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‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Paddington’ Film Star, Hugh Bonneville, launches English Symphony Orchestra’s New Storytelling Series

Hugh Bonneville narrates Kenneth Woods’s powerful setting of the Hans Christian Andersen classic; ‘The Ugly Duckling’. Performed by the English Symphony Orchestra (ESO) and conducted by the composer, with illustrations by Wanda Sobieska, the performance launches ‘The Art of Storytelling’; Music from Wyastone’s Studio Concert Series, which features the ESO in a number of World Premiere new works embracing classic children’s tales.

‘The Ugly Duckling’ Available online for 72 hours from Friday 27th November 2020, 18:00 GMT. VIEW TRAILER NOW:ESO Digital On CD and download from Nimbus Alliance in Spring 2021.

One of the most popular and in-demand actors, Hugh Bonneville, star of the beloved Paddington films and the hit series Downton Abbey joins the English Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kenneth Woods for the first in a series of brand-new works for narrator and orchestra as part of the orchestra’s Music from Wyastone Virtual Concert Series. Bonneville narrates Woods’ own powerful setting of the Hans Christian Andersen classic, The Ugly Duckling and the new work premieres on the ESO’s digital portal, ESO Digital, on Friday 27 November.

In keeping with the ESO’s longstanding commitment to engaging with young people, and promoting new music, the first series includes world premieres of five new works embracing classic children’s tales by Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, playful Klezmer tales and one of the oldest surviving folk stories from ancient Egypt.

Hugh Bonneville’s involvement was key to getting the project off to a strong start. “I knew Hugh would be ideal because his understanding of character is so nuanced”, said Kenneth Woods, conductor and composer. “But also, I’ve seen through my own kids watching him, repeatedly, in things like Muppets Most Wanted and Paddington, that children really connect with him – he doesn’t condescend to them, as many do. His work for young viewers is just as sharp and deep as that for the older crowd.”

“Helping audiences to connect with new music is absolutely central to the ESO’s ethos” says Woods. “For us it means finding ways to commission new work as part of everything we do – new symphonies, new concertos, new arrangements and, in this case, new works for young people and families. We have grown up with evergreen classics such as Peter and the Wolf and there is no reason why young listeners cannot engage with new classical music in the same way as being just as relevant and natural as new pop.”

Woods based his setting of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ on Hans Christian Andersen’s original novella; a moving and personal work that Andersen was reported to have called his unofficial autobiography. “I confess that I grew up only knowing the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ through the delightful song in the classic Danny Kaye film, says Kenneth Woods. “When I finally read Andersen’s original, I was moved to tears and I knew that the only way to set this literary masterpiece was to be as faithful as I could to the story.”

Woods’ almost symphonic score is further heightened in intensity by a set of illustrations by Polish-American artist, violinist, poet and composer, Wanda Sobieska, who said; “My hand-drawn illustrations celebrate the beauty of the four seasons, explore the boundary between the external and internal worlds, and reflect the miracle of transformation, inviting the audience to open their imagination to what is a universal, life-affirming triumph.”

For today’s youngsters learning about issues of identity, Kenneth Woods believes Andersen’s message is more relevant than ever; “The story isn’t about an ugly duckling who becomes a swan, it’s about a young swan learning to accept himself for who he is, rather than for what others think or tell him he is.”

The series continues on Friday 4 December with David Yang’s hilarious ‘Lubin from Chelm’, a Klezmer-styled re-telling of the classic English folk tale, ‘Lazy Jack’, narrated by actor, Henry Goodman. Future premieres from ‘The Art of Storytelling’ series can be found on the Orchestras’ website.

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