The anteater which gobbles a spoiled rich boy's aunt, the
flying toad which can turn itself into a roly-poly bird to
escape frog-loving French gourmands, and the girl with a bag of
sweets who sits on a porcupine and has to have quills removed by
a dentist have been orchestrated by composer Benjamin Wallfisch
for a February premiere at London's Southbank Centre.
"In these times when kids have so many options, I was hoping
with this piece aimed at people under the age of 10 to inspire
them to explore the orchestra," Wallfisch, 34, who comes from a
distinguished British musical family, told Reuters in a
telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles.
The premiere will take place during Southbank's "Imagine"
children's festival, which this year features a major strand of
Dahl tributes to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the
publication of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".
Luke Kelly, Dahl's grandson who helps direct his estate and who
was in London on Friday for the festival launch, said the late
Welsh-born author and onetime fighter pilot had a knack for
writing works that lend themselves to adaptations.
"The characters are so boiled down and the humor is so present I
think it does translate to many mediums, whether it's musical,
films or operas," Kelly, 27, told Reuters.
Wallfisch, whose enthusiasm for the Dahl project bubbles down
the telephone line, would seem to be an ideal choice for setting
his off-beat, dark-hued poems to music.
He has scored movies ranging from the Norse action film "Hammer
of the Gods", with an all-electronic music track, to a lush,
Vaughan Williams-esque score for "Summer in February", set in an
artists' colony in the English county of Cornwall.
Wallfisch, whose father is the renowned cellist Raphael
Wallfisch and whose cello-playing grandmother survived the
Auschwitz extermination camp, has been a huge enthusiast of
improvising on the piano since childhood, and also was strongly
influenced by family trips to the local movie theatre.
"In the 1980s there were all these amazingly great pieces of
music being written for film and I tried to understand and get
my head around them. After we would come back from 'Star Wars'
or 'Indiana Jones' I would go to the piano and try to figure out
what was going on there" in the film soundtrack.
"It does for me what music does best — it hits you hard
emotionally," Wallfisch said.
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For "Dirty Beasts" he has composed what he describes as "a sort of
trilogy which lasts about 20 minutes" to be performed over three
concerts by the London Philharmonic starting on February 16 with
"The Porcupine", followed by "The Anteater" on May 11 and "The Toad
and the Snail" on October 26. British television presenter Chris
Jarvis will narrate the poems.
"It was an incredible chance to find a really colorful musical
illustration for storytelling based on these poems that kids love
and that are so outlandish," Wallfisch said.
The trickiest of the three, he said, was the poem about the
anteater, in which Dahl is having fun with the different
pronunciations in America and Britain of the word "aunt".
In America "aunt" sounds like "ant" and this prompts the starving
anteater, whose spoiled owner lives in San Francisco, to gobble down
the old woman — and then say to Roy: "You little squirt, I think
I'll have you for dessert."
"There aren't so many ways to illustrate misunderstandings so I made
it a jazzy piece, I wanted to introduce these kids to the idea of
America being the birthplace of jazz," Wallfisch said.
His fondest hope is that his "Dirty Beasts" trilogy might have some
of the impact on a new generation of one of his all-time favorites
from childhood — Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf", in which each
character is portrayed by an instrument.
"When I was 4 or 5 I remember hearing 'Peter and the Wolf' and
for a while I refused to answer to Benjamin, I had to be called
Peter," Wallfisch said.
"It definitely had an impact on me and it showed me that you can
tell a story in music which is vivid and exciting for children. ... So
hopefully positive things will come out of this and I hope it will
have a life and inspire young kids to get involved in the orchestra
by playing or going to concerts."
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Anthony
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