NPR: All Things Considered

NPR’s Melissa Block talks to Gavin about the music of Peter and the Wolf.
(Excerpt: start of Peter and the Wolf intro)
Melissa Block: No doubt you recognise the theme. It’s the instrument that’s out of context…
(Excerpt: Peter and the Wolf continued)
MB: …Peter and the Wolf, plucked on mandolin.
(“Beware for wolves come in many disguises”)
MB: There’s some atmospheric special effects. This is a recording of that mandolin played backwards.
(Excerpt: “Once upon a time, there was a boy called Peter. He lived with his grandfather in a cottage with a garden surrounded by a high stone wall.”)
MB: That’s Gavin Friday, sidling into the story. He’s an Irish musician and composer with roots in punk rock. Friday put together this take on the 1936 Prokofiev classic along with Maurice Seezer. They tweaked the original text, the wolf at one point ‘goes mental’. They stayed true to the score, but they tossed out the symphony orchestra.
(Excerpt: “Now this is where the story begins…”)
MB: Instead a small band with a banjo.
(“Early one morning, when Peter walked out of the house…”)
MB: Also an accordion, bass clarinet, percussion of all kinds.
(Excerpt: PATW continues)
MB: Gavin Friday describes the sound this way: he imagines Kurt Weill hanging out at a bar mitzvah.
Gavin Friday: This has been recorded by so many artists over the years, so many different people have done wonderful versions… and dreadful versions I must admit.
MB: Covers the map…
GF: Yeah, and I went, hey, if you wanna get the kids’ attention today we’re gonna have to turn this into like a movie… it’s gonna have to grab their attention, so I imagined it was being directed by Tim Burton.
MB: There’s a sinister, very dark tone to a lot of it.
GF: There is, but kids like that. Kids love being scared, but at the end of it all they like a big hug, do you know what I mean? So, musically we tried to sort of get into that Tim Burton gothic thing. When the wolf comes out of the forest, I want the kids to sort of hide behind the chair.
(Excerpt: wolf gets caught)
GF: I work a lot in soundtrack music and if you listen to a lot of the music, there’s so much after being robbed from Peter and the Wolf. Like if you listen to the wolf being caught which is ‘tun dun – tun dun – tun dun’
(Excerpt: wolf gets caught)
GF: It’s Jaws! It’s John Williams. Robbed it!
(Excerpt, “Peter tied his end of the rope to the tree…”)
GF: Listen to it! Like the whole wolf with the cellos and the double bass…
(Excerpt: wolf gets caught)
GF: Definitely… John Williams. Shouldn’t have got an Oscar for Jaws.
MB: Prokofiev…
GF: Prokofiev should have…
(Excerpt: bird & duck)
MB: There is a moment in the story when the bird and the duck, they…
GF: They’re having an argument.
MB: They’re having a bit of an argument.
(Excerpt: bird & duck)
MB: Now we’re hearing…
GF: You’re hearing flying… d’you know what that is?
MB: You’re hearing wings…
GF: D’you know what it is?
MB: What is that?
GF: Well, our percussion player is quite a genius. And he started getting paperback books and he started flapping them in front of the microphones, to give the impression of wings.
MB: Is that right, pages?
GF: It is. Just two paperback books.
(Excerpt: bird & duck)
GF: We were shaking in time, so we have 1, 2, 3… on the rhythm.
MB: There’s a moment a little later on when the grandfather is coming out to find him and he’s not happy.
(Excerpt: “Grandfather came out of the house through the open gate…-“)
MB: There’s that bass clarinet…
GF: … banjo, percussion…
(Excerpt: Grandfather theme)
MB: There’s a little creaking sound back there
GF: Mmm, it’s a rocking chair.
MB: A rocking chair?
GF: Mmm. We said: Ah, how can we make him really feel old? And we just went (makes creaking sound), and it’s a bit of a rocking chair that was sitting in the studio.
(Excerpt: “He never liked Peter to go out into the meadow…”)
MB: There is something very joyful about the theme of Peter with banjo and accordion it’s got a great energy to it.
GF: Mmm. That’s what I said, like, whether you’ve heard of Prokofiev, or even can’t pronounce the word, or Peter and the Wolf – you may never have heard of it… but you have, subliminally everyone knows that melody. You hear that melody and ‘I know that! What’s that? D’ya know what I mean, it’s just a little classical thing’
MB: Was there a moment when you were making this recording when you thought, boy, there have just been so many versions of Peter and the Wolf, do we really need another one? What can I possibly bring to this?
GF: No, I didn’t think that, I was arrogant enough to say we could do something really different. Heh.
MB: Gavin Friday, thanks so much
GF: Thank you so much, Melissa.