A Midsummer Evening at the Cal Phil Festival on the Green

August 21, 2008
By
Eager music lovers will enjoy a blend of the natural wonders of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden at 301 North Baldwin Avenue and the energetic music of the renowned California Philharmonic at the Cal Phil Festival on the Green. The famed Cal Phil have been performing the themes from several credited dramas, films, operas, plays, and other theatrical acts every Saturday since July 12th, amidst the lush greenery of the one-hundred twenty-seven acre haven of the Arboretum. To seat thousands of people, there are five spacious sections enclosing the venue, each with different seating settings to suit the audience’s varying preferences. For the fans in section E, or the lawn section, an intricate amplifying system has been set up to ensure that they have a full-fledged experience. The soaring music from many operas by Puccini, Weber, and many more acclaimed playwrights enrich the crowd’s understanding of culture and is teemed with artistic talent.

My dad and I got tickets to the lawn section of the Arboretum. To my surprise, I spotted my friend Joyce Lo in the middle of the colorful mob of people. I wildly screamed her name and we sat adjacent to a crystal-clear fountain to watch the performance. We had an unobscured view of the venue, which had a glowing green half-circle roof, like an upside-down watermelon. The conductor, violinists, violists, cellists, bass-players, flutists, piccolo-player, oboists, English horn-player, clarinetists, bass clarinetist, bassoonists, contrabassoonist, horn-players, trumpeters, trombonists, bass trombonist, tuba-player, timpani-player, percussionists, harpist, and keyboardist shifted
around in the brightly-lit golden curve that was a shining crescent moon in the cool gray evening. The real moon was coyly peeking out of a blanket of dark silver clouds at the audience, as if anticipating some phenomenon to occur. From its round, full face, it shone pure white beams onto the crowd. I observed that the majority of the concert-goers were from twenty to forty. Some were with their dates for a romantic evening, even bringing low, lightweight tables with lit rose-scented candles on them. The heady fragrance marred with the lingering scent of the dark blue agapanthus flowers and gave the air a sort of sticky-sweet feel. One couple even had tall, slim-necked glasses of champagne, and a large ice-filled wine bucket like the ones in those classy French restaurants. Others were dragging their kids along (although in my case, I was dragging my dad) to acquire some degree of music appreciation which would help stimulate their young minds. The children were quickly becoming impatient with waiting for the event, and started fussing at their parents. Fortunately, a deep, powerful voice shot through the darkness. The conductor, Dr. Victor Vener, introduced the first song, which was from the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Suddenly, a few steady bow strokes gradually rose into the air and were accompanied by the background music of some drums. Their thump, thump, thumps became a steady foundation for the building music. The other melodies weaved in and out of this loom of thumps, and began casting their enchantments on us. I was absolutely spellbound, and when the song concluded with a flourish of bows, I still was struck with wonder as Joyce and I gave a standing ovation. Even my dad applauded, which was very rare, since his unbelievably short attention-span often causes him to fall asleep. Then, Puccini’s Tosca took a hold of us and bewitched us again. A soprano, Angel Blue, tested how high and low she could shift her heaven-sent voice through the guiding procession of the deep-sounded cellos and basses. We then experienced the magic of the music of Evita, Madame Butterfly, and La Bohème. The well-executed singing and music made us feel like we were in Disneyland. To our disappointment, time flew by and it was the intermission. The music still had its uplifting effect on us, so we chatted in a pleasant manner and were excruciatingly polite and aware of our gorgeous surroundings. After the break, music from Madame Butterfly roared again, as well as the simple yet tasteful melody of the opera Evita. A tenor melodiously sang O Mio Babbino Caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and a soprano and tenor harmoniously sung a theme from Webber’s Sunset Boulevard. The bold, wild songs of Tosca and the heavy and marked Toccata in d minor, BMV 565 were next. That was when disaster struck. At first I thought I was imagining it, but it soon became evident that it was drizzling. The crimson night sky had ghastly blackish-maroon clouds flitting across it like vessels of death, partially obscuring the blood-red full moon, and it appeared to be raining blood. One of those rare midsummer storms were starting. Water pooled on the pavement, and many audience members shouted in panic and got up to leave.

“Stop, fellow Californians! Don’t leave yet!” the conductor cried desperately.

