Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and Blue Man Group Brilliantly Challenge Preconceptions

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Reviewed by: Dave McGuire

Photos by: Dave McGuire

Photo by: Dave McGuire

Photo by: Dave McGuire

The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, who are about to tour China, and the world Famous Blue Man group, took a few hours of their busy schedules Sunday night to entertain Chicago in a free concert in Millennium park on Sunday.

All too often we use phrases to describe things without knowing the true origins of the phrase. One comes to mind, blown away, where does this phrase originate? Perhaps last night I found the origin. It is the moment, where music sweeps you off to some other place, the hard orange plastic chair you’re sitting in vanishes and you sail through a myriad of day dreams escorted only by the rhythms, tones, harmonies of the music saturating you. This is the meaning of blown away. The Chicago Youth Symphony orchestra managed that and more on Sunday night. Planets collided, the cosmos revealed itself, water fairies danced through the deep ocean current stalked by ninja sharks, eh huh, perhaps that was only me. I could describe the concert using technical music terminology, such as Crescendo, Fortissimo, Largo, Tempo, Schwangvoll, and movement; and few of you would understand just what I was talking about. An elite few, and if you know what Schwangvoll means, well played indeed.

However, using such terminology, makes the music inaccessible to those with a mere desire to listen to its beauty, so let me write this review without discussing much the techniques of the musicians and their Mystro, Allen Tinkham, which I will say were tight and while nothing in the universe is ever perfect, came close. Let me instead borrow a page from the genius that is was Mr. Walt Disney, who when he created ‘Fantasia,’ made classical music accessible to the masses by taking you the day dream that the artists were taken on. Perhaps that is why a chapter in a Symphony is known as a Movement, because it takes you, moves you to somewhere other, then the hard plastic orange seat you find yourself in.

The opening piece of the concert. ‘The Rhyme of Taigu’ Composed byZhou Long in 1953 opened the show the tones were like those found in the opening credits of a Hitchcock film. Dark foreboding ominous in a way. Dark shadows creeping in the forest, a great mood setting piece which brought you in. Deep horns touched with anxious strings contrasted the bright day around me. If only the concert could have started later; the setting sun would have, added something to the atmosphere. Light tones came to play, fairies dancing in the darkened woods, or whatever dream they inspired in you. Any dream will do. The music played by such young people certainly will take you there, if you but close your eyes and listen. They will stir you move you and take you places. If you but listen to them play.

Photo by: Dave McGuire

Photo by: Dave McGuire

Now the second selection confused me, I found it to be out of place, especially after such a moody and powerful opening. Joannes Brahms, Variations on a Theme by Hayden, this is what you could consider Classical, Classical; yes I used the word twice in a row. It was better than saying the stereotypical classical. After such an inspired and moving opening piece by Long the second piece left me wanting. Suddenly I am out of my own personal dreams and sitting in a Parlor with a bunch of bourgeoisie French aristocrats with lead painted faces and powdered wigs vaguely in the shape of Marge Simpson’s hairdo. I honestly almost wept after such an amazing opening piece where did this fit? Technically it was played brilliantly, tight to form, but so typical of symphony, so dull after such a magnificent opening. Perhaps it was inserted into the program to allow those who have but a passing interest in orchestral arrangement a name or two they know, “Oh, yes of course Brahms, I’ve heard of him.” To be fair he is one of my favorites of the big named classical composers. Still he seemed out of place in the program. Enough on that though.

The third Piece did not disappoint, in fact it amazed. Where I had thought to have witnessed a war in Long’s Piece at the opening of the concert, I had only witnessed a skirmish on the periphery of what was in store. The opening of movements of Be’la Bartok’s ’s Concerto, returned us to those dark horns, those dark strings that ominous forest. Grander however in its scope this, piece truly swept you away to a phantasmal war that involved the entirety of the cosmos. Planets collided as great titanic notes press against one another. Love stories unfolded within the struggle of melodies and harmonies struggling to gain superior control of whatever dream the music took you to, whatever trip your mind took as CYSO played. Where ever you went you couldn’t help but be swept away, elsewhere, by the tides of music assaulting you senses. Music pulling you through the visions it inspired played to perfection, or as near as any mortal can get to such a thing.

Now after much ovation, and well deserved at that, for they did not disappoint. CYSO returned for what seemed like an Encore. Also well deserved, play on I say. Then things went “wrong” (?). It was staged of course, when the brilliant strangeness of the Blue Man Group appeared to do what they do, challenge everyone’s preconceptions of what music is. When they first appeared on stage they took the guise of, Teachers, out to teach the youth of CYSO, how classical music should be played. Even at one point cutting Mystro Tinkham’s baton in half with a pair of Garden shears. What ensued was in the vein of a “Rap Battle” between The Blue Men and CYSO, all be it classical music and not hip-hop, the format was the same. CYSO would start a traditional, typical piece, of music, such as the William Tell Overture (The Lone Ranger theme song,) then the Blue Men would interrupt it, spraying Tinkham with a fire extinguisher or some other means of distraction, the crowd would roll with laughter then the Blue Men would continue to play the same piece in their particular style.

Photo by: Dave McGuire

Photo by: Dave McGuire

After a few moments I understood, I finally after about forty minutes understood the selection of the Brahms piece. It hadn’t been out of place it had been placed to perfection. This as a critic sadden me, my one criticism of the show was flushed down the PVC pipe the Blue Men were using to pound out the classical music, in counter poise to the traditional playing of CYSO.

Counter poise! That was the reason for the bourgeoisie, selection of Brahms the traditional classical; classical. While the other two pieces had been amazing, and more modern not what one thinks of when they think of symphonic classical the Brahms had been. Just as when you think of symphonies you do not think that classical master pieces can be played on an organ of PVC. It works however, be it a modern take on classical music or experimental inspired weirdness the blue men, or even the traditional Classical; classical, music can move you, music can take you places, music can wash you away to elsewhere if only for an hour or two. Once you realize this you cannot help but be blown away, perhaps that is where the saying came from, this realization.

If that is the job of music, then I must say bravo to the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Blue Man Group for on Sunday June 8th in Millennium Park, they did that job to within an Inch of Perfection. Bravo! Well Played.