MALCOLM MILLER enjoys
a children's concert by Dominic Harlan
Children's concerts can sometimes appear to be a series of lightweight performances of lightweight music,
accompanied and occasionally drowned by lots of shouting -- in short tedious. But the children's concert
at the Church of the Christian Community, Glenilla Road, North-West London, UK, as part of the Glenilla
Arts Foundation 2004 season on Sunday 13 June 2004 was the opposite: an hour and a half of zest, energy
and fun, musically excellent and wittily presented by the charismatic pianist-animateur Dominic Harlan.
Together with a varied ensemble of young graduates from the Royal Academy of Music (where Harlan
teaches a course on 'Music in the Community') the group performed movements from Saint-Saëns'
Carnival of the Animals, preceded by another work based on animals, an upbeat jazz-flavoured
cantata Jungle Nocturne by Brendan Beales. Harlan had everyone in the hall, parents and young
children from toddler to primary age making the sounds of rainfall, thunderclap, wind blowing, as well
as the essential lion's roar, snakes' hiss, wolf howl and -- a new one for me -- bats' wingflapping
(a kind of heewee heewee).
The rehearsal over, a funky piano riff allowed Harlan's own vocal rendition to blend in with the
communal jungle polyphony to the delight of all. It was a super start to the programme which was
interrupted cleverly by a knock at the door, one of several informal interruptions that cleverly
introduced a new character or theme, here the 'Two Donkeys' of Saint-Saëns' Carnival,
played by two violinists Annabelle Berthome and Charlie Scott.
The theatrical element continued in
the form of the aged Saint-Saëns himself, apparently deaf to several audience shouts of
'Bonjour M Saint-Saëns' yet admiring of the two piano performance of Kangaroos played by
Harlan and his pianistic partner Eleni Tsoutsika. Their rip-roaring rendition later on of the 'fastest
piano piece in the world' (Saint-Saëns' Pianists), affirmed virtuosity to boot. It was also
ingenious to include a fast version of the Cancan for the youngest children before the witty
performance of the Tortoises whose own Lento quartet version of that tune was accompanied by
a languorously slow description of their feeling of 'ex ... cite ... ment'.
Amongst the various
interruptions the most ingenious was a pithy music reading lesson, where Harlan translated large notated
crotchets, quavers and semiquavers into child-friendly slugs, spiders and caterpillars, and conducted
the divided hall in a contrapuntal insect mini-cantata.
Musical quality was not forgotten amidst the clamouring -- Rebecca Hewes's eloquent lyricism in
The Swan, Jose Luque Osuna's near somnambulant Elephant and the gentle strings of Aquarium,
accompanied by a wandering mermaid. Fossils' had everyone singing a refrain about pterodactyls to
the spiky xylophone of Ian Cape, whilst the finale for the whole ensemble rounded off a magical concert.
Certainly Dominic Harlan is to be applauded for his lightness of touch and charisma that created a
unique atmosphere and rapport with his audience, young and old alike, and one looks forward to return
appearances as part of his forthcoming concert schedule. The event also concluded the 2004 monthly
concert season of the Glenilla Arts Foundation, a venture which, under the dynamic directorship of the
cellist Andrea Hess has developed a strong track record and which deserves every form of support for
the artistic excellence and enjoyment afforded to regular capacity audiences from the local community