CIMF review / Peter, the wolf and lots of smiles

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MY 10-year-old granddaughter was a late scratching which was a great pity as the three youngsters seated next to me were quite enthralled with this Sunday family concert and I’m sure she would have enjoyed the morning similarly.

A wise conducting professor of mine often emphasised that “an audience listens with its eyes” and today was a classic case in point.  

First up was “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”, written by 30-year-old WA composer Holly Harrison.  

Holly (present in the audience, which was great) has won many international composition awards and has a particularly fascination with the literature of Lewis Carroll.  

Her musical setting of the humorous text was principally clever variations on “I’m a Little Tea Pot” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and that was perfect for children.  

I noticed many smile as they recognised a well-known tune being played somewhat differently to their norm. The five players were appropriately hatted with rabbit ears, a wig and top hat (of course) and all threw themselves into their acting roles with enthusiasm similar to their animated playing.  

With his deep, rich voice the vastly experienced actor Paul English added to the story telling atmosphere as he told the tale with perfect theatre tone and timing.

An important element of the “Mad Hatter” had been “time” so it was clever that, while the stage was reset, a bit of a conducting lesson from Leonard Weiss and Roland Peelman took place.

The orchestra, the Festival Sinfonia, then arrived to play the famed “Minuet from the String Quintet in E Major” by Boccherini with the youthful audience tasked to decide “time” – ie how many beats were in each bar and how should the piece be conducted.  

After some “talent spotting” three budding maestros were selected to conduct the orchestras and soon discovered that big beats would make the orchestra play loudly while small beats would produce soft sounds. Then there was speeding up and slowing down – all in all fun for everyone and a fine way to demonstrate how making music works!

Narrator Paul English returned to tell the story of “Peter and the Wolf”, the classic work from Prokofiev that uses the instruments of the orchestra to represent various animals and characters.  

He wrote the piece for a children’s theatre in Moscow and drew on memories of his own childhood as a bird (flute), duck (oboe), cat (clarinet), grumpy grandpa (bassoon), Peter (the strings) and some hunters (percussion) have an adventure with a wolf (French horns).  

I was interested to see youngsters pretending to stroke imaginary whiskers when the cat first appeared then noted them sitting at strict attention as the French horns heralded the appearance of the wolf.  There were startled whimpers after the percussion played gunshots from the hunters.  

Under the direction of Leonard Weiss playing throughout was most precise, accurate and well balanced and it was great to see the members of the orchestra enact the story with obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm.

The concert followed a well-practiced and proven method of introducing young people to classical music and, while perhaps the show was too long for the youngest, the aims were certainly achieved most effectively.

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