“Its charms are hard to resist!” – The New York Times
The world premiere of the orchestral version of Raphael Mostel’s The Travels of Babar: Return to the Land of the Elephants will be presented by the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, conducted by Dina Gilbert, on Sunday, May 15 at 1:30pm at Maison symphonique de Montréal, and narrated in French by actors Sophie Cadieux and Pierre Brassard.
*Jean de Brunhoff, original watercolour for Le Voyage de Babar, 1932, Collection BnF, used with permission.
Acclaimed American composer Raphael Mostel’s composition is based on the much-loved classic 1932 picture-book of the same name by author-artist Jean de Brunhoff, his second book in the series. Maurice Sendak wrote “My favorite among Jean’s books, The Travels of Babar, is full of alarming and amusing twists of fate…this is a tour de force.” Mostel’s innovative score narrates the story scene by scene, while traveling through an analogously rich array of musical ideas to introduce the range of the joys and power of music. While the score appeals to all ages, Mostel’s intention is to encourage the young to understand and make music themselves. OSM Music Director Kent Nagano describes Mostel’s Babar score as “wonderfully witty and universal.”
Mostel comments, “I am thrilled that the world premiere of the new orchestral version of The Travels of Babar is being given by one of the world’s great orchestras in one of the finest concert halls in the world. I can’t imagine a more perfect orchestra, hall, and city to launch this new work based on the iconic French classic.”
Additionally, the OSM performance will include the world premiere of new HD version of Mostel’s innovative slide-show — directed by the composer — of the famous illustrations projected on a giant screen. The Bibliothèque nationale de Paris, the Morgan Library, the Kendra and Allan Daniel Collection, and several private collectors have provided high-resolution scans of the original watercolours expressly for Mostel’s show. The team working on the visuals included Jack Lindholm, Sharon MacNair, Jeff Young, and Mostel.
This world premiere performance, part of the OSM’s Children’s Corner series, is paired with the only other concert-work to have been permitted for one of Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar books: Francis Poulenc‘s 1940 composition based on the first book, The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant, in the orchestral version by Jean Françaix. Mostel and Poulenc are the only two composers who have been granted permission by the author’s family, and this OSM performance marks the first time both works will be heard on the same program.
“Introducing my setting of the second Babar book together with Poulenc’s setting of the first Babar book is a superb programming choice by the OSM,” comments composer Raphael Mostel. “Poulenc’s has given much pleasure to audiences for the past seventy-five years. I hope my new continuation of the story will be similarly embraced and equally honour the genius of Jean de Brunhoff. Poulenc’s Babar begins with him as a baby and ends with his coronation and wedding to his queen, Céleste. The rich abundance of incidents in the second book has led me to compose a work that turned out to be more than twice the length of Poulenc’s. So when the OSM requested a version of my work that could be paired with the Poulenc, I divided my Travels of Babar into two shorter and independently performable works: Babar and Céleste’s Honeymoon and their Return to the Land of the Elephants, where they restore peace and happiness.”
Although the OSM’s May 15 concert marks the official world premiere of the new orchestral version of Mostel’s Travels of Babar: Return to the Land of the Elephants, the OSM presented the work in November 2015 in three school performances. And, with the permission of the OSM, a portion of the Honeymoon was given a first performance by the New York Philharmonic in December, prompting the orchestra’s President Matthew VanBesien to comment that Mostel’s Babar “made a wonderful impression and the youngsters in the audience seemed absolutely delighted.”
Mostel’s original score of The Travels of Babar for eight musicians was commissioned for CD release in Japan by S.T. Semba of Toshiba/EMI. The original octet version of the fanciful work has been performed to great acclaim since 1998, with a string of celebrity narrators including Phylicia Rashad, Bobby Short, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, as well as Laurent de Brunhoff, the eldest son of Babar creator Jean. The one and only collaboration in history between the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the New York City Opera was by their education programs in using the original octet version of Mostel’s Travels of Babar to introduce music and music theatre.
By dedicating individual scenes of this orchestral version in honor of various generous individual donors Mostel.com, the composer’s publisher, in association with GOH Productions, has supported the funding required for the creation of this new version of The Travels of Babar. In gratitude of one particularly generous donor, the entire orchestral version of the Return to the Land of the Elephants is dedicated in memory of Anna-Maria Kellen.
Lauded by The New York Times for having “created a repertory of entrancing works,” Raphael Mostel is one of today’s most popular and multifaceted composers. The unusually wide range of his works — for standard classical music ensembles such as his Babar, as well as for non-western instruments like Tibetan singing bowls and shofars — has compelled The Los Angeles Times to declare: “there is nothing so imaginatively far afield as the likes of Mostel.”
Mostel was also commissioned to compose music for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Brass Ensemble to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by Canadian troops from Nazi rule; his 2005 Night and Dawn was selected by New Yorker critic Alex Ross as one of the notable new compositions of the year. His iconoclastic Tibetan Singing Bowl Ensemble: New Music for Old Instrumentssm, a group he founded and directs, is known for theatrically ritualistic performances that many have incorrectly assumed to be from some “other” culture, time and place. The ensemble was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center and has also been presented at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Asia Society, and broadcast many times live on National Public Radio and world-wide. Many of his compositions are spatially-conceived, such as his largest work, “Ceremonial for the Equinox, an acoustic music ritual” commissioned by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City for 45 musicians (including shofar septet), and described as “a mesmerizing celebratory rite” by The Los Angeles Times. One of the most frequently requested programs of New York’s WNYC is the live performance of Mostel’s Swiftly, How Swiftly… and The River, composed for and performed at the commemorations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan by his Ensemble in 1987, and dedicated to the victims of the bombs.
As a teacher, Raphael Mostel has been collaborating with noted architect Steven Holl in the internationally-acclaimed Architectonics of Music Studio at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University since 2008. Mostel’s writings and feature/interviews with artists such as Olivier Messiaen have appeared internationally in such publications as The New York Times, The Forward, Deutsche Welle, Japanese magazine Ongaku Geijutsu, and Klassiskmusikkmagasin. Raphael Mostel is a nephew of noted actor Zero Mostel. He resides in New York City.
Sunday, May 15 at 1:30 pm, Maison symphonique de Montréal