Mozart Comes to Ann Arbor
The AASO and Wild Swan team up
Let's face it, classical music faces tough competition when vying for the attention, and affection, of kids. No, I'm not about to head off on a tirade about the respective worths of classical and popular music. It'd be like comparing white-water rafting with Disney World. They offer different thrills. And everyone should have the opportunity to experience both. (Well, rafting anyway.)
But, clearly, when classical music is presented to young children, the task must be done in ways that allow them to access its pleasures - without watering it down so that they don't feel its power.
Enter the Ann Arbor Symphony and Mozart. Ever since Arie Lipsky picked up the AASO's baton, he's focused more energy into the symphony's offerings for young people. The family program at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, January 22, may be its most ambitious effort to date. Lipsky and the orchestra have commissioned local playwright Jeff Duncan, long known for his children's plays for Wild Swan Theater, to create a story to accompany the music of Mozart.
Mozart Comes to Ann Arbor tells the tale of young Wolfie (Mozart's nickname in his lifetime, and in this production); his very talented though overshadowed sister, Nannerl; and their anxious, slave-driving father, Leopold. Duncan relied heavily on the correspondence between Mozart and his father for much of the dialogue in the play, but his Wolfie and Nannerl are children first and child prodigies second. Joining forces with Duncan and the symphony are codirectors Sandy Ryder of Wild Swan and Michelle Mountain of the Purple Rose Theater. So there are plenty of theatrical bits, musical hijinks, and broad slapstick. What child won't laugh with delight when Wolfie and Nannerl, energetically played by seasoned fourteen-year-old actors Max Rasmussen and Abby Ryder Huth, break into "Chopsticks" in the middle of a serious rehearsal? What parent won't smile in rueful recognition when the Mozart kids flank Leopold, ably played by veteran Desmond Ryan, and lip-synch along with
his worried platitudes? There is adult humor too, as when Wolfie complains about their tiresome touring, "Vienna, Paris, Prague, Ann Arbor - |they all seem the same!"
And of course there's Mozart's music, ever young, ever ageless. Weaving lengthy excerpts from the symphony's January 21 concert for adults throughout the play, this family program will introduce some of Mozart's best-loved works, including the Piano Concerto no. 20, featuring twenty-year-old Israeli piano prodigy Roman Rabinovich; The Marriage of Figaro, with U-M professors Melody Racine and Daniel Washington as soloists; and "Ave Verum" - which Lipsky calls the most beautiful music Mozart wrote - featuring the choral sounds of the Vocal Arts Ensemble.
This is not classical music dumbed down for kids. Rather, it's a commitment by a large contingent of first-rate artists, local and international, to bring Mozart's sublime music to children and families.
[Review published January 2006]