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Fox Valley Symphony puts on a people-pleasing performance

Feb. 6, 2010

Star Wars fans united with strings, brass, percussion and kitsch Saturday night as the Fox Valley Symphony tried its hand at "Hollywood Pops".

Selections on the bill ranged from Judy Garland classics to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but people pleasing was the draw, and succeed the symphony did. (Nod to Master Yoda.) Members of the 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion, who build and model screen-accurate Star Wars costumes, greeted guests in the lobby, mingling with the big and small kids in the crowd.

"Hurray for Hollywood," "Musicals Medley" — including "42nd Street," "I'm in Heaven" and "Singing in the Rain" — joined in a program with "Symphonic Suite" from "Lord of the Rings" and selections from "Star Wars."

In between selections was not just an intermission, but also a brief game show with two pre-chosen volunteers from the audience and a Stormtrooper playing "name that tune."

Fortunately for them, the one tune they couldn't name, the audience had no trouble coming up with: Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries." After which R2D2 made a quick cameo on stage, conferring with conductor Brian Groner and seeming to ogle a cellist. (Yes, it did.) But it was really all about the music for the full house at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton.

Maury Laws, known for his work with Rankin/Bass on "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," attended the performance and was acknowledged by the performers who played his arrangements of the Hollywood classics.

If you did not feel like dancing from the top of the concert, then you had to be by the time the musicians played "Blues in the Night" and toe tapping was unavoidable when vocalists Mary Schmidt and John Stangel took the stage.

The audience, however, might have been caught a little off guard when asked to sing along to "When You Wish Upon A Star," few lyrics of which were common knowledge.

After intermission, the theme changed to the mystical and fantastical, alternately pastoral, hungry and marching. Movie scores make one sit up and pay attention. Groner noted "Star Wars," without the music, would have had far less impact.
With the sound turned down, he said, it becomes vacant. It’s hard to imagine that these lovely and evoking pieces could possibly play second fiddle to a plot line. On their own, they are inventive and moving.

Not often are musicians called upon to give guttural staccato "ha"s to music, but the Concert Suite from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" required just such a touch and the musicians delivered.

Even the walk-ons by the towering Darth Vader and Chewbacca did not detract from the majesty of the music that is John Williams' signature.

While classical compositions give audiences pause and force appreciation of music for music's sake, the entertainment value of movie music cannot be ignored. Congratulations to the Fox Valley Symphony for not being afraid to appeal to the masses and bring out the fan in all of us.

Sarah Snyder, Post-Crescent

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