Conducting our live narration to Peter and the Wolf and the soundtrack to accompany a screening of the film The Snowman, George Jackson takes to the stage at Leeds Town Hall with the Orchestra of Opera North on Sunday 22 December.
He told us about his childhood memories of Howard Blake's much-loved music, and let us in on what’s in store at this wonderfully festive concert.
Hello George, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. What are you looking forward to the most about conducting Peter and the Wolf and The Snowman?
Aside from the fact that both pieces of music are amazing, what I most look forward to is the audience, and the special atmosphere that a children’s concert brings. All the rules go out the window, which is a refreshing way of welcoming newcomers to a live orchestra. I am expecting shouting, laughing, crying, screaming, and maybe even a bit of singing along (the mums and dads too!). I myself have very distant memories of being about four years old and hearing an orchestra play live for the first time (it was Britten’s ‘Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra’), and I’m telling you: to hear an orchestra live for the first time is an overwhelming experience, and one that can only ever happen once! It’s an enormous privilege to be part of that defining moment in a young person’s life.
What can the audience expect from this concert?
At the heart of both pieces is a really good story, so the audience can expect to go on a relaxing narrative journey. What makes things even more exciting is the way in which both composers use the orchestra to illuminate each story. This heightens the emotions in a manner that is incomparable to anything else, and is a thousand times more intense than reading a book or watching the film!
Which part of the Peter and the Wolf score is your favourite, and why?
I think the most incredible part of Peter and the Wolf is how Prokofiev captures each animal and character with an instrument or a motif. So much so, that even in other orchestral music, you start to associate the cat with the clarinet, the duck with the oboe, and the bassoon with the grandfather! But apart from that, I love the moment towards the end where Peter leads the procession of animals, and all the little melodies are played again to fit together. It’s such an incredible use of music combined with narrative, and I think it is an excellent way to demonstrate the dramatic potential for music to tell a story.
Could you explain why having an orchestra to accompany The Snowman makes it extra special?
We all know the music from The Snowman and sometimes, being too familiar with a certain piece of music can be a bad thing, because you forget to step back and appreciate it for what it truly is. The entire music from the film is so inventive, and lines up beautifully with what’s happening on screen. I am convinced that you could play the music from The Snowman as a stand-alone concert piece, but linking the music to the film in a visual way is a very unique experience. You can’t beat any experience of live music performed by real humans, and this is especially true when you have the expertise of the Orchestra of Opera North on stage.
Tell us about any childhood memories you have of The Snowman, what does the film mean to you?
I spent a lot of my childhood visiting my grandma up in the Lake District, and The Snowman was one of her favourite films; she introduced it to me at a young age, and I remember watching it thousands of times on repeat. The film means a lot to me because, aside from the story’s magical wackiness, it’s actually an incredible way for a child to come to terms with loss and bereavement. There is a very strong philosophical message behind the film, and the music reflects a ‘circle of life’. The heart-breaking moment when the boy discovers that the snowman has melted leads us back to the initial piano music from the beginning of the story, which communicates through music the message that life goes on.
Lastly, what is your favourite festive activity?
As far as I’m concerned, it all kicks off on Christmas Eve: mulled wine on the stove, a Christmas ham on the kitchen table, and the heating on full blast! There are lots of little traditions, but my favourite time of year is actually the little bit of ‘no man’s land’ between Boxing Day and New Year: it’s a perfect time to catch up with friends and totally relax before the year begins again, and you can never get tired of turkey sandwiches for dinner every night!
Winner of the 2015 Aspen Conducting Prize, London-born conductor George Jackson came to attention after stepping in at short notice with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducting the Austrian premiere of Michael Jarrell’s Ombres. He conducts the Orchestra of Opera North in Peter and the Wolf & The Snowman on Sunday 22 December as part of Leeds International Concert Season.