Why Grand Rapids Symphony's 'Peter and the Wolf' remains a popular show for children of all ages

“Peter and the Wolf,” Sergei Prokofiev's tale of a brave, young boy who captures a big, bad wolf, is a story most any young children will enjoy, even without a video game.

With the Grand Rapids Symphony plus dancers from Grand Rapids Ballet, no video screens or soundbars are needed.

The hand-held controller is wielded by Associate Conductor John Varineau, leading performances of the classic Russian tale, featuring narrator Edye Evans Hyde.

Public performances of the Grand Rapids Symphony Lollipop Series concert will be held at 10:15 and 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, in East Kentwood High School, 6230 Kalamazoo Ave. SE in Kentwood,  Tickets are $5 available at the door. 

“Peter and the Wolf” tells the story of a young boy who ignores his grandfather’s warnings and goes off into the words in search of a big, grey wolf. Along the way, Peter befriends a bird, a duck and a cat, all of whom help him during his fearsome wolf encounter.

Each character in the story is represented by a different instrument. The bird, duck and cat are represented by a flute, an oboe and a clarinet. A string quartet portrays Peter, a bassoon signifies his grandfather, and a trio of French horns symbolizes the wolf.

Children following the story learn to listen for the distinct sounds of each instrument and learn to follow musical themes that tell the story.

For more than 80 years, “Peter and the Wolf” has been a favorite of all ages.

“When ‘Peter and the Wolf’ pops up, it's the adults who take their kids to hear it,” Varineau said.

For the 45-minute program, musicians wear colored t-shirts that will help identify the four musical instrument families – strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

Earlier in the week, the Grand Rapids Symphony will give six daytime performances for early elementary school children.

In 1936, Prokofiev, who had two sons of his own, was invited by the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow to compose an orchestra work specifically for young children. Intrigued by the challenge, the Russian composer completed the 25-minute work for narrator and orchestra in just days.

The whimsical tale first was animated and brought to the screen by Walt Disney in 1946, but its music also has been heard in the film “A Christmas Story” and in children’s cartoons including “Muppet Babies” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.”

Such celebrities as actors Sean Connery and Patrick Stewart, musicians Sting, David Bowie and Leonard Bernstein, and public figures including Bill Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt have narrated performances for recordings.

Grand Rapids Symphony and Grand Rapids Ballet, which last presented “Peter and the Wolf” in 2014, first performed Prokofiev's ballet together in 1999 for the Lollipop Series, a series of concerts especially for children ranging from age 4 to 8. The organizations have collaborated on performances, every third year, ever since.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 11:00 AM

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