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"Waiting for Wings" Flies at the Pops

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Apr 23, 2013 - 9:15:12 PM in reviews_2013

Which bug are you?

That was the question for members of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra at Saturday’s Lollipops Family Concert at Music Hall.

Dragon fly? (violin), walking stick? (bassoon), spittle bug? (trumpet), centipede? (piano)?

And how about the conductor? A cockroach, of course.

John Morris Russell
It was all in fun and no one had more fun that Pops conductor John Morris Russell, who called the roll of the instruments and assigned them entomological IDs. He also led “La Cucaracha” (“The Cockroach”) with, yes, a great big bug in his hand holding the baton.

Entitled “Waiting for Wings,” the concert had a featured insect, the butterfly, and a specially commissioned work, “Waiting for Wings,” in its world premiere. Composers Jason Robert Brown and Georgia Stitt, who attended the concert, were inspired by the children’s book of the same name by Lois Ehlert. The performance was accompanied by projections of illustrations from the book onto a screen above the stage and a reading of the text by Thayne Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.

Brown and Stitt’s work came across as big and splashy, with lots of cinematic appeal. Scored for large orchestra, it is highly picturesque and makes inventive use of instrumental colors and textures. One could see the newly hatched butterflies coasting across the pages of Ehlert’s book in more ways than one.

JMR opened with “The Time of Your Life” from “A Bug’s Life,” whose celebration of all things creepy and crawly had a triumphal air. This was followed by “Dance of the Mosquito” by Russian composer Anatol Liadov, in which violin trills emulate the sound of the pesky bloodsucker.

Former Canadian Russell told the story of the flight of thousands of Monarch Butterflies from Point Pelee National Park in Canada each August, as they head south for the winter, then illustrated it with Debussy’s soft, spell-binding “Clair de lune.”

All in all, it was a delightfully buggy – and educational -- show that kept its young listeners engaged. Why didn’t dinosaurs eat butterflies? Because butterflies didn’t exist then. How many species are there in the world today? Over 18,000.

How many JMRs are there? Only one and he knows how to program, for kids and adults alike.