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Children are often introduced to classical music by Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev. One of the most respected composers of the 20th century, his music is a staple of symphony orchestras and ballet companies. Now, nearly six decades after his death, newly discovered works will be premiered in New York.

As Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN: When it comes to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, pianist and Yale University professor Boris Berman is the go-to guy. Hes recorded the composers complete piano works, written a book about his sonatas and founded the Prokofiev Society of America. Still, until recently, Berman had never seen or heard this music.

(Soundbite of composition, Music For Athletic Exercises)

LUNDEN: Thats part of Music For Athletic Exercises, a 1939 composition which didnt see the light of day again until 2004, when a facsimile of Prokofievs manuscript was published. Its one of several pieces Yale faculty, alumni and students will performing tonight. Music for Athletic Exercises was written to be performed on a grand scale says Boris Berman.

Professor BORIS BERMAN (Music, Yale School): There was a project of putting on a huge athletic pageant on the Red Square in Moscow in the summer of 1939, which would involve thousands of athletes from all over the Soviet Union.

(Soundbite of composition, Music For Athletic Exercises)

LUNDEN: A famous Russian director, V.E Meyerhold, was hired to stage this extravaganza, and he and Prokofiev went to Leningrad to work on it.

Prof. BERMAN: And one morning Meyerhold did not show up and nobody could find him. He was arrested, as it was the habit in these years of the Soviet history. He was arrested, imprisoned and subsequently shot to death.

LUNDEN: Traumatic as it was, Prokofiev finished the piece.

(Soundbite of composition, Music For Athletic Exercises)

LUNDEN: Tuesday nights concert at New Yorks Zankel Hall samples music from various phases of Prokofievs career.

(Soundbite of composition, Trapeze)

LUNDEN: This for instance is one of the two recently discovered movements from a 1924 ballet called, Trapeze. Prokofiev rarely let any of his music go to waste, and he used sections from it in other pieces. But a London musicologist found the original sketches, and the whole piece has been put back together.

(Soundbite of composition, Trapeze)

Prof. BERMAN: The music of the "Trapeze" is an excellent piece. It is the great example of a modernist Prokofiev. Prokofiev who experiments, who does not feel restricted, does not shy away from unusual sonorities, from dissonances.

(Soundbite of composition, Trapeze)

LUNDEN: Perhaps one of the most intriguing pieces in the concert provides a taste of a composition Prokofiev never finished. Its a 20-minute fragment from an opera he started writing in 1948, called Distant Seas.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: Boris Berman says Prokofievs sketches were discovered in a Moscow archive.

Prof. BERMAN: I dont think anybody knows why he decided to walk away. He simply got entangled in other projects. In fact, in his last year, he contemplated coming back and continuing and completing this work, but he died before being able to realize this project.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Prof. BERMAN: You know, 1948 was the period when Prokofiev, as well as many other composers, were repeatedly admonished, criticized, condemned, denigrated for writing something which was not to the taste of the masses. But of course by masses one should understand taste of a few officials in the government who assumed that they know what the masses like and what the masses dont like.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

LUNDEN: So, Berman says, to get past the censors, Prokofiev found a silly comedy of errors, by a minor Soviet playwright, about three marine biologists and their romantic entanglements.

Prof. BERMAN: So its all this kind of light stuff, and rather insignificant. However, Prokofiev managed writing a really charming piece, charming, tuneful and very personal to recognize Prokofievs style.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

Prof. BERMAN: One can say, well it may be not one of his great works. Yes, it is not one of his great works, but on the other hand, there are these nuggets of gold, which will bring delight to every music lover and every lover of Prokofievs music.

LUNDEN: Boris Berman and his Yale colleagues will be presenting Prokofiev Rediscovered tonight at Zankel Hall.

For NPR News, Im Jeff Lunden in New York.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

MONTAGNE: And if you would like to hear some rehearsals by pianist Boris Berman recorded from Carnegie Hall, then go to our Web site nprmusic.org.

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