A Fable for All Ages

Classic Arts Features   A Fable for All Ages
The New York Philharmonic performs a new musical version of the Aesop fable Androcles and the Lion.

Philharmonic violist Dorian Rence remembers growing up entranced by the story of Androcles and the Lion. "I loved it," she says of the Aesop fable about the escaped slave who removes a thorn from the paw of a lion and bonds with the beast. "The moral is that generosity is not only the mark of man. Wild creatures are also capable of nobleness of spirit."

Ms. Rence‹who, with Philharmonic cellist Eileen Moon, founded The Artemis Project, which helps stray and abused animals in New York City‹decided to create a production of Androcles for children. "It's a perfect story for what I want to say," she explains.

Thus was born a new version of Androcles and the Lion, which the Philharmonic performs on the Young People's Concert, Saturday, December 11. Ms. Rence is the adaptor, producer, and narrator; Philharmonic Assistant Conductor Xian Zhang, the conductor; Marion Schoevaert, the director; Anna Kiraly, the designer; and the actors are from In Parentheses Theater Company. The production combines Chinese shadow theater, video, humane education, and music by Richard Sortomme to get its message across.

"I had never done a script before," notes Ms. Rence. "The director was very helpful, showing me the layout of how to do this as scripted music. Each scene has narration, music, and visual images. The music has to be timed so that actors know how long to do images. It's quite complicated, but it may be the most fulfilling thing I've ever done."

Mr. Sortomme, who writes compositions for the concert stage and scores for films, met Ms. Rence through his wife, Philharmonic violinist Carol Webb, who shares a dressing room with her at Avery Fisher Hall.

"I knew the Androcles fable," he says. "It is very touching, sweet, and easy to relate to. I wanted to write concert music and not deal with a dialogue the way you would in a feature film. I wanted the music to tell the story, to stand on its own."

Mr. Sortomme set about employing motifs for the main characters and different textures and colors throughout to advance the plot. In addition to the full orchestra, he also uses an added percussion battery that includes bowed cymbal, anvil, five timpani, crash cymbal, wood block, and snare drum. He selected the French horn (performed by Philharmonic Principal Horn Philip Myers in this concert) to portray the lion, and the viola‹played by Associate Principal Viola Rebecca (Becky) Young‹to portray Androcles. While the musicians participate in various ways, Ms. Young is the one who carries the role of Androcles. "Becky does some 'ouches,'" laughs Ms. Rence. "And when Androcles stuffs himself, out comes a burp. That's Becky. She practiced for months! "

Lucy Kraus is a Publications Editor at the New York Philharmonic.

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