Humor will be served up music style at the Jan. 29 concert performed by the Mid-Columbia Symphony in Kennewick.
If you see humor and classical music as a strange brew, then you've never seen Leonard Bernstein's Candide, which is included in the symphony's concert.
Also on the program will be Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question, The Country Band March and Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.
"Candide is just plain comedic," said Nick Wallin, symphonic conductor. "The story of the novel is filled with funny tale after funny tale. Bernstein had such a brilliant gift of rhythm, tone and color. The Overture truly sparkles."
Bernstein's Candide is a comic operetta the maestro came up with to complement Lillian Hellman's play The Lark. Though many lyricists were involved in composing all the music for the operetta, it was Bernstein alone who orchestrated the Overture.
As for The Unanswered Question, Wallin describes the music as a bit more speculative.
"The Unanswered Question is a thoughtful brand of humor -- smarter, witty," he said. "The Country Band March is really rather slapstick, even a little bit bawdy."
The piece also represents a 21st century dichotomy of instrument sounds, both tonal and nontonal happening at the same time.
Wallin described The Unanswered Question as three distinct musical ideas presented over the course of the piece.
"The string section plays a long, slow, tonal chorale (while) the solo trumpet plays a different motive from off-stage that is supposed to represent a question about the meaning of life," he explained. "A group of four flutes tries to answer the trumpet's question (but) the trumpet continues to ask the same question metaphorically. The flutes get angrier and angrier because the question is always the same.
"During that whole exchange, the strings just keep playing the same chorale, oblivious to the exchange between the trumpet and the flutes."
And there lies the dichotomy between the pleasant sounding chorale of string players and the different sounding dialogue between the nonchanging trumpet and the evolving flute responses.
"It really is a very dramatic and thought-provoking piece," Wallin said.
Symphony No. 5 is perhaps too serious to be only humorous, Wallin explained.
"But it highlights an important facet of Shostakovich's style," he added. "This is a composer who critics compared to a court jester. If the jester tells a joke about the king but the joke isn't actually funny, what does that joke mean? Who is the joke on? These questions are at the root of Shostakovich's humor."
What it all boils down to, Wallin said, is that within all the pages of musicological study on Shostakovich, the words, humor, irony and parody abound.
"Some scholars have gone so far as to describe Shostakovich as the official court jester to Josef Stalin," he said. "His Symphony No. 5 features more irony than outright comedy. The only funny movement is perhaps the second. The other movements all bite with acerbic wit."
Concert time is 3 p.m. Jan. 29 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick. Tickets are from $25 to $50 plus service charges and are available at www.ticketmaster.com or the Toyota Center box office. Tickets purchased at the box office avoid service charges.