Monthly Archive for: ‘January, 2014’

‘Peter and the Wolf’ again enchants kids — and grown-ups

 Woody’s Rating: ★★★★½

John Lithgow narrated “Peter and the Wolf” with aplomb and humor. Photo: Courtesy, S.F. Symphony.

Donato Cabrera, S.F. Symphony Youth Orchestra conductor, led “Peter and the Wolf.” Photo: Kristen Loken.

The decibel count in Davies Symphony Hall grew as fast as a Miley Cyrus stunt going viral on the Net.

Hundreds of kids squealed in unison — and glee — as actor John Lithgow interactively drew big pictures of animals and narrated Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and a musical composition he co-wrote, “The Bandshell Right Next to the Zoo.”

The former piece rewove the original tale into a politically correct saga: The hunters don’t shoot the wolf dead but participate, instead, in a buoyant procession to the zoo.

And the duck that the wolf swallowed lives “rent-free” and warm in its belly, with plenty to eat.

Not quite what I experienced.

“Peter,” my introduction to symphonic music as a four-year-old, scared me.

But the narration was softened years later when I took my son and daughter. And this go-round of an event that pops up annually — with my six-year-old granddaughter in tow — was by far the easiest for innocent children to handle.

“Bandshell, ” which references (besides the usual monkeys, tigers and such) the likes of yaks, jackals and ferrets, is an especially interesting piece for kids — because it features a healthy but brief dose of dissonance, which Lithgow described as what might happen if “a bunch of animals [tried] to play music.”

The musicians seemed to enjoy thoroughly the musical ruckus they were creating. Many of them smiled broadly.

They also appeared to relish — along with a matinee crowd that collectively copied his rhythmic clapping — the headliner’s remaining on stage during Johann Strauss’ “Radetzky” march.

Kids and adults alike consistently focused their attention on Lithgow, who besides being a living cliché (“star of stage, screen and television”) is an award-winning author of nine children’s picture books and a memoir.

San Francisco’s Davies Hall was jam-packed for the event, with at least half the attendees well under four feet tall.

A bunch, indeed, may not have reached their third birthday.

Most youngsters remained motionless, their eyes and ears glued to every note by — and every musician in — the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.

More than a few, possibly fledgling music students, were fingering air-horns, air-clarinets or air-flutes.

A handful, not spellbound by the proceedings on the stage, were staring at the ultra-high ceiling, jabbering, fidgeting, curling up in a ball or climbing over the backs of their seats.

Nobody wrestled a sibling, though.

The 75-minute performance began with five excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, “The Nutcracker Suite” (with Donato Cabrera, who’s been the youth orchestra’s music director since 2009, pointing out passages underscored by celesta, harp and flute).

And the show ended with three sing-along chestnuts including “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The 108-piece orchestra, which began three decades ago, currently features well-rehearsed musicians between the ages of 12 and 21 — every one excellent (if any of them flubbed anything during the holiday concert, I missed it).

Parents and grandparents of the young concertgoers, as well as the numerous relatives of instrumentalists, delighted in the presentation.

And in their charges’ delight.

Looking for other family-oriented events? Cabrera will lead the adult symphony in 2 p.m., 90-minute concerts (including intermission) on Jan. 25 (“Music Here, There, Everywhere!”) and May 3 (“Musical Postcards!”). Both are intended for youngsters seven or older.For families wanting to learn about music, the symphony also provides a website —

It’s a cool way to encourage navigating the learning curve.

Most San Francisco Symphony concerts take place at Davies Hall, Grove Street (between Van Ness and Franklin), San Francisco. Information: (415) 864-6400 or

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