LPO’s “Louie the Buoy” family concert lifts all spirits

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If you’ve got kids and haven’t yet attended one of the Louisiana Philharmonic’s Family Concerts, you owe to your family and yourself to go. Aimed at children but really a delight for everyone, the occasional series, held inside Loyola’s Roussel Hall, delivers themed concert programming under the vibrant direction of Carlos Miguel Prieto. He’s a performer unto himself, but more on that later.

This month’s concert (Sunday, Feb. 21) featured several familiar works wrapped around the world premiere of composer Tucker Fuller’s musical score set to children’s author Allain Andry’s popular book “Louie the Buoy: A Hurricane Story.” The score, vivid and inventive, worked over, under and around the words of the story, as read here by legendary New Orleans actress Carol Sutton.

There was a risk here: How can one narrate a children’s story set to music without one getting in the way of the other. Well, thanks to Fuller’s score, which captured the moods and rhythms of the story, and Prieto conducting Sutton like a seamstress threading a needle.

Fuller and Andry were in attendance, and all joined Sutton, Prieto and the LPO onstage for acknowledgments. This is where Prieto, who always takes breaks in the action to interact with the audience, really kicked into high gear. He missed his calling as a stand-up comic, and often keeps the crowd fully engaged with his explanations of the program. On an afternoon where kids are constantly brought into the mix — musicians (including LPO Associate Concertmaster Ben Hart) perform out in the halls before the show — Prieto loves to work the audience. He peppers kids in the audience with questions about the programming and the composers, and loves to keep it light and fun and funny.

But here he especially excited, as he recruited Andry’s two great-grandchildren to take turns conducting the orchestra for the final two pieces: Richard Strauss’ “Thunder and Lightning Polka” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The latter came with a command by Prieto for the audience to stand on their feet, clap to the beat, and belt out a round of “Who Dat?!”

The program opened with a rousing rendition of Rossini’s “Overture to William Tell” and Beethoven’s “Overture to Egmont.”

In the spirit of not missing this series, the next performance is “Adventures in Space!” on April 3.

Rhapsodic: Check out the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra being all Queen-like

We went on a lark to check out the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra‘s (NOVO) “New Home, New Beginning” program Thursday (Oct. 8) at the St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, and it would be easy to say we got our money’s worth from the free show. As the New Orleans Advocate’s Dean Shapiro noted in his preview, the performance represented NOVO’s debut as a stand-alone, non-profit orchestra after out-growing Loyola University — where it began as a smaller, chamber orchestra.

NOVO knows its audience, which, while modest even given the church’s modest capacity, appreciated an accessible program that included sections from “Carmina Burana” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” soundtrack by Howard Shore. But the orchestra, bolstered by the newly minted chorus, also soared while performing the gospel-infused “Nearer to Thee,” a new arrangement by co-director Joseph Ciesla, and featuring a solo by Dylan Tran.

Everyone came together for the show’s closer, a repeat of the popular version of Queen’s magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It was a fun if mixed-bag effort, emboldened by strong choral flourishes that at times were drowned out by the orchestra — but that didn’t stop the crowd from swaying to the music and capturing it on their smart phones. I was just as guilty, so here’s the version right here. Check out and consider supporting NOVO; they’re on Facebook here.