Longmont Youth Symphony, Young Artist Competition winner Alisa Johnson will also be featured
By Peter Alexander
When Elliot Moore wanted to bring in a superstar for the Longmont Symphony’s Family Concert, he knew whom to call.
In the world of children’s literature, no stars are more super then Jack Prelutsky, the first-ever U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate and multi-award winning author of more than 50 collections of poetry for children. He is also a friend of Moore’s family, and has had one of his most popular books of poems set to music, making him the perfect choice.
For the concert (4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, in Longmont’s Vance Brand Civic Auditorium), Prelutsky will narrate the performance of composer Lucas Richman’s score for Prelutsky’s Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant, and also read his poems for selections from Camille Saint-Saëns’s classic Carnival of the Animals.
Other works on the program will be the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, featuring the LSO’s Young Artist Competition winner Alisa Johnson, a senior at Niwot High School and student of James Maurer; and the finale of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, performed together with the Longmont Youth Symphony.
Prelutsky is a musician as well as an author. A folk singer in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, he sang for several years in the Bainbridge Island (Washington) Evergreen Singers, which was conducted by Moore’s mother. “At some point he told her that somebody had set his poetry to music, and it had been recorded with the San Diego Symphony,” Moore says. “My mom gave me a phone call, so that’s how I heard about Jack and this piece, Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant.”
The book is a set of poems about creatures that are part animals and part inanimate objects, such as the umbrellaphant, the panthermometer and the clocktopus. Prelutsky says the poems were written when he was sitting in a hotel in Hawaii, unable to go to the beach because his foot hurt. “I wrote the poem ‘Shoehornets,’ thinking about shoes and feet and pain,” he says. “I had done a book, Scranimals, where I combined animals with each other and with flowers and trees. I thought this was the next step, to combine them with ordinary objects. And so it grew from there.”
Later Prelutsky met Richman, who is conductor of the Bangor (Maine) Symphony Orchestra as well as an accomplished composer. “I was very lucky to meet him,” Prelutsky says. “We’ve become friends and we work well together.”
Richman’s music takes eager advantage of all the musical hints in the poems. Every piece has its own character, across a wide variety of styles and musical types. The Umbrellaphant features horn calls that recall elephants’ trumpeting. The Panthermometer is a cool cat who can tell you the temperature. “He gives that one all kinds of incredible jazzy things,” Moore says.
“When we read through it, we got to the end of the Panthermometer, and we all laughed! We had a lot of fun rehearsing it, and bringing more of that jazz quality into our playing.”
Prelutsky’s poems for Carnival of the Animals came about it a completely different way, since the music existed first. The American humorous poet Ogden Nash had written a set of poems to accompany Saint-Saëns popular music in the 1940s, but Prelutsky’s publisher wanted him to write a new set of poems, because Nash’s originals were outdated. His editor called and asked, “Can you write me poems to go along with the music?”
“I said ‘I’m not sure, I don’t know, no I can’t,’” Prelutsky recalls. “I said, ‘the problem is that most of these animals I’ve already written about, and I’m not sure I have anything else to say.’ And I really meant that, but she said, ‘Give me a break, just do it.’”
“So I called her the next day and I said, ‘I finished.’”
Prelutsky’s appearance perfectly matches Moore’s philosophy in programming family concerts. “For me, one goal for the this concert would be to show what fun can be had in classical music, whether performing, or listening, or taking part in some other way,” he says.“Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant is the most fun work on the program. However, the Longmont Symphony has things that they have traditionally done to make this family concert engaging for youth. They have featured the Young Artist Competition winner, and I think that’s a brilliant thing to do, because it allows the children to see that mastery of your instrument by a certain age is possible.
“This concert will feature Alissa Johnson, and she sounds fantastic. And another thing that I’m really excited about is sharing the stage with the Longmont Youth Symphony. This is another way for children to say to themselves, ‘Wow! There are kids doing this, they’re receiving applause, and it looks like fun!’”
Prelutsky agrees that above all, the performance should be fun for the audience. “I hope it makes you enjoy language,” he says. “And I hope you get a laugh out of it.”
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Family Concert: Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant
Longmont Symphony Orchestra, Elliot Moore, conductor
SAINT-SAËNS: Selections from Carnival of the Animals
Jack Prelutsky, narrator
MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto, 1st movement
Alisa Johnson, violin, Young Artist Competition Winner
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 (Finale)
With the Longmont Youth Symphony
LUCAS RICHMAN: Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant
Jack Prelutsky, narrator
4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont