Monday, June 9, 2014

Austin Civic Orchestra Revisits the '70s

On Friday night Amy and I went to see the Austin Civic Orchestra.  We've been to a number of shows now that have been put on by the ACO.  I have a friend from work, Laura, who plays clarinet in the orchestra, so she's the one who originally told me about it and got us to come out.
We've been to several of their shows now, and we've enjoyed them all.  This is our second annual June ACO concert at Zilker.
The June concert usually features popular music, admission is free, and it's open to the public.
This year's theme was "That '70s Show".  The music included the Star Wars theme, a medley from Jesus Christ Superstar, "Pinball Wizard" by The Who, an Abba medley from Mama Mia, "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas, a Led Zeppelin medley, and some other 70's related stuff. 

(the Austin Civic Orchestra broke out their tie dye for
"That 70's Show")
The Austin Civic Orchestra performances are pretty good.  The concert in the park has its own, unique, laid back feel.  People are stretched out on the lawn in camping chairs and on blankets.  They bring their kids and their dogs and drink wine and eat food. 
This being the second year that I've heard the orchestra play at the Zilker Hillside Theater, it occurred to me that Austin might really benefit from having a permanent band or orchestra shell of some type.  The orchestra sounded good, but the Hillside Theater does not have great acoustics.  It's got a bit of a stage with some scaffolding for lighting, but it's basically just an open area.  Therefore, the sound of the orchestra sort of travels in every direction, and the volume of the orchestra is actually fairly low when you're sitting out on the hillside trying to have a listen.  You can hear the music, obviously, but you lose a lot of clarity and nuance.  It might be nice to have a permanent outdoor venue that was designed with acoustics in mind.  We are, supposedly, the "Live Music Capital of the World", so and having a public structure that helps bounce sound out toward an audience might help underscore the city's commitment to live musical performance.  Plus, people sitting on the hill would like to be able to hear a little better.
But the orchestra's performance was good.  The musicians in the ACO are, obviously, not getting paid, but they're talented folks who perform well together as a group.  There were a few little moments when the orchestra seemed a little off, mostly in terms of timing, when one section wasn't perfectly synced up with another.  I'm guessing that the acoustic issues may not have been limited to the audience.  Spread out up on an outdoor stage in the open air, the musicians probably had a little difficulty hearing one another.  But the music was generally really good, and it was a fun experience.

The weather was nice.  Everyone seemed to really be enjoying themselves.  The kids in the audience were dancing to the music, and I was impressed to see some of them pull out plastic lightsabers and launch into battle when the Star Wars theme began.

(when you're a Jedi padawan, it's hard to resist the urge to practice your
lightsaber skills during the Star Wars theme)

So, I recommend the Austin Civic Orchestra.  Their performances throughout the rest of the year tend to consist of more classical music (as opposed to the popular program that they put together for this performance), but Amy and I have enjoyed ourselves each of the times that we've seen them.

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