A couple of weekends ago, Culturebaby and I embarked on a big girls' day in London, just the two of us, footloose and pram-free. We had been invited along to one of the City of London Sinfonia's family concerts at Cadogan Hall, and given Culturebaby's nascent Suzuki violin lessons and her new-found love of live orchestras, we jumped at the chance for some quality cultural time together.
The concert series is a fabulous idea. For an hour before, the children were invited to take part in arts and crafts, meet the musicians, handle a selection of instruments, and try their hands at percussion. Our attempts to arrive in time to do much of this were thwarted by TfL's tube improvement schedule *shakes fist at district line closures and limited bus service to Chelsea*, but we just about dove through the area to mourn our loss and grab a quick DIY wand ready for the concert. Then brandishing decorated masks and wands the rabble of miniature concert-goers were treated to an interactive hour of music along the theme of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, led by a combat-trouser-clad Puck and a Sinfonia decked with flowers and foliage.
Featuring distinctive pieces such as Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz and Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and woven through with the broad theme of spells which just don't seem to go right, the event was a triumph for my little lady. Initially she watched in awe as Puck introduced the sounds of each section of the orchestra and captured them in containers - later to be released, swirled around and mixed together at will (this really was rather a stroke of genius). She hid when mispaced spells culminated in the attachment of various instruments to the heads of unsuspecting orchestra members (I suspect genuinely fearing she may end up with a permanent flute for hair), and she adored the slapstick moment when Puck slept and a wolf (or a rather sinister donkey?) arrived on stage to investigate the instruments. We were treated to a great selection of music (many featuring animal sounds), joined in with actions, and laughed at the fairy mischief. Several members of the audience were also invited to join in with the percussion by tapping a large frog instrument and we all had many opportunities for participation - so important to keep the little ones attentive and engaged.
The other wonderful element to the whole experience was the change to mooch around Chelsea at the weekend, treat ourselves to ice cream, peruse the scrummy Taschen bookshop and explore the fascinating (and free) Saatchi Gallery. Particular highlights included a room populated with giant ants scaling the walls, and a dark room lit by Ultraviolet light and lined with glowing colourful flowers in jars.
Since returning home from our trip, we've been reading a couple of relevant books and we've been re-visiting a number of the pieces we heard at the concert. We unearthed from our bookshelves a copy of The Sorcerer's Apprentice from Usborne's brilliant Young Reading Series and listened to the music as we read. I also introduced Culturebaby to some of the pictures from Marcia Williams' re-telling of A Midsummer Night's Dream in her quirky cartoon-style versions of Shakespeare's plays. The two volumes: Mr William Shakespeare's Plays and Bravo Mr William Shakespeare, are published by the wonderful Walker Books and are a funny, engaging and fabulously illustrated introduction to the works of the Bard for older children and adults alike. Whilst these tales are complex and beyond Culturebaby's comprehension at present, the illustrations aided a simple explanation of Puck's fairy mischief at the concert, and the cartoon summaries served as a perfect reminder of these important literary references for my squishy mummy-brain too. I'll be treasuring these volumes for the future.
You can find out more about the Crash Bang Wallop Concerts for Families here at the Cadogan Hall's website here. Their Christmas Concert will be on 13th December.
Disclaimer: We received complimentary tickets to the concert in exchange for a review. Walker Books also kindly sent the Marcia Williams Shakespeare volumes to us at our request. As always, all views are very much my own.