, Salem, MA

Local News

November 22, 2012

Symphony tells Babar the elephant's story

When Symphony by the Sea performs “The Story of Babar” this weekend, it should be a pleasure to listen to, in several senses.

“The story is sweet, and what makes this is Francis Poulenc’s music,” said Judith Black, the Marblehead-based storyteller who will read the popular children’s story.

For youngsters who spend too much time on computers or reacting to video games, the concert will also provide some healthy exercise to their imaginations.

“I will narrate a line, and there’s 36 bars of music. If you close your eyes, you can see it happening,” Black said. “When (children) sit there and imagine, they are using a tool that should never get rusty.”

Babar the elephant, who starting in 1931 was featured in a series of books by French author Jean De Brunhoff, was an elephant who left the forest and put on a suit, so he could dwell among human beings.

His story was set to music by French composer Poulenc in 1940, in a score that was originally intended for just a piano and a narrator.

“There are several orchestrations,” said Don Palma, conductor of Symphony by the Sea. “It’s a piece that captured people’s imagination, and they wanted to enlarge the venue, to bring it into a setting where you could play it in a concert hall.

“The one we’re doing is by a Dutchman, Bastiaan Blomhert, using more winds and brass and fewer strings,” he said. “It’s a beautiful setting to this very simply story.”

“The Story of Babar” will be the third in a series of performances, each exploring a different form of narrative.

“The whole concept of the program is: music that tells stories,” Palma said.

The first piece will be an instrumental, showcasing the ways an orchestra can tell a story on its own, purely through sound.

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