Monday, May 23, 2011: Magic of Music

A rich palette of color, sounds, and story as the Berg Orchestra presents Peter and the Wolf

The Magic of Music,
Or,What Happens To The Duck?

In which fairytale does an evil wolf not get killed, but instead gets taken to a zoo? (And not only that, but with a duck he had eaten still alive in his stomach?)

The correct answer is Peter and the Wolf, a story by the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, who composed the piece to prove that instruments can tell stories. That his composition has been re-recorded and performed repeatedly since it was written in 1936 suggests that his assumption was right.

Last week’s performance of Peter and the Wolf by the Berg Orchestra at the church of Sts. Simon and Jude was narrated by the film and tv actor Miroslav Táborský. It proved that the magic of the classical music fairytale still works on children – even in the age of non-stop digital entertainment.

Just before 9:00 am the first orderly groups of school children start to take their seats in the church concert hall. A sense of excitement is in the air. Some of the children, like pupils from Chmelnice Elementary School, have already talked about the concert with their music teacher Eluna Lesniaková. But a class from Hovorčovická elementary will discuss their impressions after the concert.

Young students are all ears as they listen to the Berg Orchestra perform Prokofiev

It’s a pleasant improvement from former days when students were dropped into a concert hall without explanation, before or afterwards, says Eva Kesslová, the orchestra’s lively manager. Such experiences in the past set low expectations about classical music for more than one generation of Czechs.

But these morning educational concerts are part of a menu of programs especially for schools, under the auspices of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

Actor / narrator Miroslav Táborský

The Berg orchestra has been performing Peter and the Wolf for young listeners for almost ten years. Today’s narrator, Mr Táborský, tells Opus Osm the pleasure for him is in guiding young listeners through the story. Compared to his usual roles as an actor, “the timing is a little different,” he says. “But the conductor is very exact; he gives me the entry point, and I’m able to recognize it according to the notes in the music.”

Under the baton of Peter Vrábel, the Berg musicians will make the children’s initiation into the world of classical music smooth and painless. Before embarking onto Prokofiev’s fairy tale, the children listen to the orchestra’s Baroque version of the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

Then Mr. Táborský explains that each instrument occupies a different role in Peter and the Wolf. Peter, the young protagonist, is portrayed by a playful violin, while the wolf is played by a threatening French horn, and the fat duck by a slow-quacking oboe.

It’s no easy task to engage almost 100 children with an average attention span of 15 minutes. But the Berg Orchestra’s musicians hold their audience rapt, even without any teacherly shushing.

And in the end, Peter is able to catch the wolf and send him to the zoo, to the happy applause of the young audience.

The fate of the duck is a bit less certain. — oo

–Zuzana Sklenková

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička, Mary Matz

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