Friday, 10 November 2017

Big Music for Little People: A Concert for Every Season

The girls have been lucky to attend some fabulous large-scale concerts over the last year. We love our small and intimate venues with their brilliant children's programming (see here for a selection of some wonderful regular ones) but there is something utterly awe-inspiring in the huge concerts with their booming organs or Wagnerian choruses, or the giant cinematic experiences with favoured films brought alive by an orchestra. As I've written before, there's nothing quite like seeing your daughters falling in love with music; magnificent, passionate music that paints pictures and pins a 4 year old to their seat, gripped and inspired, and leaves them reminiscing, singing and dancing for weeks. For me it was racing to safety behind a sofa as the stone door to the Hall of the Mountain King swung shut, beating an imagined hammer to the Anvil Chorus and dashing through the snow on a horse drawn sledge with Lt Kije to Prokoviev's Troika. For Culturebaby it has also been The Nutcracker and now the swift-winged Valkyries. I've been immensely grateful for the BBC's fabulous series Melody, which animates a piece of music for children in each episode, and Disney's Fantasia.
With the school year coming round swiftly again, keep an eye out for these utterly inspiring family experiences.

Autumn

Autumn brings the Albert Hall's Great Orchestral Adventure, which ran again this half term. Due to an unmovable work meeting we had to miss it and so I was delighted to see that there will be another running in the Spring, this time with a space theme. Last year's performance was interactive, educational and engaging. Around 8000 young people and their families descended on the venue to help conductor Tim find his magic conducting baton. Using 11 classical masterpieces, the orchestra took us on an atmospheric journey through forests, mountains and to kingdoms under the sea. We even travelled into space to the Sanskrit echoes of Star Wars' Duel of the Fates. We encountered perils such as tricky mermaids, and the ferocious troll living in the Hall of the Mountain King (I still recall racing to safety behind a sofa as a child before the stone door to the Hall swung shut). The finale of the performance featured a full narrated performance of Michael Rosen classic We're Going on a Bear Hunt. The intention of these entertaining productions is to introduce even the youngest children to the orchestra and the idea of a concert, and they achieve this so effectively. We met the conductor and explored the various parts of the orchestra. To the audience's delight, we were invited to vote on the way our adventure might proceed: which way to go? Vote red or green. One particularly lucky young lady was invited to come and take the place of the conductor as he nipped away. We were given a glimpse of quite how tricky the experience of controlling an orchestra can be but what a glorious experience when it all comes together. The audience danced and sang and remained utterly enthralled. The accompanying activity book and programme was also very well designed, introducing the concept of how music can conjure up a plethora of emotions from happiness to fear and sadness; how a piece can conjure adventure or drag us from peril to calm safety in a matter of moments.

Listen again to the My Great Orchestral Adventure soundtrack
McKenzie Life’s a Happy Song
Rossini William Tell Overture
Grieg Asa’s Death, from Peer Gynt
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake
Grieg Hall of the Mountain King, from Peer Gynt
Mozart Dies Irae
Wagner Ride of the Valkyries
Williams Duel of the Fates
Stephen We’re Going On A Bear Hunt
Williams Flight to Neverland
Mahler Symphony no. 4


Winter

Then as the nights roll in and the carols begin, nothing says nearly Christmas like The Snowman. Over the last few years we have particularly loved the Amadeus Orchestra and Mozart Symphony Orchestra's family concerts at both Cadogan Hall and King's Place. I've written about these in more depth here and here (complete with follow on activity ideas). This winning formula featuring a double-bill of two of our most loved orchestral works in one sitting never fails to enchant.

Prokofiev's Peter and The Wolf is, without a doubt, the best classical piece I've found to demonstrate the power of musical storytelling without the aid of film. Written in 1936 by Prokofiev for the Moscow Theatre for Children, the work was intended to be, and was commissioned as, a guide to the instruments of the orchestra. 


