Collaboration at its Finest!

It seems fitting, Ellen Dressler  Moryl, Director of City of Charleston’s Cultural Affair Office  asked Charleston Ballet Theatre and Charleston Symphony Orchestra  to  partner together on the opening night of Piccolo Spoleto 2008 to perform Benjamin’s Britten’s  Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The idea was born over 2 years ago and it is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. 

The performance is called

Sunset Serenade: Music from the British Isle

May 23, 2008 8:00 – 9:30 PM Customs House

The evening’s highlight includes Benjamin Britten’s “A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” performed by the Charleston Symphony (conducted by Scott Terrell) and Charleston Ballet Theatre dancing my choreography of the piece. The program begins with Irish fiddlers Na Fidleiri playing with a group of fourth grade Suzuki violin students from Charleston County Schools who are making their world debut! Program also includes music of Ireland performed by Na Fidleiri and the CSO, followed by violinist Audra McCall, performing Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with the orchestra. Don’t miss this whimsy filled curtain raiser of Piccolo Spoleto’s 30th year season.

I remember  twenty years ago,  I mentioned to David Stahl, I was interested in choreographing a version of the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for both Ballet and the Orchestra.    The work was performed at length that year, and actually, an anonymous benefactor of both organizations, had the wonderful idea of transporting the whole project to rural areas of Hollywood SC.  Barry Goldsmith, Charleston’s Arts Guru, helped put the event together.   Interestingly, so ..that unnamed individual understood the importance of arts and education – is now seeking election.  (No-  the unnamed source was not Obama, Hilary or John!-) The work was never performed again – mainly because of the cost to produce the work for both organizations.  SURPRISE!  It has returned and you don’t want to miss it – it will be a highlight of the Festival.   And more importantly it’s free…

One of the most well-known orchestral works written especially for the young listener is English composer Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Based on a theme from Purcell’s Abdelazer (The Moor’s Revenge), it begins and ends with an overview of the whole orchestra, interspersed with demonstrations of the capabilities of each instrument. It was originally written for a documentary in 1946, entitled ‘The Instruments of the Orchestra’, in which the narrator described the roles and characteristics of each orchestral section with the aid of the variations composed by Britten. Although the composer had no children of his own, due to reasons which are now known, he was fond of them and wrote this piece with them in mind. In fact, the Young Person’s Guide is ‘affectionately inscribed to the children of John and Jean Maud – Humphrey, Pamela, Caroline and Virginia – for their edification and entertainment.’  The Young Person’s Guide was written so that each instrument could be verbally presented. However, Britten also foresaw the possibility that the piece would be performed with no narration, and he made allowances for this in his written score. Nevertheless, the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra remains a piece enjoyed by both young and the young at heart.

A narration was written by Britten’s friend Eric Crozier, intended to be spoken by the conductor or a separate speaker during a performance. In fact, the composer arranged two versions of this piece for playing: with narration, or without. The one without narration is more often recorded. The commentary often alters between recordings.  The narrated version CBT/CSO collaboration was written by me. 

When it was time to choose the narrator we decided to go for the cream of the crop, so a good friend of David’s, Martin Bookspan came to premiere that performance. For millions of television viewers and radio listeners around the country, “Live From Lincoln Center” without Mr. Bookspan would be akin to listening to the New York Yankees without John Sterling, or in the case of the Boston-born Mr. Bookspan, the Red Sox without Joe Castiglione. In other words, half a game.    If there were a common thread among the increasingly divergent “Live from Lincoln Center” shows, it would be the elegantly nimble Mr. Bookspan. One-half erudite informer, the other half grandfatherly guide, he piloted two generations of listeners through the institution’s marbled halls: coaxing them into their seats with a tease of a pre-concert lecture, keeping them tuned in during intermissions with easy-to-digest program notes and anecdotes, and then sealing the evening with a buoyant summation or perhaps a succinct rave As was his style, he came in rewrote a little bit of my narration and then dove into the project. This time his preparations didn’t take place from his makeshift sound booths around the Lincoln Center plaza — dressing rooms, closets, a ladies’ room at Alice Tully Hall — where he was connected to concerts via headphones and closed-circuit television, but in the Green Room and on stage at the Gaillard Auditorium.  

In 2006, Mr. Bookspan closed this chapter in his storied career when he signed off from “Live from Lincoln Center” for the last time, during the series’ 30th-anniversary episode. That last episode was a two-hour retrospective of rarely seen opera, dance, music and theater highlights from the archives. When he retired in 2006 he was quoted: “Basically, if I have a technique, it’s the technique of the sportscaster,” Mr. Bookspan, 79 at the time, said over dinner in the theater district, his gait — but not his energy — flagging after a hip replacement. “As sportscasters make the game come alive, I hope I have made concerts come alive. I want the audience to become involved, to love what they’re hearing.”

As stated in the Piccolo Spoleto Mission

The combination of historic Charleston’s old European charm and the world-class Spoleto Festival USA together produce a unique and impacting synergy for all who come to the city by the sea to experience this magnificent international multi arts festival. But what really adds the ingredient of magic to the mix is Piccolo Spoleto, which provides access to the festival for Every Person, especially children. Focusing primarily on artists of the Southeast region, Piccolo Spoleto is the perfect complement to the international scope of its parent festival and its 700 events in 17 days, transforms Charleston into an exhilarating celebration of performing, literary and visual arts. Piccolo Spoleto’s traditional program offerings include visual arts exhibits, classical music, jazz, dance, theatre, poetry readings, children’s activities, choral music, ethnic cultural presentations, crafts, and film. Under the direction of Ellen Dressler Moryl, Piccolo Spoleto was designed and launched in 1979 by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs together with a group of volunteers from the Charleston arts community. These arts professionals devoted their time and energy to help produce the various series and presentations which comprised the Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Their individual artistic taste and judgment manifested into the comprehensive festival program which for the last 30 years has been produced and presented by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs.   

So this year’s Narrator?  Not telling yet, but do put the event on your calendar, and bring the whole family.  It is golden opportunity to see fine dancing great music and lots of your friends!




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