Two Peters and The Wolf, with a little help from Rick Mercer

click for Sick Kids Foundation

Over $50,000 was raised at the first Toronto Symphony benefit for Sick Kids Hospital, likely to be an annual affair. The TSO put on a brilliant show.  There were two Peters, both the fictional one in the Prokofiev story and the real one on the podium –Peter Oundjian– conducting and addressing the audience.

I was not surprised at how much buzz there was when Rick Mercer appeared on the stage. There was a genuine electricity, aided by his willingness to embellish that familiar story with a few modern twists. For instance, when Mercer got to the part of the story with the cat, he quickly reminded us that in the internet, cats and cucumbers are trending now. (if you don’t believe me go to youtube and see for yourself).  We were simultaneously given relevance & humour. Mercer kept us grounded.

Even with his occasional extras, this was the familiar story, back and forth between Mercer & Oundjian. It’s a natural given that the TSO’s music director is also a gifted communicator, a natural in front of a crowd.

This isn’t their first encounter! 

The event seemed to be a success, both as a fund-raiser and as a promotional event for the TSO. I have a wee bit of feedback to offer, in the interest of improving this for next year.

There were four items on the program which wasn’t uniformly kid-friendly.

  1. We began with Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, but without the explanatory narration. I wonder if that was the original plan? Without the pedagogical talk it becomes much harder for the kids, especially the fidgety ones, two of whom were seated right beside me, and two more just behind. If not Rick Mercer, perhaps some other upbeat person could make something fun out of this? As a purely musical performance it’s quite lovely, but not if the omission of the narration makes it harder for the young ones.
  2. Then came an arrangement of “Stardust”, contrasting in its brassy sonorities (featuring principal horn Neil Deland accompanied by nine brass players & the harp) as well as the visuals.
  3. The last item before the interval was the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” by Rachmaninoff. While the performance featured a young player –Coco Ma is 15, and so might seem to signify youthful content to the TSO management—the composition is dead serious for a child, especially if they were brought to Roy Thomson Hall with promises of “Peter & the Wolf.”
  4. And after the intermission came Peter & the Wolf.

Wonderful as the playing was in the Rachmaninoff, the drama of the piece brought out the worst in the kids beside & behind me who disappeared abruptly at the end of the piece, frog-marched to the lobby by frustrated parents. I have to think there were others if I saw this much misbehaviour within five feet of me. The child to my left seemed intent on surfing on the heads of the ladies in front of her, or in other words sought to aggravate her mother to the point of complete exasperation in order to salve her complete boredom during the Rachmaninoff. Next year there should be something for the kids before the intermission, whether it’s “Peter & the Wolf”, “The Carnival of the Animals”, or something else that is more kid-friendly. Tonight’s Peter & the Wolf only began around 9 pm, which is likely bedtime for the smallest.

I am torn.  As a parent i don’t believe you take a child into this kind of place unless you’re sure they’re ready, as in you’ve prepared them energetically, exposed them to the stories & music and they are enthusiastic rather than reluctant (the children i sat beside? their enthusiasm was all directed at getting out of the place).  Does the TSO have any responsibility to program everything for wee kids? not at all.  Indeed, an earlier version of myself would be sending angry letters to the moronic blogger (that is moi) who is proposing to enable bad behaviour. And yet… I know what I saw. The washroom & the corridors were full of children, and that’s a good thing. Now that they’ve been invited, why not ensure that they come back?

But the TSO must do this again, absolutely. This is a wonderful opportunity not only for fund-raising but for audience building. Maybe they should play some of Nutcracker while a dancer or two comes onstage, and the music & the action are explained for us. Or give us one of the Bugs Bunny cartoons with the classical content such as “The Rabbit of Seville”, OR a combination of cartoon and music. I’ll be eager to see what they do next year, and hope nobody minds a bit of constructive feedback.

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