Green Bay Civic Symphony Orchestra
4 stars out of 4
But the concert had an added layer of humor from the presence of Charlie Chaplin in two 20-minute films accompanied by live music. As the films rolled, laughter often burst at the sight of Chaplin’s wacky stunts, abundant pratfalls, hustle-bustle action and sight gags.
The fascination started when organist Frank Rippl of Appleton offered a pre-concert talk about the theater’s canary-yellow Mighty Wurlitzer organ.
A retired schoolteacher, Rippl has a nice way of getting his information across. He’s also an adept organist. The combination made his presentation a treat.
Rippl put the Meyer Wurlitzer in perspective. Of 7,000 theater organs built during the heyday of 1915 to 1935, 40 remain in their original locations. One is the Meyer’s.
“It’s a beauty, it really is,” he said.
Along with demonstration the organ’s musical effects, Rippl played samples from its “toy counter” – castanets, snare drums, tympani, bass drum, crash cymbal, Chinese wood block, glockenspiel and more.
They’re all real instruments located in a room with the organ’s pipes to the side of the stage, he said.
Rippl employed many such effects when playing along with Chaplin’s “The Rink,” a tale of mayhem in a restaurant and a roller-skating rink.
Rippl wrote the score. It’s playful and fits the moods. Rippl’s playing seamlessly kept pace with the screen action. He did what he said he would do in his pre-concert talk, “underline moments with music” rather than have the music dominate the action.
Later in the program, conductor Seong-Kyung Graham led the 75-member orchestra in music Ben Model scored for Chaplin’s “The Adventurer.”
This time, Chaplin is on the edge of panic all the way through as an escapee from prison who, among other things, rescues a beauty, her mother and a lout from drowning.
The orchestra tuned in on Model’s recurring themes – jaunty, gliding and rapid (for all the chases) – in perhaps its smoothest segment of the afternoon.
Hearing an orchestra play live to film action is a rarity in Green Bay, and Graham and the orchestra made the occasion special.
The orchestra also took on two works with the assistance of the 58-voice Ripon College Choral Union, which Graham also conducts, and the 28-voice Civic Symphony Chorus, organized and prepared by Kent Paulsen.
John Williams’ “The Phantom Menace: Star Wars for Orchestra and Chorus” at its most spectacular featured the orchestra and choirs combined in the robust, fiery, all-out energy of “Duel of the Fates.”
The choirs then stayed on to sing alone Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei,” which was heard in instrumental form in the movie “Platoon.” Graham and the choirs captured the works slow, flowing melancholy. It’s a work of somber beauty.
To close, the orchestra performed Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront Symphonic Suite.” The work made up of snippets of elegance, violence, angst, romance and power, and the orchestra had many strong moments.
At the conclusion, during bows, Graham made a point of calling attention to the brass players. Their part of the score is extremely difficult and their playing was “magnificent,” she said.
The Civic Symphony will return to the Meyer in fall for its 14th season. Its concert dates are Oct. 18, Nov. 15, Feb. 6 and April 19.