On 4 March Aurora Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Paterson premiere Martin Suckling’s The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse at London’s Royal Festival Hall. This new work for children aged 4-8 is based on the book by Mac Barnett and illustrator Jon Klassen; Suckling’s piece reimagines their story as a musical adventure that introduces young children to orchestral music and instruments in a playful and engaging way. The 25-minute work is narrated by Zweyla Mitchell Dos Santos and directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan and makes extravagant use of Jon Klassen’s illustrations.
The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse was commissioned by Aurora Orchestra with the support of the Vaughan Williams Foundation. The story is a sequel of sorts to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – a mouse is swallowed by a wolf, only to discover that he’s not alone: a duck is already installed in the belly of the beast. It turns out life inside a wolf is pretty good – and they no longer have to fear being eaten up. Suckling first encountered Barnett and Klassen’s book on one of his regular trips to London for meetings at Faber Music.
As with Peter and the Wolf, the characters in the story are associated with different instruments of the orchestra. The duck (aloof, slightly aristocratic) is represented by the cor anglais; the skittish mouse by the piccolo. The sorrowful wolf is paired with the trombone, and late on a pipe-smoking hunter puffs through the bassoon. The piece is scored for single woodwinds, three horns, trumpet, trombone, two percussionists, and either single amplified strings or small forces.
Suckling’s score includes lively instances of audience participation – body percussion, singing - dancing in the orchestra, led by the narrator, and an army of Frog Güiros. The piece is available in multimedia and concert versions, and the interactive points in the point are and open to adaptation, elaboration, and omission, depending on audience and forces.