Saturday 27 August 2016

Ten Pieces II: The Proms for Kids (Or the day my daughter became a Wagnerian...)

There's nothing quite like seeing your daughter 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 also 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.

Towards the end of July Culturebaby (almost five) and I headed off for a 'big girl' day to the BBC Proms 12; a fantastic celebration of a set of iconic classical pieces performed for and with school children. Building on last year'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. We listen to a lot of classical music and attend concerts regularly but there was something completely awe inspiring about the size and scale of a full orchestra in the spectacular rotunda of the Albert Hall, and Culturebaby was completely bowled over from the moment the huge organ began with Bach's (slightly unnerving) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Culturebaby has declared that she loves 'big' music. She watched open mouthed the organ thundering out its Fugue and the enormous choir of children perform 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. She has re-lived the clever way in which the Proms presenters built up the arrival of the Wagnerian characters using breaking 'news' videos - explaining that there had been numerous sightings of flying creatures above london and strange occurrences of glowing rings of fire on buildings and objects that shape. Finally these warrior goddesses descended upon our own circular theatre, emerging from various locations around the audience carrying glowing fragments to form a large golden ring on the stage before us. It was very effective and clearly had a remarkable effect on her. I spotted her acting out the scene with a troupe of Barbies yesterday as she hummed the tune.

Throughout the performance we were treated to ten well chosen iconic pieces of music from Bizet to Bernstein, introduced by presenters (and even a very ambitious Joseph Hayden who considered the selection of only one piece of his work rather insufficient); but we also had the chance to experience the creative responses of a whole range of talented young people in between. Following a beautiful solo performance of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending by an award winning young musician, we saw school boys from Northern Ireland acting out wartime corrsepondence with loved ones. Culturebaby was really impressed by an original composition by a sibling pair. We heard about the bravery of Shostakovich in the face of a constricting communist regime and watched dancers acting out the vicious portrait of dictator Stalin. We danced to the Mambo from Westside story and we watched several groups of brilliant young musicians - notably the stunning Animate orchestra performing quirky jazz and the Able Orchestra, which included some severely disabled members who created computer art in response to the music performed by their peers.

I couldn't have hoped for a better introduction to the Proms for Culturebaby, nor might I have expected that I would emerge with a pre-school Wagnerian. Ten Pieces aims to open up the world of classical music to a generation of children, representing a range of styles and eras, and it has certainly had success in our household. I'd highly recommend these concerts to families and very much hope there will be Ten Pieces III next year.

Programme included excerpts from:
J. S. Bach
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Mambo (from West Side Story)
Anna Clyne
Night Ferry
Trumpet Concerto in E flat major – 3rd movement
Gabriel Prokofiev
Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra – 5th movement
Symphony No. 10 in E minor – 2nd movement
Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending
Dies irae and Tuba mirum (from Requiem)
Ride of the Valkyries (from Die Walk├╝re)

Disclaimer: We received two tickets to the Prom for review purposes. It was genuninely magnificent and all views are my own. You can see the trailer for the Ten Pieces II shown last Christmas on the BBC here to give you a flavour of it all. There will be highlights shown on CBBC on Sunday 11th September.
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