Music Review

GRAND RAPIDS SYMPHONY in "The Orchestra Olympics,"
with narrator Brian Diemer, dancers Sandra Dietz and
Rodney Bean and the Aerials and Baranis Gymnastics Team.
The Family Series concert on Sunday in DeVos Hall was
conducted by John Varineau and Gregory Pritchard.

Symphony, guests take flight in Family Series show
with an attitude.

It's not unusual for a concert to look like a workout
for the musicians.

But the Grand Rapids Symphony's Family Series concert in
DeVos Hall on Sunday afternoon nearly was a workout for
the audience as well.

After 100 minutes of watching tumblers tumble and dancers
dance and hearing a rapper rap and a narrator narrate,
I was ready for a nap.

So was my 4-year-old son, Michael. Guess who got to
sleep in the car on the way home?

Just once a year in its three-concert Family Series season,
the Grand Rapids Symphony produces its own program with
local talent, and it's always shown there's no shortage
of talent or good ideas in West Michigan.

"The Orchestra Olympics" featured three big pieces with
help from members of the community, such as Grand Rapids'
own Olympic champ, Brian Diemer, a veteran of three Summer
Olympic Games and a past bronze medalist in the
3,000-meter steeplechase.

Sandra Dietz and Rodney Bean from the Grand Rapids Ballet
joined the ensemble for Morton Gould's comic tale of
"The Jogger and the Dinosaur."

As the young lady who goes out for a run and meets a real
live dinosaur, Dietz was charming and perky, with some
graceful and spunky moves. Bean, in the big, green dinosaur
costume, was nimble on his feet and good for a chuckle.

With "rapping Jon" Varineau narrating the tale, the
symphony's conducting fellow, Gregory Pritchard, led the
orchestra in his debut performance. With dancers and a
narrator, the audience tends not to notice the conductor,
but Pritchard gave a solid display of skill handling Gould's
rhythmic quirks and lively melodies.

Yet another highlight was Greg Smith's "The Orchestra Games,"
featuring Diemer as an announcer calling a competition
between sections of the orchestra to determine who plays
highest, lowest, loudest, softest and the like.

The colorfully orchestrated work serves as something of
an introduction to the orchestra, and the dialogue between
announcer and a trombone with a cold or a clarinet playing
a marathon often is witty as well.

Diemer, neither a musician nor a public speaker, nevertheless
gave a thoroughly prepared, highly professional performance
as the announcer. Though Varineau was cuing his speeches,
Diemer clearly was on top of his game, listening to the music,
ready and waiting to deliver his lines.

Equally impressive was the orchestra's stalwart performance
of the long work constantly changing in texture, timbre and
meter with hardly a moment's rest. Most impressive of all was
associate conductor John Varineau's ability to keep narrator
and orchestra together on a rather challenging piece.

As Varineau pointed out, it's difficult to fill DeVos Hall
with ice and snow for winter sports – not enough room to
maneuver the Zamboni, you see – so the orchestra invited
members of the Aerials & Baranis Gymnastics Team to display
their Summer Olympic gymnastic skills.

To the accompaniment of such music as "Skater's Waltz," the
12 boys and girls twisted and turned on such equipment as
the balance beam and trampoline. Though the apparatus was
set on the lowered orchestra pit so they were level with
the stage floor, the older gymnasts on the trampoline still
were bouncing well above Varineau up on the podium,
conducting the ensemble.

The concert opened heroically with thrilling hearld brass
and percussion in the Olympic Fanfare and Theme that John
Williams composed for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los
Angeles. It ended with Williams' theme "Summon the Heroes,'
which he wrote for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.

Though the Grand Rapids Symphony generally draws its highest
praise for its Classical Series concerts, sometimes the
orchestra really proves its mettle in other situations.

Coming off a busy week of two Classical Series concerts
under a guest conductor, on Friday and Saturday, you'd
expect the musicians to be tired.

But you wouldn't know it from Sunday's first-rate performance.

Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk
The Grand Rapids Press
January 12, 1998