When mellow cellos harmonized the “Baby Shark” theme, giggles of surprise and recognition rippled across the concert hall. When the bold trombone section grooved along on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” it was impossible not to clap and hum.
And when the monstrous tuba roared out John Williams’ famous “Imperial March” — the menacing music in “Star Wars” that warns of Darth Vader’s approach — the young audience at Skyview High School screamed with joy.
After two years of pandemic pause, the professional musicians of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra seemed to have as much fun as the elementary students in the audience as they resumed their annual educational concert on Friday.
This kind of arts education is central to the orchestra’s mission, said Igor Shakhman, VSO’s manager and first clarinetist. The educational concerts are the first-ever introduction to classical music and orchestra instruments for many young people, he added.
So, along with engaging snippets by Bach and Sibelius, the orchestra played a little jazz, a little “Over the Rainbow” and, as the grand finale, a rousing rendition of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie theme.
In between those bursts of symphonic sound, concert emcee and orchestra spokesperson Ashley Johnson interviewed first violinist Brandon Buckmaster about the parts of his violin and what it means to be the group’s concertmaster for this performance.
Concertmaster means you lead the whole group in tuning up, and remain in close communication with other section leaders throughout, Buckmaster explained.
“The concertmaster is the ‘glue’ for the whole orchestra,” he said.
Johnson led the audience of about 450 local students on a tour of the orchestra as different instruments and sections — strings, woodwinds, brasses and percussion — took their turns showing off how impressive even the simplest music can sound when handled with classical skill.
Two special guests were in town to take starring roles in the concert. Maestro Salvador Brotons, who lives in Barcelona, Spain, demonstrated how he keeps time, unifies the different instrument sections and brings it all back to silence with a clasp of his fingers. Brotons conducted the Friday morning educational concert before leading the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra through regular concerts on Saturday and Sunday.
Guitarist Adam Levin, the musical guest star for those concerts, also participated in the educational program. Levin explained the difference between “twangier” steel-string guitars and his classical instrument, which has softer strings and exotic woods that add richness.
“A chocolatey, warm, sultry sound” is how Levin described the tones produced by his guitar’s lower strings, which are metal wrapped around silk.
Levin, Brotons and the orchestra delivered a short rendition of the weekend concerts’ showpiece, the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.
What’s it like to be an orchestra conductor? Being responsible for everything — tempo, togetherness, the whole sound — is a big responsibility, Brotons said. But it’s also a joy.
“It’s like a dream, to have all these feelings and emotions and power under your control,” Brotons said.