Cover Story: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant
Newsletter of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
May - Aug 2014
Our Concerts for Children series is certainly one of the most exciting programs to look forward to. Our Cover Story will tell you just how much we enjoyed presenting The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant with guest performers Really Inventive Stuff. This delightful story of an elephant and his adventures certainly captured the hearts of our audience members!
The Singapore Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Jason Lai, and guest performers from Really Inventive Stuff delivered the perfect mix of good music and captivating stories for a fun school holiday concert! Concerts for Children: The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant on 15 March 2014 at The Republic Cultural Centre took place over two sessions, with great turnouts by enthusiastic audiences.
It was a well-rounded symphonic production featuring The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by English composer Benjamin Britten, and The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant by French composer Francis Poulenc.
The concert began with an energetic introduction to the orchestra by Michael Boudewyns and Antony Sandoval, who charismatically kept the audience laughing while introducing the roles of the Concertmaster, the Principal Oboist and the Conductor in the lead-up to an orchestral concert. For the ‘audience tuning’ session, Michael requested the SSO’s Principal Oboist, Rachel Walker, to play a concert pitch A, and then proceeded to get the audience to sing at the same pitch. He then introduced the concertmaster, Alexander Souptel, and conductor Jason Lai. The musicians were greeted with a superstar’s welcome by the spirited audience, who were all extremely eager to hear what the SSO and the guest artistes had in store for them!
Sara Valentine, in her character of Ms. Symphonia Semi d’Quaver, gave an ‘orchestra tour’ to the music of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. She introduced each family of instruments in turn – Strings, Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion – as well as each individual instrument in each family. She started with the Piccolo and the Flute, explaining the range of these instruments and the sort of tone they produce. The melodies these higher woodwinds played were light and sweet, which Sara contrasted with the pleading quality of the Oboe, the instrument she introduced next. The Clarinets followed with an agile passage, showcasing their smooth mellow tone, and the Bassoons finished off the performance from the Woodwind section.
Sara then highlighted the main voices of the orchestra – the Violins, Violas and Cellos – and the warm, rich sound they produce. This was succeeded by passages from the Double Basses and the Harp, following which the Brasses took the spotlight.
The mellow, gentle tone of the French Horns was followed by the familiar ring of the Trumpets’ and Trombones’ fanfares. The Tuba ended off the introduction of the Brasses with its heavy, booming voice.
Next in line was the Percussion family, starting off with the Timpani, followed by the powerful Bass Drum and the ring of the Cymbals. Sara then proceeded to the lighter percussion instruments, such as the Tambourine, Triangle, Snare Drum and Chinese Block. The Xylophone, Castanets and Gong made strong statements with their unique timbres, and the snap of the Whip ended the introduction to the individual instruments.
This entire introduction and the piece the full orchestra played afterwards took place against a unique combination of both narration and music, based on an older musical theme written by English composer Henry Purcell. At the end of this piece, the members of the audience, most of them attending their first concert by the SSO, all had a clearer idea of the functions of each instrument and the unique color they each contribute to the orchestra. Having understood the basics, it was time for the story-telling to commence!
An element of child-like wonder came with this performance of The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant as Michael, Sara and Antony charmed the audience with their lighthearted story-telling and ingenious use of everyday objects such as umbrellas, shuttlecocks and broomsticks as props. All eyes were focused on the stage as the actors shared Babar’s story, how his mother cared for and nurtured him when he was young, his escape from the evil hunter, his interactions with the human world and the friendship he formed with the kind old lady who sheltered him, his return home to the great jungle, his engagement to Celeste, and lastly, his wedding ceremony and coronation as King of the Elephants. Each scene was accompanied by delightful music performed by the SSO featuring melodies that ranged from ponderous to playful. After a carefully unfolded banner announced that it was “The End”, the captivated audience treated the SSO and Really Inventive Stuff to thunderous applause!
The afternoon performance culminated in an autograph session with Really Inventive Stuff. A snaking line of young audience members eagerly queued to have their program books signed. Michael, Sara and Antony gamely posed for photographs with families and enthusiastically chatted with the children. Having just watched such a splendid performance, these kids sure left the concert brimming with their own exciting stories to tell!