I don’t know why I imagined the San Francisco’s Symphony’s Youth Orchestra as a Nutcracker-free zone. Whatever was I thinking? That being said, these young people did such a capable job that their offerings would not be out of place at either the San Francisco Ballet or the San Jose Ballet’s versions of the Nutcracker.
Conductor Donato Cabrera has a perfect way with the children in the audience, never talking down, but offering up tidbits of explanation as he pointed out the lack of cellos in the beginning of the Overture, the bassoons in the Chinese Dance, the flutes in The Dance of the Reed Flutes, the harp cadenza in the Waltz of the Flowers, and the celesta in the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.
Who knew that Tschaikovsky was so secretive in bringing the celesta to Russia that he shipped it in a box labeled “farm equipment?”
This concert followed a lovely garden reception, full of games and candy in the patio behind the Flint Center. It reminded me very much of similar holiday events hosted for kids at the Discovery Museum and Academy of Sciences that my son and I adored in years past.
The more I follow the San Francisco Symphony, the more I appreciate their youth outreach. Having won first prize in Vienna’s International Youth and Music Festival – as well as countless other awards – the young performers in the Symphony’s Youth Orchestra are the same folks that will people our adult symphonies in a few years. The toddlers in the audience will be tomorrow’s concertgoers. Whether they are exposing young musicians to John Cage and musicians of the Grateful Dead, schlepping them to perform at Berlin’s Philharmonie, or offering programs like yesterday’s Christmas program to the kids of the community, the San Francisco Symphony develops and encourages our most important asset – our youth.
Editorial remarks aside, yesterday’s program was great fun for parents and kids alike. Opening with Anderson’s A Christmas Festival, the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra presented swatches of holiday songs with a spin of sophistication unfamiliar to many young listeners. After cycling through five selections from The Nutcracker, Cabrera introduced his young audience to the importance of volume and rhythm, while guiding them through soft and loud claps to Strauss’s Radetzky March.
The star of the afternoon was Eden Espinoza, known to many as Elphaba from Wicked. Espinoza narrated the text from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The afternoon closed with a rousing sing-along led by Cabrera. With a bit of sugar, a wind in the air and a program perfectly tailored to a shorter attention span, kids filing out of the Flint Center were happy campers indeed.