PSO Bravo! brings to life Lemony Snicket’s irreverent and hilarious book "The Composer is Dead"
Lemony Snicket was thoroughly sick of going to children’s concerts and hearing “Peter and the Wolf” yet again. So he wrote a musical murder mystery, “The Composer is Dead!” Like Tchaikovsky’s “Peter and the Wolf,” it introduces the orchestral string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments, but with a refreshingly modern side-order of sarcasm and irony. The Princeton Symphony Orchestra will play Snicket’s narrated piece, with music by Nathaniel Stookey, on Saturday, May 16 at 2:30 pm at Princeton University’s Richardson Auditorium. This year, the popular PSO Bravo! Concert will also feature Harry Potter film music by John Williams and “Baba Yaga,” a piece about the Slavic witch by Anatol Liadov.
“The students love the moment when the conductor walks out on stage and the concert begins,” says Stephanie Chorba from Community Park School. As with the regular PSO concerts, Rossen Milanov conducts.
PSO executive director Melanie Clarke has overseen years of growth and success for the orchestra during a time in which other classical music groups have struggled. She believes that finding new ways of connecting to audiences is the key, and she sees connecting with children and their parents through the educational program as a natural part of this.
Clarke’s love of classical music is contagious, and she wants children to experience it in the best way possible. In the early 1990s, she was a violinist with the PSO, with four children of her own in the Princeton public schools. With some of her fellow string players, she visited her children’s school to give a demonstration – and a tradition was born that continues to this day.
PSO musicians now reach over 10,000 students in Princeton, New Brunswick, Trenton and other areas through their school visits and their annual PSO Bravo! concert. PSO’s education programs are always free, and the community concert given on the Saturday after the school concert is only $5 for children’s tickets ($10 for adults).
Early on, it was suggested that the PSO save money by giving the PSO Bravo! concert in a school auditorium. It’s expensive to rent Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall—with its Romanesque architecture and Tiffany windows—but Melanie resisted the move.
“I felt strongly that the hall was part of the magic of what we’re doing here,” she says. “We want children to come and have the same kind of experience our adult patrons have in coming to that great hall, participating in a very high end concert.”
From its beginnings in 1995, education is now 20-25 percent of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s activities. There are programs for middle school students to create art and writing projects related to classical music, and there are composition workshops and master classes for high school musicians.
Clarke—first a violinist, then manager of education, finally executive director of the PSO since 2006—will be stepping down on July 1. However, it is likely that she’ll continue to be involved as a volunteer in some way.
“This was a job I was meant to do,” she says with passion, “and I was so fortunate to be able to do it.”
Don’t miss all the fun of “The Composer is Dead!” Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s instruments are introduced in “whodunit” fashion by the lively British narrator, composer Julian Grant.
Find out more about “The Composer is Dead!” concert on Saturday, May 16 and the “Viva Verdi!” concert on Sunday, May 17 at princetonsymphony.org.