There was already a line of anxious concert goers waiting to get into the Michigan Theater when I arrived a half an hour early to the event. I joined the bundled up crowd as we slowly made our way into the theater to escape the cold. There was a line inside to take a photograph with Totoro, one of the main mystical forest creatures from the animated film, My Neighbor Totoro. Totoro looked positively adorable in his little round, gray and white costume, happily posing for pictures with the audience. Needless to say, I had to get a picture myself before finding my seat. The stage was set up with three movie posters suspended from the ceiling, showcasing what soundtracks would be performed that night. I was particularly excited to listen to Spirited Away.
I expected the orchestra to perform admirably, as it was the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra after all. However, I wasn’t expecting the music to sound like it was a professional recording of the movie itself. As the orchestra played, I could imagine every scene of the film as it unfolded and if I closed my eyes, I could almost believe that the film itself was being projected onto the stage. It was an amazing performance, made even more so by the quick comedic quips from Wilbur Lin who conducted the symphony that night. Lin also took the opportunity between soundtracks to give a little history about each of the pieces that the symphony was performing, which I’d never experienced before. I found it fascinating to learn a little more about the music behind Studio Ghibli.
The best part of the night however was just before the final piece of music was performed when Lin suddenly left the stage. The audience was perplexed to say the least. There were murmurs all around the room questioning what was happening. There hadn’t been an intermission listed on the brochure, but that was the only possible reason I could think for the conductor to have walked off stage. However, it wasn’t long before someone returned, not Lin, but Totoro! The rotund creature clambered his way up to the stage, baton in paw, before taking his rightful place in front of the symphony. He lifted his arm dramatically as the audience instantly hushed and then…chaos ensued. Totoro tried his absolute best, much to the audiences enjoyment, but it turns out that forest spirits probably aren’t the best suited to conduct a symphony orchestra. Totoro was soon dragged off stage and Lin returned to finish out the concert, though it took a fair moment for the audiences giggles to subside.
It was a fantastic experience, the conductor and the symphony, but Totoro stole the show.