Young Musicians Symphony, average age 11, shows mastery of classical music


High culture has seldom been so charmingly and winningly presented on television as it is during "Disney's Young Musicians PTC Symphony Orchestra," at 8 p.m. tonight on cable's Disney Channel.

Music and children have been an unbeatable combination for centuries, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart down to Michael Jackson when he fronted the Jackson Five. But sometimes you have to spend some money to put them together, as Disney obviously did when it recruited 65 musical prodigies, with an average age of 11, to play this 50-minute concert.

These youngsters are so good that Disney had to rehearse them for only one week. It probably cost Disney a few bills to hire their instructors, though -- they include such luminaries as John Williams, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, who has four Academy Awards and 15 Grammy Awards, and composer Henry Mancini, holder of four Oscars and 20 Grammys.

The Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra begins by tossing off Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" as easily as if it were "Happy Birthday."

Then they'll show you they are made of serious stuff with a sound delivery of one of Mozart's many masterpieces, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" ("A Little Night Music").

Third on the bill is the amazing star of the show, Tamaki Kawakubo, 12, a violinist who has already soloed with several orchestras, including the Dallas Chamber Orchestra and New Jersey Cathedral Symphony. Her poise, vigor and skill leave no nuance neglected in Pablo de Sarasate's Fantasy on Themes from Bizet's Carmen, an intricate and demanding piece.

Admirers of fine instruments will appreciate the close-ups of Kawakubo's violin, made in 1741 by Joseph Guarnerius Filius Andrea. Unless you've got a Stradivarius in your closet, you may never see a finer fiddle.

After the orchestra plays portions of George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" and Gioacchino Rossini's "Barber of Seville," its rendition of Amilcare Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" is illustrated by amusing clips of ostriches, hippos and elephants dancing to it in one of Disney's classic movies, "Fantasia" (1940).

Peter Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Flowers," Antonin Dvorak's "The New World Symphony," and Camille Saint-Saens' "Carnival of the Animals" lead into the well-chosen finale, Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

Head shots of all the orchestra's players, each captioned with name and age, roll by to the accompaniment of Beethoven, which is about as high an accolade as any musician could ask for.

"Disney's Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra," filmed Aug. 2 the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, Calif., is an impressive premiere for what Disney officials say will be an annual series played by different young performers each year.

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