24 November 2011

Saxophone! Muppets! (or, Will the Real Miss Piggy Please Stand Up)

Ok, Wednesday happened to be a day where I didn't accomplish many of my assigned "Git 'er done before you leave" tasks, but it was worth it.

I always knew that I'd go to see The Muppets on its opening day (since I was out of town when my dad had an invite to a free screening on Saturday).  I have always been a Muppets fan.  The Muppet Show, the Muppet movies, Muppets Tonight (highly underrated), and more recently their cheeky youtube videos* (I'm repressing the Muppet Wizard of Oz, as my brother has blogged recently here) are all some of my all time favourites. 

In fact, as my parents tell me, The Muppet Movie was the first movie I ever saw.  According to their version of the story, they arrived at the movie theatre (with little 2-year-old me) only to discover that we had missed the intended showing (before the days of online movie listings ... it was 1979, people).  The parental units asked me if I wanted to go home, or wait for the next show.  Apparently, I chose to wait, and thus made my first movie going experience a Muppet one.  I still get teased about being afraid of Animal when he takes the giganto-pills invented by Dr. Bunson Honeydew, but i mean seriously.  A 60 foot Animal would freak out any 2 year old.  And I had never seen a screen that large.

So how was the new film?  Well, since I was going to be downtown (keep reading), I decided to go the AMC at Yonge and Dundas.  The big advantage to these theatres is that they use digital projection.  Mmmmm digital.  Crystal-clear picture.  But anyways, I did love the movie.  I've been a Jason Segal fan ever since I started watching How I Met Your Mother, and while many critics associate him with such raunch-fests as Forgetting Sarah Marshall (only raunchy because he shows the full monty), and Knocked Up, fans of his TV show can see how he's just a gigantic muppet at heart anyways (watch the movie to see just how muppety he is).  I also quite enjoy Amy Adams.  Nuff Said.

Things I loved about the movie: 
- Quirky songs
- Muppets on the Big Screen!
- Chris Cooper's absolutely weird character (maniacal laugh!), and truly bizarre rap number complete with lyrics and bouncing ball
- Cameos (some expected, some unexpected)
- "Say Hello to My Little Friend" (in Swedish)
- Animal gets a character arc
- Stadler and Waldorf get to participate in the story instead of just heckle it

Things I didn't love as much:
- No Frank Oz.  Fozzie and Miss Piggy just didn't sound quite like themselves.....

Here's a big thing I think the movie missed.  I rewatched the Muppet Movie, and, while the new movie nails the overall tone of the Muppets - the innocence, irreverance and hopefulness that the characters inspire - it didn't have the overall zaniness, wackiness and mayhem that the original has (they're not called Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem for nothing).  In a sense, the human characters in Muppet movies have always been just barely keeping up with the craziness that ensues... Segal's character (Gary) is almost more of a leader than someone who's hanging on for the ride.  Additionally, the several scenes where Kermit addresses the Muppets and makes a speech were far too docile for my taste.  Kermit should have to wrangle the Muppets' attention.

Overall, the film was very well done and very enjoyable.

I then chose to walk to Roy Thompson Hall enjoying the lights of the city, feeling its energy around me before I leave.  I did snap a few pictures on my cell phone and when I get to uploading them, I'll post them here.  Highlights were old City Hall lit up at night, and the skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square.

I was downtown in the first place because my friend Christy, who works in the arts scene in Toronto, offered me her extra ticket to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra last night.  What was the program?  Well, none other than jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis performing the Glazunov Concerto, and an arrangement of Schulhoff's Hot Sonate, with the second half being taken up by one of my other favourites, Dvorak's 9th Symphony.

Dvorak's tomb.  Photo from my visit to Prague in 2009

These were interesting selections for Marsalis.  His sound control was wonderful, and his conception of classical saxophone vibrato and tone was actually far better than I had expected. 

The Glazunov Concerto is what I consider to be a gateway on the classical saxophone.  One of the technically easiest concerti, it does require good sound control and an understanding of the musical line to play effectively.  Playing from memory, Marsalis only made a few small and forgivable slips.  However, the orchestra really made a mess of things.  It seemed that the conductor and orchestra wanted to play everything slower than Branford did, and the imprecision made for a muddled mess in the string accompaniment. 

The Toronto Star reviewer Peter Goddard liked the performance, writing that "Marsalis’s controlled but swinging lyricism throughout the concerto would have likely been unimaginable to Glazunov, who might have been surprised by some of the liberties . . . the soloist took with the score."  Perhaps Mr. Goddard should actually look at the score.  The only "liberties" Marsalis took was the dramatically extended cadenza, which I quite enjoyed and found stylistically appropriate.  In addition, Marsalis did play in an idiomatic style.  There was no "swinging."  Goddard should go back to reviewing movies.

As far as the Schullhof went, while I truly enjoyed the orchestration by Richard Rodney Bennett (the piece was originally composed for saxophone and piano), the limited (and, for me, boring) melodic material reminded me of why I've never actually performed this piece, despite a copy sitting somewhere in my (now fully alphabetized and packed away) saxophone music library. 

The Dvorak is one of my favourite pieces.  And there were some nice moments in the orchestra, particularly the english horn solo (and the duet with clarinet) in the second movement. 

All in all, Wednesday was a great day to be in Toronto.  Muppets, Saxophone with orchestra.... what more can a muppet loving saxophone player ask for?


* Beeker, Animal and Swedish Chef singing the "Habanera" from Carmen has joined the Bugs Bunny cartoons in my tutorials on Romantic Opera.

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