'Carnival' of musical fun

'Carnival' of musical fun

Glendale Phil reteams with veteran comic Emo Philips Sunday to celebrate its fourth year

By Carl Kozlowski 01/02/2014

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Over the past four years, Ruslan Biryakov has done plenty to make a positive mark on the area’s music scene through his leadership of the Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra. He has helped the ensemble stand out not only through his skills as an acclaimed veteran cellist, but also through his sense of creative playfulness. 

Those qualities of artistry and humor will both be on ample display Sunday when the orchestra presents its fourth annual Gala Holiday Birthday Concert on its home stage at the First Baptist Church of Glendale. The program will feature Biryukov performing the world premiere of the cello concerto “Bestemming” by composer Sharon Farber, and internationally acclaimed pianists Yana Reznik and Rufus Choi performing Bach’s “Concerto for Two Pianos,” in addition to the return of famed comedian Emo Philips. 

Philips joined with the orchestra a year ago to read the children’s classic “Peter and the Wolf,” while backed by the orchestra playing Sergei Prokofiev’s matching score. This time, the comic will read his own narration to Camille Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” in a combination that should be unique fun for the whole family. 

“Carnival of the Animals was our first piece on the program that we chose, because in the orchestration that we use, all the principal players of the orchestra have solos,” says Biryukov. “At that point, I called the composer, Sharon Farber, and I asked her if she would compose something for the cello with orchestra, and she was happy to do it. Then we thought since we have pianists involved in two pieces, why not have them play the Bach Double Concerto? So it starts with sad music and we proceed to happier and happier music.” 

Indeed, “Carnival of the Animals” is a humorous musical suite of 14 movements, which Saint-Saens intended as “fun.” It was originally performed by just 11 instrumentalists, but the GPO will utilize its full 35 members in its rendition. That use of humor musically makes the match with Philips perfectly apt, who since he is popular with all ages for his wandering falsetto voice tones and childlike delivery of his sentences. 

Meanwhile, Farber’s composition “Bestemming” will feature another celebrity performer narrating that piece while Biryukov performs it. Singer-actor Michael Des Barres, who was a singer for the 1980s rock band Power Station and regular roles on ’80s TV hits “MacGyver” and “Roseanne,” will recite a narrative to accompany the piece. 

“Two months ago, he did a narration with the LA Philharmonic and this is the first cello concerto ever composed with narration,” says Biryukov, who notes that the orchestra operates under the guise of the nonprofit Positive Motions Foundation, which is seeking volunteers for its numerous other community charity projects. “It is the first time our orchestra will perform with a rock musician onstage and I will be in between them. I have very happy hopes for the orchestra, since we have doubled the size of its board and we are only the third orchestra in the Los Angeles area to have its own office now and the third to have an endowment fund.”  

The Glendale Philharmonic Orchestra presents its fourth annual Gala Holiday Birthday Concert at 4 p.m. Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Glendale, 209 N. Louise St., Glendale. Tickets are $15 to $100. Call (323) 663-3601 or visit Glendalephil.com.

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