KENT—The Music in the Nave series presented at St. Andrew’s Church is branching out, bringing ever more diverse entertainment to patrons.
On Feb. 11 at 3 p.m., it will present Poulenc’s classic composition, “The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant,” its first-ever concert aimed at a younger audience.
The program will be narrated by Emmy-winning actress Margo Martindale, who has appeared on television, film and stage and who has owned a home in Kent since 2015.
The program will begin with cellist Eliot Bailen playing his “Ferdinand the Bull,” with daughter Julia Bailen narrating, followed by Bailen and pianist Margarita Nuller performing Saint-Saens’s “The Swan” from “Carnival of the Animals.”
“Basically, we have rethought the whole series,” said Matthew Harris, head of the Music Commission for the church.
“We wanted the series to not be confined to one style or genre—to have it be a nice smorgasbord,” he said. “So, we started two years with Steve Katz, who was with Blood Sweat & Tears, and we did a cabaret-style concert with wine and cheese in the Parish House. People loved it and said, ‘Find more old classic rockers.’”
The response was encouraging, but the commission members did not completely abandon their previous core music. They continued with the popular “Messiah Sing-in,” at Christmas but instead of hiring local voices, brought in a conductor from New Haven and let him “find the hottest young singers” from that city.
That program was followed by an appearance of the Manhattan String Quartet and concerts by Livingston Taylor and the Whiffinpoofs, the a cappella singing group from Yale.
“They were great, and we sold out,” reported Harris. And, instead of an “old rocker” they reached out to a young performer who plays modern folk music on acoustic instruments.
“That was our second season and now we have a full-fledged children’s concert,” said Harris, a composer, educator and musicologist. “We’re excited we can now bring in the whole family and have little kids.”
Their choice for the program fell on Francis Poulenc’s adaptation of “Babar.” “This is still serious music, even though it will be a lot of fun,” said Harris. “The story is that Poulenc was visiting relatives in 1940 and was playing the piano when a little niece came over to him and said, ‘Play this.’”
Poulenc obliged and improvised around the spoken narrative. “It works perfectly well with a piano,” Harris observed.
Poulenc enjoyed the memory of that day and in 1946 played it on the air assisted by French singer Pierre Bernac, who did the narration. “L’histoire de Babar” became one of Poulenc’s most popular compositions.
The narrator is central to the production, however, and Bernac being long since gone, Harris and his colleagues cast around for a candidate. They found the perfect choice in actress Margo Martindale, who agreed to participate. “We were all excited to have a big name,” said Harris.
“Babar” lasts only a half-hour, so to fill out the program, the commission reached out to the Sherman Chamber Ensemble, which has long performed in the Music in the Nave series. “We went to Eliot [Bailen, founder of the ensemble], and said, ‘You do children’s concerts, what do you have?’ He had ‘Ferdinand the Bull.’ Then, we needed one more thing, so we picked ‘Swan Song’ by Saint-Saens and decided that would be nice between the two narrated pieces.”
There is special pricing for this children’s concert. Tickets for adults are $20 and are available here or at the door. Individuals age 18 and younger will be admitted free.
The series will have two other concerts this year, one with Kent’s own George Potts, who released an album a year ago that is currently in the Top 40 listing for folk music. The second concert will revisit the concept of Mozart in May and will feature the Manhattan String Concert.