Before each concert, we share “Manny’s Musings,” thoughts from our Music Director and Conductor, Manny Laureano. This is the first of two “Musings” that will be posted in advance of the BSO’s Play Me a Story concert on February 21.
Hearing a piece in which there is narration that accompanies the music is certainly not unusual. It may not be commonplace but it is something we’ve all experienced at some point or other. Most often, it occurred when we were young and perhaps even as a first trip to a concert hall. The speaker was often a local personality such as an actor. It may have been a celebrity that had a professional tie to the subject matter of the work that was performed. For example, the first time you heard Casey at the Bat by American composer William Schuman, it might have had a local baseball player as the speaker. Or maybe you heard Lincoln Portrait read by a former or current member of Congress or even an ex-president.
There have been times when an author, taken with the beauty or power or charm of a piece of music, decided that it needed a bit of narration even though the composer never intended it originally. Ogden Nash wrote a set of verses that, on occasion, serve as prelude to each of the movements from Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s suite to The Nutcracker.
So, then… what comes first: the narration or the music? In the case of our three works featured today, the narratives were conceived along with the music but with different ends in mind.
When Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) was commissioned to write his now-beloved Peter and the Wolf it was a clearly designed to send a message to young Russian children that they should learn the importance of music and cultivate a life-long love for it. His passion for the project was so great that he dove into it and completed his best-known work in just four days! Astonishingly, this work we have all known since childhood was poorly received back in 1936. That poor reception was short-lived as various orchestras and narrators have competed to make wonderful recordings since then with each narrator putting his or her stamp on it, providing each of us with some version that suits us. It is also available in a variety of languages, as well. I even had the opportunity to narrate it in Spanish in a performance in the Twin Cities. Some of the various narrators on recording range from Peter Ustinov to Sean Connery, Captain Kangaroo, Patrick Stewart, Eleanor Roosevelt, William F. Buckley Jr., Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton, and even the late David Bowie.
Join Music Director & Conductor Manny Laureano, for the concert, “Play Me a Story” featuring narrators Yuri Ivan, Obiele Harper, and Quinton Wormald. The concert takes place on Sunday, February 21 at 3 p.m. at the St. Michael’x Lutheran Church in Bloomington.