Wind in the Willows, The

(2013)

by Neil Brand

Description
adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic, for 10 actors, 8 singers and orchestra
Duration
64
Genres
Chorus with Orchestra/Large Ensemble, Music Theatre
Instrumentation
2(II=picc).2(II=ca).2(II=bcl).2 - 4221 - timpani - perc(4): vib/xyl/glsp/t.bells/gong/tam-t/w-chimes/tgl/tamb/sandpaper blocks/cymbs/crash.cym/3 toms/SD/concert BD - celesta - harp - strings
Languages
English
Commission
Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and 4
First Performance
16.02.2013, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London: various actors/BBC Singers/BBC Symphony Orchestra/Timothy Brock
Availability
Full score, script, vocal score, and parts available for hire.
 
Programme Notes
My first memory of Wind in the Willows is having it read to me by my older brother when I was five or six years old. The characters, and more particularly the situations, leapt off the page – I laughed at Toad but I was also chilled by his long walk to prison, I was scared by the Wild Wood but recognised the companionship of Rat and Mole, the authority of Badger, the heroism of the final attack on Toad Hall.
Returning to it in later life I was surprised to discover its leisurely pace, its ‘Gentleman’s Club’ dialogue and its meanderings. I wanted to adapt a ‘stripped down’ Toad - I have been involved, either as actor or composer, in no less than five theatre productions of the story and still I felt that there was something missing from the story – that something turned out to be an orchestra.

In setting the story for a radio audience I have been aware that the same moments that leapt out at me half a century ago are the most vivid ones for me now – Mole falling in the river, the train chase, the secret passage. I have been careful to allow space for the music to breathe but also to make the story feel leisurely despite the cuts necessary to reduce it to an hour. Our characters are, I hope, tougher than their usual representations – Badger is a hard survivor, Rat is a retired ex-serviceman (hence a burrow full of weapons), Mole is a feisty and quick learner, Toad is enthusiastic but definitely not an idiot – together they interact with their world through the music which provides all the other sound in the piece, from a running river to a speeding train, a rifle shot to a scrubbing brush, the sudden glare of a sunrise to the dark mystery of an underground city. The score is the caravan, the car, the prison, the Wild Wood and the Great God Pan. It is the set, costumes, lighting and special effects – oh, and it’s also the sound.

I have also tried to only use Kenneth Grahame’s words in the dialogue – I have added a song of my own and a couple of passing comments but in general the characters speak with his own voice and the orchestra and singers do the rest. The orchestra is a wonderful, moving canvas on which to project this story – it is flexible, powerful but always engaging, giving the characters a background which is their space, their thoughts, their narrative – as such it sounds very close to film music and I hope the end result of this performance will be to provide the listeners with the perfect soundtrack for the pictures that will appear in their heads. We all have our ‘perfect’ Toad, Rat, Mole and Badger – I hope this performance will allow our imaginations to ‘see’ them.
 
And so, the curtain rises...

 

 

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