Feb 20, 2015

London with kids: Mini Maestro family concerts

A great introduction to classical music – provided your kids are up for it.

So I spent my birthday covering (well, live-tweeting) #BCCConf, which was pretty exciting since we scored front-row seats (and with "scored" I mean "began squatting on 1.5 hours before the official conference start"). The weird thing about seeing politicians (David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Balls, William Hague, Chuka Umunna, Vince Cable...etc) up close is that from being constantly exposed to them in the news, etc., you get this false sense of familiarity, meaning that it felt very un-surreal to be up close to these guys (and yes, they were mostly guys). Like that time I said hello to Emma Thompson at Heathrow Airport because I thought she was a friend of my mom's...

Anyhow, since I'd been up since about 4 am on my birthday, and didn't come home till late, we decided to save the fun for the weekend. To expose the little monster to some culture I'd finally secured tickets to an event I'd been planning to attend for a while now: one of John Landor's Mini Maestro concerts in St Martin in the Fields, specifically the "Introduction to Opera." The concert is part of the London Musical Arts Orchestra's initiative to make music more accessible to children, sowing the seeds for a life-long appreciation of the arts...the publicity collateral says it's from 4 and up, so we thought we'd be fine taking a 5 1/2 year old who is starting to develop and interest in music (or at least likes singing and yelling at Nate "curve your fingers when you play the piano, don't pound them flat like that!" when he tries to play).

The good

I'd only been to the Crypt Cafe at St Martin's in the Fields before, so I really enjoyed soaking in the atmosphere at the church (note: arrive early to get good seats!).

The performers (1 soprano, alto, tenor, and bass each plus a great pianist) were glamorous but accessible, and clearly enjoyed themselves.

The pieces were mostly old favorites (largely in their English translations) such as

- Rossini's La Cenerentola (which I'd been lucky to see in full in Paris)
- "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" from Bizet's Carmen
- "Der Vogelfaenger" from Mozart's The Magic Flute
- 'O sole mio
- "Three little maids from school are we" from Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado
- A piece from Jonathan Dove's The enchanted pig (premiered in 2006 - a new discovery for me)
- Rossini's "Duetto buffo di due gatto" (meeeeeeow)
- "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles

There was a comparatively large scope for participation, from sing-alongs to waving paper birds, to helping one of the singers dress up as a bride, as well as additional merch (pens, papers) on hand to entertain unruly little monsters – and at just an hour, it's feasible for little attention spans.

The bad

Lee was...not in the mood for culture that day. Partially because the day before she'd had a massive blow to her ego in the performing arts field – she made the finals for her school's talent show with "My favourite things," but when it came to performing in front of the whole school plus parents, she just started bawling the moment her name was called up. After ample cuddles and her friend's performance she did decide to go up (and did quite well), but it massively shook her confidence. All in all, there was a fair amount of whinage during the concert (and hissing from me) which means it didn't quite go as I expected it to.

Bottom line

If your child is comparatively well behaved, it's definitely worth it. Lee's said she's open to trying Mini Maestros again when she's six years old...until then we're likely back to the usual Saturday program. Though I do want to add some other museums to the mix again...spending two hours at the Science Museum's basement playground and then another trying to talk to Lee while she's more interested in exploring every single touchscreen at the exhibit has...limited appeal.

After the concert we went to Wagamama, which was crowded and noisy; given the combination of umami foods and huge portion sizes, I left feeling very sleepy and uncomfortably full. But Lee got a ride on the merry-go-round by the London Eye, which rescued the day for her – and her enthusiasm during the ride made our day too.

And my new camera's phone is just awful, hence the dearth of photos.

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