Gritty isn't just about ice hockey or putting out wild-eyed frat boy energy. Gritty has a musical side, too, even a classical one, and next month he goes way classical when he joins the Philadelphia Orchestra for its Christmas Kids' Spectacular Family Concert in Verizon Hall. Kensho Watanabe is the lucky conductor who gets to channel all that Gritty energy into an orchestral experience, and we talk with him here about what we can expect.
Did Gritty have to audition for this job?
Well, I would say that all of the social media attention could have been part of the audition. We were actually going to have him here for the Halloween family concert, and it was a few weeks after he had been announced as mascot, and there was such interest in Gritty that he was unable to fulfill that commitment because he was going on so many talk shows and interviews. We're just glad that he found time for us, honestly.
What’s is Gritty going to be doing with the orchestra? Is it true that Gritty is going to conduct with a T-shirt cannon?
That's a good idea. This family concert is one of my favorite things, and we are doing the first act of The Nutcracker, so I wanted to make something that encompassed the arc of the story, so we have Charlotte Blake Alston as the narrator, and I always thought of Drosselmeyer as a magician, as someone who doesn't quite belong in the household, so I thought it would be nice for Gritty to be Drosselmeyer and give the Nutcracker to Clara. Some of it is not set yet. And then sometimes Santa shows up, so we'll see who takes the podium, Santa or Gritty or both.
Will Gritty wear an eye patch like Drosselmeyer?
Gritty's eyes are kind of the highlight, so I wouldn't want to rob him of one half of the attraction.
Jason Kelce also appeared with the orchestra at the concert with NFL Films this past summer at the Mann Center, and the orchestra has recorded the Eagles fight song. Why is the orchestra spending so much time these days with sports figures?
I don't think it's just sports figures, but there is definitely an interest in a connection with people who might not usually associate themselves with going to the orchestra. Somehow seeing their heroes on stage and seeing the orchestra play music that supports this was truly an emotional experience for them.
Kelce didn’t spend a whole lot of time playing with the orchestra. How much time is Gritty actually going to spend on stage?
That is yet to be determined. We would like for him definitely to be on stage as Drosselmeyer and maybe the big battle scene with the gingerbread soldiers and mice. Dancers from the Rock School are participating, and maybe Gritty can be part of that action, as well.
Given Gritty’s popularity, why don’t orchestras have mascots?
That's a good question. Why not, right? I don't know what that would look like. I wonder if we should see what our audience thinks about what being would embody the spirit of the Philadelphia Orchestra. When our [orchestra] baseball team plays other orchestras, their name is the Firebirds. So maybe we are a Firebird.
The Philadelphia Orchestra's Christmas family concert is Dec. 15, 11:30 a.m., in Verizon Hall, Broad and Spruce Sts. Tickets are $24-$53. www.philorch.org, 215-893-1999.