Harry Shearer, renowned actor, voice-over artist and French Quarter denizen, takes center stage Sunday as the narrator for the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s presentation of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”
One of the most popular classical works aimed at young people, “Peter and the Wolf” is the musical tale of a young boy who, with the help of animal friends, captures a wolf that has been terrorizing the countryside.
The story is told by a narrator against a backdrop of dramatic orchestral music.
LPO Music Director Carlos Miguel Prieto will conduct this final season presentation in the 70-member orchestra’s Family Concert Series at Loyola University’s Roussel Performance Hall.
Perhaps best-known as the voice of several characters in “The Simpsons,” as well as for directing and narrating the Hurricane Katrina documentary “The Big Uneasy,” Shearer said his involvement with “Peter and the Wolf” came about by coincidence.
“I was talking to some of the LPO people after the last Randy Newman concert (in January) and someone asked me if there was anything I might be interested in doing with them,” Shearer said. “I said a friend of mine in L.A. just finished a stint as a director of a youth orchestra and I’d done ‘Peter and the Wolf’ with them. Their eyes lit up and they asked if I would do it for them. I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’ ”
Shearer said he enjoyed the musical work as a child.
“I had a lovely recording of it which I played and played and played. The music is so wonderful and the experience of doing it with an orchestra for the first time — with that youth orchestra — was great. There’s so much beautiful music in this piece.”
True to his style, Shearer said he delivered that earlier narration in another well-known voice, mimicking TV personality Larry King. He won’t be doing that here, though, he added. “This will be a very proper version.”
As intended by Prokofiev, each instrument in the score mirrors a character. Peter is represented by the string section in a melody that’s familiar to millions of people. The bird’s movements are highlighted by the flute section, the cat by the clarinets, the duck by the oboes, the grandfather by the bassoon, the wolf by French horns and the hunters by the woodwinds and tympani.
The narrator explains it all at the start of the performance.
“It’s a very expressive, very visual piece in how it uses the instrumentation,” Shearer said. “You’re watching different parts of the orchestra tell different parts of the story. It focuses your attention on these different instruments, and what kinds of emotions they can express. It’s a wonderful way to introduce young people to the orchestra.”
“This is going to be a fun program, and I’m excited that Harry is going to be a part of it,” said Amanda Wuerstlin, LPO’s director of education and community engagement. “It will be something new and different for us.”
“Roussel has a really nice stage for family concerts,” Wuerstlin said. “From any angle, you can see the whole orchestra, so it’s really nice for the kids to see the percussion section as well as the string section that’s in front. This is what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“Peter and the Wolf” runs for about 25 minutes. Other musical pieces that will round out the 50-minute program include the overture from Mikhail Glinka’s “Russlan and Ludmilla” and Benjamin Pope’s Jamaican-flavored adaptation of a well-known Mozart piece titled “Mozart Meets Marley.”
And for a half hour prior to the performance, musicians from the orchestra will be in the lobby with their instruments, demonstrating for the children how they’re played.