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A ‘Carnival of the Animals’ Comes to the Flathead
Glacier Symphony continues its 31st season with special family concert
John Zoltek conducting the Glacier Symphony for a previous family concert. - Photo courtesy of Glacier Symphony | by Brenda Ahearn
The symphony has the unfortunate reputation of being just for adults; a reputation of being something that can only be enjoyed by those with a trained ear or an appreciation for the finer things in life.

But John Zoltek and the Glacier Symphony and Chorale are hoping to change that perception, and one of its upcoming shows might just do the trick. The Carnival of the Animals is being billed as an all-ages concert and will run in Whitefish and Kalispell on Jan. 18 and 19.

“This is a family concert and the program is on the lighter side,” said Zoltek, music director and conductor for the Kalispell-based symphony. “It gets kids interested and is something more palatable to younger listeners.”

The Glacier Symphony and Chorale had modest beginnings, starting with a small group of musicians who played together at a wedding in 1981. After the wedding, the group of artists kept practicing and eventually started calling themselves the Flathead Valley Chamber Orchestra and Chorale. Today, the group is made up of more than 280 musicians and performs more than 30 concerts a year.

About 65 musicians will perform during the Carnival of the Animals, which was written by French romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The concert brings to life a parade of animals through music and instruments. Ironically, Saint-Saëns, who died in the 1920s, never wanted the piece to be performed, feeling it did not match his catalog of work.

“It was a joke piece,” Zoltek said. “He was a composer of serious work.”

The piece is organized in 14 short movements and each one depicts an animal or scene. Zoltek said the piece went relatively unknown until the 20th Century, when orchestras started to play lighter pieces to attract younger listeners. Interestingly, when the piece was played after Saint-Saëns died it became one of his most popular works. It went on to be used as the backdrop of children’s books, ballet interpretations and even a cartoon featuring Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.

Although Carnival of the Animals was meant for a small group of musicians, it was adapted for a larger orchestra in the 1950s by Bill Holcombe.

Zoltek said the show will have a carnival-like atmosphere and images of the animals will be projected on screen. Actor Luke Walrath of the Alpine Theatre Project will perform as the narrator during the program. Walrath said the atmosphere and music would be enticing for the younger listeners, which is a big part of the way the symphony is putting on the show. Zoltek and Walrath said it’s important to expose children to the arts at a young age.

Original oil painting by Kalispell artist, Jennifer Li used to illustrate the GSC Family Concert “Carnival of the Animals” | Contributed photo

“It’s really about getting the kids interested and showing them how each sound can represent an animal,” Walrath said. “Arts here are so important because we are so remote. We don’t have a big metro area nearby, so the arts organizations have to (bring the arts) to people in the Flathead Valley.”

The concerts will be held at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 18 and the Flathead High Performance Hall in Kalispell at 3 p.m. on Jan. 19. Tickets for adults are between $15 and $32 depending on the seat. Tickets for children through grade 12 can be purchased for $10 at www.gscmusic.org or by calling (406) 407-7000. You can also purchase tickets at the symphony office at 69 North Main Street in Kalispell.
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