Following the interval, the concert hall was transformed into a cinema and we were presented with the full film of the Snowman in cinematic scale, but with a live orchestra and a choirboy performing the classic Walking in the Air in the place of the soundtrack. As I wrote recently, a Christmas viewing of the Snowman is like a rite of passage, a ritual through which the joy of childhood is kept alive. Fully versed and note-perfect, surrounded by family and strangers alike, we re-enter annually this intimate tale of belief, living life to the full and dealing with loss. As far as cinematic experiences for children go, this is hard to beat. This fantastic series of Christmas concerts varies each year a little but retains many of its most magical components. They've since added an out of London concert in Cheltenham too.
Father Christmas and Peter and the Wolf
This year Cadogan Hall and the Mozart Symphony Orchestra are running a two day series with:

Wednesday 20 December 2017, 1.30pm and 4.30pm - The Snowman and Carnival of the Animals
with the Mozart Symphony Orchestra

Thursday 21 December 2017, 1.30pm and 4.30pm -Father Christmas and Peter and the Wolf

King's Place is running The Snowman and Carnival of the Animals
on Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 1.30 and 4.30pm with the Amadeus Orchestra.

Spring

Every year spring sees the fantastic Imagine Children's Festival at the Southbank Centre. This brilliant two week festival for kids, run by kids offers everything from immersive theatre to storytelling, dancing, art and experimentation with instruments. I'm going to write about this event in more depth shortly in the run up to this Spring's event, but a huge highlight from last year's programme was a cinematic showing of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom with full orchestral accompaniment. Frankly cinema will never be the same again. We particularly loved how the audience was taught about the detail of what they would be hearing in advance. We met the instruments that would create some of the signature noises of certain characters, and we were helped to look out for sounds and ways of creating them that we see in the films. The Southbank Centre also runs interactive Funharmonics concerts throughout the year. Recently we had the huge excitement of watching The Gruffalo's Child with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Keep an eye on their events here. As we mentioned above, there will also be the next installation of the Great Orchestra Adventure at the Royal Albert Hall (see here).

Summer 

Summer brings the BBC Proms, and as we have experienced, you can never be too young to feel involved in them. In Summer 2016 Culturebaby and I attended the amazing Ten Pieces II Prom; a fantastic celebration of a set of iconic classical pieces performed for and with school children. Building on 2015's huge 10 Pieces success, this year's Ten Pieces II was aimed at early secondary school children, combining dance, animation and a plethora of musical offerings.  However it was pitched, it suited the pre-schooler just as well and Culturebaby was completely bowled over from the moment the huge organ began with Bach's (slightly unnerving) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. She watched open mouthed the organ thundering out its Fugue, and the enormous choir of children performing the epic Day of Judgement from Verdi's Requiem. However, since the concert it is the Ride of the Valkyries that has been requested over and over again, even a year on, by both children. (You can read my full review here).

Combined with the thunderously joyful CBeebies Prom towards the end of the summer, we couldn't have hoped for a better introduction to the Proms for the girls. Hugely accessible, and perhaps appealling to a much wider demographic than the Proms might traditionally expect, the CBeebies Prom was hosted by and featured a gaggle of presenters and characters from the BBC channel. Drummers moved through the audience and Clangers took a turn at conducting.
 Along with Andy Day, Mr Bloom, Swashbuckling Pirates and other familiar household names for children everywhere, the young audience was taken on an adventure through space and time, weaving storytelling through a selection of classical favourites. We encountered (of course) dinosaurs and met Will Shakespeare. Short and hugely accessible the whole experience was an excellent idea - we were even treated to the bagpipes. It was, however, the Proms Extra in the nearby Imprerial College Union that provided the icing on this theatrical cake and turned the whole event into an immersive family day out. The children had the opportunity to meet Clangers and Muppets, create home-made musical instruments, do craft activities and best of all, take part in a dance class for all the family. If this perfomance features again in this year's Proms programme I'd thoroughly recommend it to even the youngest of toddlers.

In no way do I exaggerate when I call these concert experiences life changing. They exist for long periods in little memories and conversations and provide no end of play ideas, and although we have already glimpsed their creative legacy, I have no doubt that their ultimate impact will be enduring.







Disclamer: We received tickets to each of the performances for the purposes of review. The photographs for the Great Orchestral adventure were courtesy of the Albert Hall and the CBeebies Proms photographs were courtesy of the BBC and Guy Levy (copyright).

1 comment:

  1. I am always happy to attend the events like these and it was nice to know that you have also been to some of them. Music gives the mind relaxation a person needs.

    ReplyDelete

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