Monday, 23 February 2015

Stealing away the children: the Pied Piper of Hamlyn

Michael Morpurgo, Emma Chichester Clark - The Pied Piper of Hamlyn
Colin Matthews & Michael Morpurgo The Pied Piper of Hamlyn; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 8 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Magical new re-telling of an old tale in new work from Colin Matthews

Lunch time on Sunday (8 February 2015), amidst the excitement and chattering (and a few overexcited tears), the atmosphere for the new commission by the London Philharmonic Orchestra of Michael Morpurgo's (1943-) 'Pied Piper of Hamlyn' realised by composer Colin Matthews (1946-) and illustrator Emma Chichester-Clark was more palpable than usual for a premiere. But the dimming of the lights worked their usual magic and very soon all were enthralled by the music, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, and spectacle, hanging on every word from the narrators - Morpurgo himself, in dashing orange, and Natalie Walter, hot from filming Horrible Histories. A few children from Deansfield Primary School added their voices to the mix, creating a wonderful retelling of this tale.

'Pied Piper of Hamelin' is an old story, first recorded in the 13th century, and consequently is one with debated origins and meanings – are the children meant to be returned as in Morpurgo's version? Or did they all die of plague, or were killed on a children's crusade, or were relocated along with their families to Poland or Transylvania? Certainly the rats only entered the story in the 16th century - but they are now the most well known aspect. The blind and lame children were added much later by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century. The eco-friendly rebuilding of the polluted city as the price for releasing the children would seem to be Morpurgo's own 21st century take – and, since each generation before has rewritten the story to exemplify their own thorny social problems, why not?


Colin Matthews
Colin Matthews
A Londoner by birth Matthews studied at the University of Nottingham and then Sussex (later also receiving an honorary doctorate from Nottingham), and worked with both Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst. He was associate composer to the London Symphony Orchestra from 1992–99 and composer in association to the Hallé Orchestra from 2001–10. He founded the contemporary music label NMC Recordings, has been involved in the Aldeburgh Festival, the Holst Foundation, the Britten Estate and the Britten-Pears Foundation, the Society for Promotion of New Music (in London) and the Performing Right Society. On top of this, and his prolific compositions, he is a musicologist specialising in Mahler.

Michael Morpurgo
Michael Morpurgo
Morpurgo, Children's Laureate from 2003-5, was born in St Albans and worked as a teacher for ten years before leaving to set up 'Farms for City Children' with his wife Clare (for which they were both awarded MBEs for services to youth in 1999). Inspired and encouraged by Ted Hughes, Morpurgo began to write in earnest. As well as the famous 'War Horse' Morpurgo has written many books which have been adapted for film - 'Friend or Foe' (1981), 'Private Peaceful' (2012) and 'Why the Whales Came' (1989), and TV including 'My Friend Walter' (1988) and 'Out of the Ashes' (2001), opera 'Gentle Giant' (2006), and the narrated ballet 'Rainbow Bear' (2010). For his services to literature Morpurgo received an OBE in 2006.

This is his second collaboration with the LPO – previously having worked on an adaptation of his story 'The Mozart Question' which incorporated music by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart.

The experience of 'The pied piper of Hamelin' was quite magical with a wonderful interplay between all the different elements – the narrators and the music, the children chiming in with their folksy songs and the malevolent 'RATS' (while the rats in the slide show twitched their whiskers and ran across the screen). There was other character representation in the music such as the drums and harsh brass for the mayor, the hero music for the piper and his Debussian flute, and the Mussorgsky-like fanfare for the appearance of the mountains. But this was part of a dramatic whole, including more cinematic ideas such as scrubbing violins to increase the tension, and dramatic silences such as the moment the rats were drowned.

Unlike 'Peter and the Wolf' or 'A young person's guide to the orchestra, this is not a work designed to introduce children to individual instruments. However it could be used to introduce them to different styles of music, and musical analysis, while keeping them entertained.

This project with the LPO, supported by the PRS for Music Foundation, is part of their commitment to encourage the next generation of musicians and music lovers. Their FUNHarmonics series allows children a chance to try out some instruments before hearing them in the hands of the orchestra, and their Animate Orchestra gives young people a chance to play alongside the professionals. Other projects such as Soundworks support smaller ensembles, and there is a young composer programme where participants are mentored by the LPO's composer in residence Magnus Lindberg.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

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