Christopher Hall and the Alma String Quartet
Sept. 25, 2022
By Neville Bowman
Humour is a tricky thing. It's ultimately subjective, seldom cross-cultural and, when applied to certain subjects (especially ones that don't typically have a sense of humour), it can be disastrous. It can also be an incredibly effective way to reach and teach those who may not understand or connect with a given subject.
Christopher Hall knows this very well and, with the assistance of the Alma String Quartet (and a special guest appearance by amazing KCT tech Kelly), he took us on a very humorous journey through, around, and past classical music. An excellent speaker and entertainer, Christopher never let the energy drop, with a constant delivery of interesting facts, amusing one-liners, and sometimes self-identified cheesy jokes. With a goal to "democratize" classical music and point out that it didn't used to be so serious, he managed to keep the audience laughing, and even singing along, for the entire show, no easy feat on a spectacular fall afternoon.
Yes, there was music too. Sometimes excerpts, sometimes entire movements from known pieces by Mozart, Bach, Vivaldi, and many others, all played quite nicely by the quartet and Christopher himself on clarinet. The Alma String Quartet consists of YiYi Hsu (first violin), David Lee (second violin), Alexander Beggs (viola..."it's like a nice sounding violin"), and Lyla Lee (cello). All young players, they played along with the joyful madness and, when given a chance, showed that they could all play seriously too.
They displayed this right at the beginning, playing Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, lulling us in with the music, only to have it interrupted by a phone ringing. The phone was Christopher's, and the caller was "Justin Trudeau" (complete with the strings playing Girl From Ipanema as on-hold music). Thus, the show had begun! From then on in, he never slowed, speaking with never an "umm" or "ah", relaying facts and jokes continuously. In fact, I found it an almost welcome break when the group simply played a gorgeous piece for its own sake, one standout for me being a Bach Arioso adapted for clarinet and string quartet. Christopher showed his real skills there.
It's important to note those skills. With lesser players, such attempts at humour would have fallen flat or even just been annoying. These five players, while perhaps not "perfect" in their every note (though I doubt it's easy playing while someone stands behind you "reading your mind"), gave the legitimacy necessary to make the humour come to life.
There were too many highlights in this show to mention, from bringing up a young guest conductor, Noah, to sound tech Kelly holding up cards as subtext to a Brahms piece, to having an entire room singing Beethoven....not to mention some truly lovely musical moments. Christopher Hall is an excellent presenter and humourist, not to mention a fantastic clarinetist. His journey of teaching and opening up classical music is a very worthy one, done well, and made for a perfect start to the Kelowna Community Concert Association season.
Neville Bowman is a local musician and actor