Peter and the Wolf, with the Baltimore Symphony.
NPR's Scott Simon takes on Prokofiev's
NPR's Scott Simon takes on Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, with the Baltimore Symphony.
Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is a classic symphonic piece with special appeal for children. It's the story of an enterprising little boy named Peter, who, together with a duck, a cat and a bird, outsmarts a wolf — and hunters. It has been narrated by some of the world's great vocal actors, including Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Alec Guiness, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir John Gielgud and Dame Edna Everage.
But not this year.
Conductor Marin Alsop is leading the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra — and me — performing Peter and the Wolf this weekend. I've narrated other symphonic works. Well, OK, one of them: Aaron Copland's A Lincoln Portrait . But everyone from Illinois except Rod Blagojevic has narrated that.
Still, Peter and the Wolf is the piece that has introduced millions of children to classical music — even Marin Alsop.
"I heard this piece when I was 3 years old," she says. "I had the recording of Leonard Bernstein narrating — which is the narration we're using in performance — and I used to play it all day long, all the time. My mother and father, they still can narrate with the same accent, they had to listen to it so many times."
'Peter' In Rehearsal
Now, rehearsing with the orchestra, I admit I had a few flubs, but Alsop is reassuring. Almost nothing, she says, can go wrong in this piece. Right.
"Because of the way Prokofiev has structured it, there's lot of music in between the narrative," she explains to me. "It's not as though you have to read exactly at this spot or exactly at that spot. I think there's some room for interpretation."
"Any final instructions, coach?" I ask.
"Listen," she says, "the bowing, at the end, is the hard part. It's all about the bowing, so we've got to practice that."
I tell her about the terrible mistake I made at New Jersey's Symphony. I bowed to the orchestra afterward, which had the effect of mooning the audience.
"Oh my God. Well, if your pants fell down, that could really be a show," she says.
For the first two rehearsal nights, so far, I've managed to keep my pants up — from the first plucking and tuning of the orchestra, through the captivating sensation of hearing your voice soar alongside violins and trumpets, to the uplifting swell of sound you feel at the end of the piece when the last few notes leave you waiting anxiously for applause.
(Scott and Marin's final performance of "Peter and the Wolf" takes place Saturday night at Meyerhoff Hall, in Baltimore.)