Luckily, many of the audience were still steadfast and loyal, like Joyce, Dad, and I. We merely found some items to shield ourselves from the sprinkling droplets of rain, and watched on. Ironically, dark and mysterious songs from the Phantom of the Opera were playing. The rain grew faster and louder with the dramatic striking of the bass drums. Joyce left, but my dad and I rushed under the sturdy chartreuse tent that was previously occupied by the jazz group. We had an even better view of the orchestra, and we were safe on the platform of the tent. Phantom of the Opera was supposed to be the last performance tonight, but apparently the orchestra wanted to give an extra-special performance to the faithful watchers that stayed. Not only did they finish each song on the program, but they did a spectacular job and played many extra songs! The rain was no longer miniscule droplets; they were now monster-sized drops that could have swallowed the former ones. As the rain poured endlessly from the sky, the orchestra poured more and more soul and spirit into their accelerating music. The notes pierced through the night like a sharp, well-aimed arrow. It rose in a crescendo, and the tenor began belting out the unique, vibrating voice of his that he probably kept stored away for special occasions like these. The conductor guided the swift-moving orchestra with the rising and descending movements of his baton, and they did not even flinch when a burst of thunder broke through the pitter-patter of rain and flashing white lightning tore across the sky. The still mirror of the fountain next to us was shattered by the rain beating upon it as if they wanted to join the clamor of the drums, but it failed in breaking the lively and heart-felt music of the orchestra. The rain was so strong and violent that the lighting on the roof of the venue went out, but it did not affect the performers at all. Eventually, the raindrops seemed to fall in the rhythm of the plucking of the cellos, as if mesmerized by the precision and perfection of the beats. Music flew everywhere and the marvelous singing of the tenor gave me more goose-bumps than the chilling wind did. His voice moved back and forth like a foamy black ocean wave tossed by the gusts of wind in the middle of a stormy night. After an amazingly long and glorious time, the tenor cut off the heart-shattering Tenor C (C5), and it seemed like his tidal wave of a voice broke on a rock at the edge of the sea. Everyone in the audience felt its impact and clapped and cheered until their hands and voices were sore. The performers bowed simultaneously, and concluded their spectacular performance.

After attending the Cal Phil Festival on the Green, I felt elated to be part of such a moving concert. Even though the weather during the festival became stormy the first time in the twelve years of the event, the performers showed enough flexibility and resolve to carry on with their performance and bring out their best for it. They succeeded in playing everything on the program and more, with incredible skill and emotion. Their dynamics were contrasting and clear, adding a new layer of style to their songs. The music was so beautiful that it actually made it seem like the rain was dancing along to it. If all cultural events and artistic performances were as elegant and enriching as this one, then people would spend a lot more of their time watching them. This artistic performance also helped audience members gain a better understanding and realization of expressing thoughts and stories through music. Even though the admission for my dad and I was thirty dollars, I felt that it was worth every penny and more. The musicians sheer determination and unrelenting bent to entertain made every second priceless. Music stimulated everyone’s senses and made the awe-inspiring backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains even more magnificent than before. Holding the music festival in the Arboretum also made me experience how nature and music can bring out each other’s attributes and balance in harmony. The California Philharmonic Festival on the Green was a captivating and fulfilling experience.

The performance by the musicians was incredibly strong based on the sound of their music and entertainment value. It seemed like music flowed through the performer’s veins instead of blood. Basing the theme on opera music is also creative way to familiarize people with classic theater. Each performance is centered on a different type of theater and therefore gives them a variety of theatrical knowledge. Timeless classics are revived in their former glory through the instruments of the industrious artists of the Cal Phil. Local people that live around the Arboretum, like my family, can take a relaxing break by going to a performance that is usually staged in the farther Walt Disney Concert Hall. The music probably was invented to entertain fellow Arcadians. I was so glad that I saw the leaf-green banner advertising the concert while we were driving to the supermarket. The soothing yet exciting music made me feel eager to listen to more of the concert. I would definitely recommend others to try watching this event for themselves.

The California Philharmonic Festival on the Green has all of the components of an excellent concert: captivating music, great presentation, welcoming surroundings, comfortable seating, and most importantly, the ability to enchant all of the audience members. Also, the musicians were clearly having a lot of fun playing music and were dedicated enough to continue even though there were unexpected changes in weather. They went above and beyond everyone’s expectations, and seemed to do it effortlessly. The job was so well done that they made it look easy! Anyone that goes to the California Philharmonic Festival on the Green will have a blast.





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