It was the sound of the snipping scissors that transported me to Venice – one of a few unexpected delights of last Sunday afternoon. For the next hour or so, I forgot I was actually sitting in a church (Revelation St Mary’s in Ashford) to watch and listen to Michael Morpurgo tell his story, The Mozart Question, accompanied by actress Alison Reid, violinist Daniel Pioro and The Storyteller’s Ensemble.
I hadn’t read the book and I didn’t know the story. I took my seat knowing that I enjoyed the productions of War Horse and Farm Boy and that the Revelation classical programme has always pleased me, but still assuming, as an adult, I was not the target audience for this performance. As an arts manager and programmer, and now as a reviewer, I’ve spent years using my professional interest as an excuse to attend events that “aren’t really meant for me” – I’ve included many children’s shows and classical concerts under that. It is definitely time to shake off my need to legitimise my presence. However, I do still love the apparent surprise of being delighted!
And this is certainly a performance that delights, even with the moments of absolute sadness. It is quite amazing how Michael Morpurgo can unfold narratives that address the holocaust and its legacy, to create a story that is essentially a happy life-affirming one. No wonder Mozart and the violin are at the centre of the tale, both make music that can simultaneously invoke utter sadness and joyful beauty.
It feels like this story was meant to be heard aloud, with Mozart (and Vivaldi and Monti among others) to accompany the words. I was utterly captivated, all the elements of this performance interweave so beautifully. It seems so simple and minimal in presentation, but it is wonderfully complex, emotionally and artistically.
Alison Reid read the part of Lesley, who finds herself unexpectedly travelling to Venice to interview a renowned musician, Paulo Levi. She is instructed not to ask the virtuoso violinist the Mozart question, however Paulo decides it is time to reveal his secret. Michael unravels the mysteries from the perspective of both adult and child, parent and son, teacher and pupil, while violinist Daniel seamlessly shifts between playing as Paulo, his father and his teacher. The story tells how Paulo, as a child, discovered both the violin and what happened to his Jewish parents at a concentration camp, and why he never plays Mozart.
For innocent ears, it is a sensitive and inspiring introduction to a horrific history – here is another review of this performance which features a seven year old’s reactions (expect astute questions and air violin!).
For me, it was an enthralling reminder of the power of storytelling and music.