Approach Knight Theater during the hour before a Lollipops concert by the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, and the entire building seems to be tuning up.
Snare drums rap out an insistent, unsteady rhythm. Recorders squeak and bleat. A row of harps produces a lovely sound – harps generally do – that remains inchoate, like radio static from heaven. You are listening to the Symphony Guild’s Musical Petting Zoo, in which performers past and present let children handle the things they play.
Step farther in, and melody drops on you from above. There, on the lobby balcony, four violinists from the Charlotte Youth Symphony play Celtic music and Pachelbel’s beloved Canon in D. At the other end of the first floor, gifted young soloists hold forth alone, unruffled by the drum circle in an adjacent room. The counterpoint of poise and pandemonium seems incredible.
This hour of preliminary joy, followed by an hour of music inside the auditorium, introduces many Charlotte youngsters to classical music. The “tambourines” they receive – paper plates glued together around a handful of dried beans – may be the first instruments they own. Luckily, they worked off most of their steam Saturday morning before sitting down to hear Roger Kalia lead seven short pieces.
Kalia, the assistant conductor hired this season, served as a cheerful master of ceremonies. The program, dubbed “Tubby the Tuba” for its centerpiece, could almost have been an abbreviated version of a traditional Summer Pops concert: Tchaikovsky’s “Waltz of the Flowers” from “The Nutcracker,” Leroy Anderson’s “Fiddle Faddle,” Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
Yet he turned it into one long teachable moment, introducing the four families of the orchestra in highlighted excerpts: brass in “The Great Gate of Kiev” from Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” strings in a daringly soft movement from Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings. (“Daring” because soft music can cause inattention here. Lollipops concertgoers contend with the four Ts: talking, texting, tears after loud noises and trips to the bathroom.)
Kalia tended to take pieces slowly, perhaps to highlight the instruments he described, but with no lack of vigor or commitment. He and the orchestra especially sparkled during George Kleinsinger’s “Tubby the Tuba,” written in 1945 to show that the deepest brass instrument could be beautiful.
Actor Hardin Minor narrated that story with animation and wit; CSO tubist Aubrey Foard oom-pahed with zest and handled melodic chores with a light, lovely touch. (Music director Christopher Warren-Green doesn’t need to be reminded that his countryman, Ralph Vaughan Williams, wrote a first-class tuba concerto. Let’s hear it someday.)
One more Lollipops concert remains this season, on April 5. Kalia will conduct again, with help from performers in the Northwest School of the Arts Theatre Department. (Details: 704-972-2000 or charlottesymphony.org.) That story-themed program will take you through enchanted forests, fairy realms and the haunts of angry trolls. Don’t leave your tambourine behind.
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