Published: March 2006
Peter and the Wolf has long been a favourite piece to introduce music and instruments to children. Hackney Empire is about to stage numerous performances of this classic piece and Gabriel Prokofiev, the composer’s grandson, is an enthusiastic supporter…
70 years ago the great Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) produced one of his most enduring works, Peter and the Wolf. When Gabriel Prokofiev, the composer’s grandson, first heard it, he thought the story “exciting. I was very young so it also seemed quite scary.” He enthuses about “the music’s uplifting main theme and different melodies, and the educational thing of introducing instruments. Prokofiev wanted his music to appeal to people and to inspire them. Anyone starting to be excited by music should come to this concert; this will introduce them to classical music. Peter and the Wolf is sophisticated and intelligent.”

I met Gabriel in his East London studio. He has a “degree and a masters in music”, and his compositions include pieces for acoustic instruments and for electronics. He gives me a CD of his String Quartet No.1, on the Nonclassical label, which includes re-mixes by himself and others. “I’m in bands and I produce stuff. I’m used to people doing tracks and giving them to friends to remix; it’s a fun thing, an artistic experiment.” Gabriel has a piece for DJ Yoda and chamber orchestra at Blackheath Halls on April 6, and String Quartet No.2 is premiered at Cargo on May 24. His artistic creed is to “keep developing things but they have to come naturally, not commercially” and talks of “the energy of people being there in the room communicating; you can’t beat that.”

Gabriel was born in Greenwich in 1975. “My dad (Prokofiev’s son) came over in the early 1970s because he’d married an English woman, but she died a year after they got married in Russia. He came for the funeral and stayed. He was a Fellow of Art at Leeds University and met my mum there.” Sadly, Gabriel’s father, Oleg, died a few years ago, but both can be heard narrating Peter and the Wolf on Hyperion CDH55177, which includes other pieces for children by Prokofiev, not least Winter Bonfire, which impressed Gabriel, “a three-year-old running round the sofa, dancing!” Having a famous relation brought its pressures: “When I was 6 or 7 people expected me to be good at the piano; I tried to play my grandfather’s piano pieces for children, but they’re really tough, for prodigies. My parents didn’t push me at all, but they could have kicked me up the arse and told me to practise! I used to do a lot of acting and drama at school.”

Peter and the Wolf is at Hackney Empire from March 30 paired with a related work in which children become the characters in Prokofiev’s piece. “The first half is an update with choreography, contemporary dance. Peter and the Wolf is so famous, brilliant and descriptive; I find it inspiring and it introduces with such simplicity the sounds that instruments make. The tradition of European music is still all about orchestral instruments. Synthesisers can produce flute and violin sounds, but it’s more important than ever that people get back in touch with the core of our culture and keep in touch with the immediacy of live performance. I’m so pleased it’s at the Hackney Empire, where there’s a brilliant mix of stuff, because Peter and the Wolf appeals to everyone.”

 

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