Many people who attended Saturday night’s Redlands Symphony Orchestra concert left the University of Redlands Memorial Chapel singing the concert’s praises — after lifting their voices to sing along with the orchestra during the concert.
In what may have been a first for the Redlands Symphony, the concert included a sing-along for the audience — eight songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, led by soprano Debbie Prutsman, a teacher in Redlands, and baritone Norman Large.
The sing-along was a fitting conclusion for a concert of American theater music, featuring Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture and Aaron Copland’s “Music for Theatre.”
This was the one concert of the Redlands Symphony season that in recent years has featured American music or a large work for choir and orchestra. Last season’s April concert included Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and music from “Schindler’s List” by John Williams, and the April 2013 concert concluded with Mozart’s “Requiem” with the University of Redlands Chapel Singers and Madrigal Singers and the Community Chorus of Redlands.
This year, the American, choral or film-and-theater music concert moved to March and turned the audience into the chorus.
While the audience-chorus warms up, let’s go back to the beginning of the concert, Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture.
Bernstein (1918-1990) is better known for “West Side Story” and his many years conducting the New York Philharmonic than he is for the music for “Candide,” which was first produced on Broadway in 1956. According to the Redlands Symphony’s program notes by James Keays, “Candide” never really caught on with the public.
But the overture is delightful music, with boisterous, bright, almost carnival-like sounds contrasting with a lyrical love theme. And there’s no mistaking the theme from the soprano aria “Glitter and Be Gay.” It wouldn’t make an easy, mellow audience sing-along tune, but its high energy could leave listeners singing in their heads.
I’ve heard the “Candide” Overture a number of times, mostly on recordings, but I had never heard Aaron Copland’s “Music for Theatre,” written in 1925.
According to the program notes, this five-movement orchestral suite was not written for any particular theatrical production, but Copland said he chose the title because “the music seemed to suggest a certain theatrical atmosphere.”
This is an early work by Copland, who was born in 1900, and according to the program notes, it is “arguably the first piece with that distinctly ‘Copland sound.’” I’d say the Copland sound — if you’ve heard it, you know what it is — is emerging in this suite, and there’s also a fun feel of the 1920s in the music.
There are elements of jazz and popular music in the “Music for Theatre,” playful, lively passages and a calm, lyrical interlude in the middle.
This is music that could play on Broadway, but it also plays well in the concert hall. I’m glad I had an opportunity to hear it — and to hear it played by the Redlands Symphony Orchestra.
You might think a concert called “The Sounds of Musicals” would be lightweight, simple stuff compared with the symphonic standbys of Beethoven symphonies and Mozart concertos. It was lighter in a sense, but not simplistic. There is meat on these musical bones, not just cotton candy.
And the Redlands Symphony, conducted by Jon Robertson, made a rich musical experience of “The Sounds of Musicals.” It’s fun to hear all the musical colors a full orchestra can bring out in theater music.
Speaking of musicals, after Copland’s “Music for Theatre,” it was on to music that was born in the theater, the “Carousel” Waltz by Richard Rodgers, from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Carousel,” the overture from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” and then the Rodgers and Hammerstein sing-along.
Prutsman and Large joined the orchestra for the sing-along, one or the other singing each song alone first, then leading the audience in singing, with the help of words projected on a small screen at stage level.
Both Prutsman and Large have extensive musical theater experience and the voices to carry “Some Enchanted Evening” (from “South Pacific”) and “People Will Say We’re in Love” (from “Oklahoma!”) to the back of Memorial Chapel.
Memorial Chapel and the University of Redlands, by the way, have a connection with “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel.” That link is John Raitt, who graduated from the University of Redlands. He played Curly in “Oklahoma!” and created the role of Billy Bigelow in “Carousel” on Broadway. Raitt was on the stage of Memorial Chapel during his student days and from time to time in later years.
Maybe Raitt, who died in 2005, was singing along with Prutsman, Large and the audience.
Certainly the audience was eager to sing. Before “Some Enchanted Evening,” the first sing-along piece, Large asked, “Are you ready to sing?” And there was a chorus of “yes!”
And throughout the sing-along, even from my perch in the balcony, I could hear a lot of singing, a pleasant, easy enjoyment of familiar tunes and words.
After “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” from “The King and I” — including Large leading Prutsman in a few dance steps at the edge of the stage — the sing-along concluded with four songs from “The Sound of Music.”
“This is probably what you really came to sing,” Prutsman said as orchestra, soloists and audience launched into “Do-Re-Mi,” “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
Judging from the sound of the music around me, I’d say she was right. And there’s something about “Edelweiss” sung by an audience in Memorial Chapel, backed by the Redlands Symphony Orchestra.
The sing-along may become a new Redlands Symphony tradition.