Orchestra performance of "Carnival" sure to bring out music's wild side

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Greg Little
Wednesday, May 3, 2017

JANESVILLE—What do animals sound like?

Sure, lions have their roar and swans have their honk, but how do you use traditional instruments to translate beastly speech to beautiful music?

French composer Camille Saint-SaŽns answered that question in the late 1800s when he created “The Carnival of the Animals.” Considered his greatest work, the 14-movement musical suite is scored for piano, violin, cello, double bass, flute, clarinet, celeste, xylophone … and the mind.

“The easiest way to describe the music is to invite people to listen to excerpts of the piece,” explained Rob Tomaro, music director for the Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra. “For instance, with the elephants, Saint-SaŽns has the orchestra slide and lumber along in a way that imitates an elephant's gait. For the fishes, the music sounds kind of bubbly—almost as if it's floating down like moving water.

“When you hear it, if you use your imagination a little bit, you can almost close your eyes and feel the animals around.”

Whether you're a music lover, an animal lover or both, you'll likely take something away from the BJSO performance of Saint-SaŽns' masterpiece Friday, May 12, at the Janesville Performing Arts Center. The show will be the orchestra's last this season before it returns July 3-4 for Independence Day shows in Beloit and Janesville.

In keeping with the intended sound of “Carnival,” the BJSO will incorporate a celeste, or glass harmonica, in its performance of the suite's seventh movement, “Aquarium.” Classical music fans will recognize the rare instrument's unique, tinkling bell sound, which is prominent in such pieces as Tchaikovsky's “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

“Whenever a composer wants to get a sense of something ethereal like angels or dancing fairies, he goes right to the celeste,” Tomaro said. “It's a sure-fire winner.”

In addition to “Carnival,” narrated by BJSO Executive Director Edie Baran, the orchestra also will perform excerpts of “The Planets” by Gustav Holtz. Several orchestra members also will join the UW-Rock County Youth Orchestra for “Romeo and Juliet Overture” and “Overture to Carmen.”

“It's a wonderful opportunity for students to participate with the symphony orchestra,” Tomaro said. “If people are, at a young age, introduced to something and they grow to love it, it becomes an important part of their lives.

“The more we can expose younger students to the joy we have for classical music, the more likely they are to be lifelong musicians with a love of the symphony.”

The youth orchestra, under the direction of Jean Dickinson, also will perform other selections independently.

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