There is only one thing more thrilling than reading a Michael Morpurgo novel – and that’s listening to the author read and act out the story himself, accompanied by five breathtaking musicians!
Michael Morpurgo, accompanied by actress Alison Reid, violin soloist Daniel Pioro and The Storyteller’s Ensemble, a string quartet, performed Michael’s 2006 story, The Mozart Question. The story follows a young journalist who is given the chance to go to Venice and interview legendary violinist Paolo Levi, but is told not to ask ‘the Mozart question’. When she arrives at Paolo’s house, he tells her the story of his childhood, his parents and eventually, all the mysteries and secrets are revealed. In fact, in the story, it is said, ‘all secrets are lies’!
The strings, as well as enhancing the story, helped to create the mood of each scene. The musicians played the pieces described in the story, for example Mozart and Vivaldi – this was a fantastic way to introduce children to classical music, as the music was part of the story. Daniel Pioro’s playing was stunning, plus the fact that he played without any music.
And they used other instruments too. When Paolo Levi tells the story of how he used to hear the snipping of the scissors in his father’s barber’s shop, the five musicians all brandished a pair of scissors and made the sound.
Another reason the story was so vivid was Michael Morpurgo’s acting. He didn’t just read it, he portrayed each character and gave the story life. He could portray any emotion, whether it be awe or despair, while also adding humour.
On the whole, the story has a positive, powerful message – it shows the power of music, and how music can give people hope in a time of horror. Paolo’s father tells him of the time he and Paolo’s mother, among many others, were sent to a concentration camp, and how they were selected to play in an orchestra. At the start, they used to play for the SS officers, and they would each play their absolute best – it was their way of fighting back against the Nazis. Then, they would play while people were loaded off the trains and the weak and vulnerable were sent to the gas chambers. When the camps were liberated, Paolo’s father vowed never to play the violin again, particularly not Mozart, as they had played Mozart in the camp.
It was music that kept those people alive, and so this story shows how music can change and save people’s lives, when there is despair all around them. The Mozart Question is a powerful way to introduce children to the Holocaust, and it is made even more dramatic by hearing the author acting out the story and the music itself.