Getting children to sit through a classical music concert might be difficult. But when you add in two actors and a storyline, it can get easier.
This Saturday, for the first time, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra will perform a concert geared toward families. “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” is based on the popular children’s book of the same name and produced by a Chicago-based company, Classical Kids Live! Two professional actors, dressed in period costume (1820’s), portray a young boy and his uncle. In a sense, the WSO stands in for Ludwig van Beethoven.
Through conversation intermingled with Beethoven’s works, a young boy, Christoph, and the audience become acquainted with the world’s most famous classical musician. The child, who has just lost his father, is troubled by the loud noises coming from the apartment upstairs. Through a series of letters, he complains to his uncle. The uncle writes back, explaining to Christoph that the man upstairs is a wonderful composer, but he must play loudly so he can hear the music because he is going deaf.
“I have found this to be one of the most outstanding educational and entertaining introductions to classical music for children and adults,” said Donald Reinhold, executive director of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra.
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Reinhold had brought this production to the Fresno Philharmonic, the symphony he managed before coming to Wichita. He said that the audiences loved it.
“When we perform, you can hear a pin drop,” said the show’s director and producer, Paul Pement. “The music, the dialogue and the story are all woven together. The child in the story represents the child in the audience.”
Both Reinhold and Pement said that the show appeals to all ages.
“I’ve never seen an audience so still,” Pement said. “They are inside our story.”
During the show, the orchestra performs more than 30 excerpts from Beethoven’s more famous works. These include “Ode to Joy,” “Fur Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata.” The music underscores the actor’s words and breathes life into Beethoven.
“To me, the most interesting and dramatic thing about Beethoven’s life is the fact that he created perhaps the most beautiful music of all time while going deaf,” Pement said.
In this production, the uncle explains to the boy that Beethoven must be frustrated and angry because he cannot hear. He explains that the composer is afraid of losing his hearing. Gradually, the young Viennese boy understands why the “madman” plays so loudly. He also comes to appreciate Beethoven’s genius, the wonder of his music and his disability.
Since the play is not “dumbed down” Pement said, it is suitable for adults as well. While the two actors perform on stage, the orchestra can be seen playing behind them.
The symphony was asked by audience members to add family concerts to its roster. It already introduces Wichita Public School children to shorter concerts during the year, but those concerts do not allow parents and grandparents to share the experience with their youngster. Also, many students from outlying areas are not bussed into the concerts.
The WSO hopes this production will not only entertain kids but introduce them to viewing classical music in a fascinating way.
“It introduces a child to the sound of an orchestra in snippets,” Reinhold said. “If this goes over well, our goal will be to have more than one family concert a year.”
If You Go
‘Beethoven Lives Upstairs’
What: A family concert presented by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra
Special Guests: Classical Kids Live!
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8
Tickets: $15 adults; $10 children (3-12)
Information: 316-267-5259 or visit www.wichitasymphony.org