Opera + Classical Music Reviews

LSO/Mangou – Family Day: Abracadabra! @ Barbican Hall, London

18 March 2007

Magic was the theme of the LSO’s latest family concert and we were treated to conjuring tricks in the foyer and a programme of music which included extracts from Ravel, Dukas and Berlioz, and a well-known theme from a series of films about a certain boy wizard.

An earlier one I attended with my children, last November, was themed around space travel and included a young presenter in a dodgy space suit and bits of Holst and John Williams conducted by Richard Hickox, no less.

The day begins with workshops where those youngsters who play instruments get a chance to learn the theme for the day. In the ninety minutes leading up to the afternoon concert, there are free foyer events which, this time, included an opportunity to take part in a gamelan session (a diabolical row to some but the sound of heaven to doting parents), face painting and a conjuror doing card tricks.

What was sadly missing on this occasion was the LSO musicians in the foyer demonstrating their skills and giving the children a chance to play on the instruments, and their absence did make the foyer activities a little sparse.

The concert began in truly dynamic style, though, with a tall magician in top hat and cloak summoning musicians onto the podium from their starting places in the auditorium. The piece was Ravel’s Bolero, arranged by Rachel Leach as a sort of Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, each instrument entering in turn. To help the audience distinguish between them, the details were projected onto a screen above the orchestra.

Leach a young composer, with strong educational links, proved herself an able presenter, introducing us to each piece of music in an accessible and humorous style – Dukas’ The Sorceror’s Apprentice was followed by “If he’d been my apprentice, I’d have said You’re fired!’ like Sir Alan Sugar” (one for the grown-ups perhaps). A story about Hector and Harriet prefaced the second movement of Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique and the work’s finale was accompanied by interactive movements (stir the cauldron, add the ingredients, silent cackling) and a paper-tearing trick from the magician, which had the kids goggling.

Leach’s own composition Mr Cheadle’s Menagerie, a fun piece full of bouncy rhythms and boisterous marching tunes, was the really interactive part of the show, with a singalong element and those children who had attended the workshops playing their instruments from the auditorium. A few lucky ones actually sat on the stage with the LSO players (the fact that these are some of the finest musicians in London may be lost on the younger members of the audience but is no doubt appreciated by the parents).

The most popular item was left until last. At the previous Family Day, it was Star Wars and here it was Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter, also by John Williams, clearly a winner with this audience.

At just 4 for children and 6 for adults, these events are very affordable days out for the family and a great introduction to the concert hall and some standard repertoire. It’s not only the LSO who run them (we’ve attended similar on the South Bank) but they do have them down to a fine art at the Barbican.

As the prime consumers of the day, the last word should go to the children. Phoebe (9) thought it was “really good” and a great selection of music while Freddie (7) had the most fun playing among the fountains on the terrace. Boys, eh?

The next LSO Discovery Family Concert will be on 10 June, with a programme called “Amazing Adventures” – a journey through valleys, mountains and jungles with Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Grieg and Prokofiev.

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