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The Kids Love the Firebird

The cultural programming for children in the area occasionally goes beyond the welcome, but sometimes predictable routine of the Kinderkonzert. One such exception to the rule happened on Saturday morning, when the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra partnered with the Enchantment Theater Company to present an abridged version of Igor Stravinsky's 1910 ballet The Firebird. The troupe of five actors and puppeteers, led by Artistic Director Landis Smith, wore masks and pantomimed the actions of some characters and manipulated colorful puppets for others, at the apron of the stage in Baltimore's Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Master Ionarts and Miss Ionarts both made the journey to Charm City with me and two friends to experience this unusual retelling of the Russian folk tale.

The story captivated the generally well-behaved and large, if not full audience. Miss Ionarts, of course, liked the Princess (and her unicorn) the best, with her plaintive oboe theme, as explained by guest conductor Gregory Vajda. Master Ionarts was most charmed by the colorful firebird, that took form as two different puppets, one with flame-like wings extended while in flight, the other with wings folded and bright plumage showing. Both children ended up sitting on my lap during the Prince's confrontation with "The Magician" (Koschei the Deathless), frightened by the ominous brass and the costume's claw-like fingernails. When the magician transformed himself into a giant demon, with an enormous head and two massive claws carried by two other puppeteers, both kids shrunk down in fear. They also jumped about a foot when he lunged menacingly to the sound of a sharply accented chord from the orchestra.

The BSO gave a polished, shimmering reading of the score, excerpts from the 1919 suite version, which they played complete at Carnegie Hall last weekend under Marin Alsop. The program opened with another piece of Russian music, Glière's Russian Sailors' Dance from The Red Poppy. It is the sort of music with instant appeal for little ears -- active, fast-paced, and regular -- and provided a chance to settle into the sounds of the orchestra. A guided tour of a few excerpts from The Firebird by Gregory Vajda, with an introduction to the story from Enchantment Theater Company's Landis Smith, opened the door to a fairytale world, equal parts terror and wonder.

The next Musical Adventures program (ages 3-6) from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra features Prokofiev's score for Cinderella, with the story told by the Bob Brown Puppets and narrator Rheda Becker (April 12, 11 am). Concerts for older kids (ages 7-12) are scheduled for March 8 and May 10.

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