience at this time of the year. Although here in Malaysia it is sunny all year round, many of the orchestra members come from countries with the four seasons and are looking forward to taking a summer break for some R&R from their hectic performance schedule.

When we mention 'orchestra', we tend to think of having to sit in our formal wear in a dim but grand hall, seriously concentrating on classical music played by the orchestra which members are all dressed formally in black gowns, suits or tuxedos with the conductor striking his most intense pose, baton in hand. No clapping in between movements, no shuffling in your seat and god forbid if you start chatting or coughing, or worse, allow your phone with its Lady Gaga ringtone shock the audience. No noisy kids or crying babies. It is an activity for the 'cultured' some would say.

But at Family Fun Day (note: they included the word 'fun'!), it's totally different. The dress code is smart casual (no sports attire, sneakers, slippers, jeans) and you can bring children. Children feature prominently on Family Fun Day. Now back to Sun and Surf. The usually boring rich wood-paneled stage with its rows of black chairs and music stands was decorated with just enough props of fake coconut trees and children's rubber ring floaties to let you know that you've arrived at the right place. And when it was time, an announcement was made to remind us to turn off our handphones. Then the entire orchestra, dressed in colourful floral shirts, many of them holding their instruments, walked onto stage! What a sudden burst of colours that changed the entire ambience. Some donned straw hats and sunglasses too!

Usually at Family Fun Day, there will be a presenter on stage to introduce the songs that will be played, giving a short background story of the song and its composer. He/she also gets the audience movin' and groovin' with some physical activities like getting the audience seated at one end of the hall to bounce a ball to audience at another end (that was at a previous performance we attended), standing up to do actions, dance and clap along, answering fun questions, and some kids also get to go on stage to do stuff.

At Sun & Surf, the presenter stepped onto stage with a rather large straw hat, gaudy Hawaiian shirt and shorts, beach slippers and gigantic plastic-framed sunglasses, giving everyone a bright and cheery greeting. He then introduced the condcutor who was also dressed in a blue floral shirt and huge sunglasses. They looked really funny. But this did not steal the limelight from the amazing, mesmerising, foot-tapping, hand-clapping music the orchestra played marvelously well that made you feel like getting off your seat to dance along -- which I could see many cute children doing with their parents swaying along. The presenter also got us to do some actions such as making wave-like motions, sunshine actions, flamenco finger snapping, clapping and at the finale, we all got to get up and shake or dance.

Songs that were played included (Sir) Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday, the classic Hawaii Five-O theme, Herb Alpert's Spanish Flea, an African lullaby (which included the use of the vuvuzela of the Fifa World Cup fame - a young girl got to go on stage to give a few blows into it), Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnole and the popular Brazilian Carnavale music. A male Brazilian-looking dancer came onstage and managed to persuade a female cellist to join him dancing to the lively Carnavale at the finale.

The array of instruments, besides the regular ones in a typical orchestra, that were used and highlighted through their respective solo parts also helped the audience learn the names, hear the sounds and see what they looked like. Other than the vuvuzela, there were the cowbell and timbales, glockenspiel, marimba, and castanets. The electric guitar and modern drum kit were on stage too. Listening to music played live in a concert hall by an orchestra is a totally different experience from just listening to it over the radio or watching it on TV or Youtube. Your entire body is involved and all your senses just come alive watching the various instruments and musicians in action and listening to how they all blend.

Family Fun Day is a good and exciting way to enjoy classical (and pop) music and widen our musical knowledge and experience. I would recommend all families, especially those with young children, to attend this event. Ticket prices are affordable from as low as RM15. It is held bi-monthly on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Photography and video recording of the performance is not allowed so I'm not able to include any pictures in this post. I hope my description of it helped to give you an idea of what ACE enjoyed last Sunday at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas with the MPO.

Check out this website to learn more about the MPO and the many things it has to offer. Other than concerts, they have activities such as forums, chamber/ensemble performances, master classes, and talks.

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