By Ted AYALA
Youth, specifically the seemingly carefree days of childhood, have long been a source of inspiration for artists across the centuries. There would scarcely be room in this entire paper to list all the composers who have sought to evoke the freshness and wonder of childhood in their music. Of these, Robert Schumann, Maurice Ravel and Sergei Prokofiev are among the most notable. Yet works like “Kinderszenen,” “L’Enfant et les sortilèges,” or “Peter and the Wolf” retain about them sensibilities that feel very adult, of childhood glimpsed through the eyes of an adult. The English composer Benjamin Britten, though, is perhaps one of the very few artists whose works not only have been able to evoke childhood but also manage to inhabit it.
It is a quality that is one of the most attractive in the composer’s work, one that was used to memorable effect in the recent Wes Anderson film, “Moonrise Kingdom.”
One of the most haunting pieces used in that film’s soundtrack was the gently wistful “Cuckoo!” from Britten’s early Friday Afternoons, op. 7. That piece, along with others by Britten and a handful of pieces by other composers, will be performed this month by the Los Angeles Children’s Choir. Their concerts, part of the Britten 100/LA concerts that will continue into spring 2014, will take place on two consecutive Sundays, May 5 and May 12, at the Pasadena Presbyterian Church.
“There is no doubt that Britten had a real affinity for young singers,” said Anne Tomlinson, the choir’s artistic director. “He was somehow able to embrace a child’s way of looking at life and bringing it to life.”
Also on the program will be selections from A Ceremony of Carols, the Missa Brevis, and a number of the composer’s folksong arrangements.
“One of the strongest aspects of his work,” said Tomlinson, “an aspect that really pulls the kids in, is how his music challenges them. When they first encounter his music, some of them are just bent over in wonder over it. Everything in his music resonates so powerfully with kids.”
Though Britten was honored in his lifetime as his nation’s greatest and most respected composer, the private individual in many ways refused to grow up.
“It’s because I’m still 13,” he would remark to friends who asked him how he could compose so effectively for children’s voices.
“That’s something children do respond to immediately,” Tomlinson said of the composer’s music. “He doesn’t talk down to them. Britten would see children not as simple beings, but as young people. Children understand that. It’s like they see him as one of their own.”
For tickets and more information, call (626) 793-4321 or go online to www.lachildrenschoir.org. Pasadena Presbyterian Church is located at 585 E. Colorado Blvd., on the corner of Madison Avenue, in Pasadena.