By PETER ALKEMA
Family Concert: Pieter and the Horrible Hyena / Conducted by Richard Cock / Linder Auditorium, Parktown, Johannesburg
The penultimate concert of this year’s Johannesburg International Mozart Festival was a folksy, Sunday morning delight for the whole family. Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Joburg Youth Ballet, the company performed with the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, narrator Nicholas Nicolaidis and the inimitable Richard Cock conducting – and teaching. Throughout the concert he explained the families of instruments in the orchestra and each musician had an opportunity at the front of the stage to display their talent.
But only in front of a South African audience could a hyena eating a belly-flopping duck next to a farm dam steal the show in a Mozart Festival. Sergei Prokofiev’s classic children’s fairytale Peter and the Wolf has been adapted all over the world, but surely this was the most unique take: Pieter and the Horrible Hyena, conceptualised by Alan Swerdlow.
The military march Entry of the Gladiators was the perfect choice to follow the introduction to the brass section – this just after Cock entered and explained the trumpet to the audience as “usually heralding the entrance of the king.” Another march, Washington Post (originally commissioned by the American newspaper of the same name) preceded an overview of the strings family featuring Valery the Russian on the viola. A young girl in the audience identified the double bass playing a section from The Elephant in Carnival of the Animals – which Richard Cock promptly promised to include in a future concert.
Having showcased the strings, Cock was sent to the back of the stage as the players treated the audience to a captivating Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. A pizzicato piece (strings plucked) called Plink, Plank, Plunk saw the audience helping out with the occasional squeaks, most of them in the right places. My daughter is learning flute and sat enraptured by the flautist and other wind instruments when they were introduced, or in the case of the oboe, disassembled piece by piece and still played.
Danse Des Petits Cygnes is the famous side-by-side dance from the second act of Swan Lake when four dancers, with their arms crossed in front of each other, hold hands and perform in unison. Although the choreography was not on display at the concert, everyone in the audience, especially the young ballerinas, pictured it in their minds as the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s music.
“Anything you hit is called percussion”, explained Cock as that family of instruments demonstrated their contribution to the orchestral sound: bass drum, glockenspiel and side drum. Then, finally, Pieter and the Horrible Hyena officially found its place among the numerous adaptations of this popular “symphonic fairy tale for children”. The storyline and score remained intact, but the characters were transplanted intp an African bushveld narrative, with game rangers for hunters, a grumpy oupa in veldskoene for the grandfather and a superbly performed Pieter for Peter.
This was innovative South African artistic talent for a young Johannesburg audience that sat enthralled by the fusion of classic and contemporary, traditional and creative. The attendees also promised to support future concerts in a similar format. Johannesburg classical music and ballet deserves to perform to packed halls and sold-out concerts; don’t miss the next one.