“For a generation of a certain age, this is the first classical music piece any of them heard,” says Alecia Lawyer, the artistic director for the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) about Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. It’s a familiar and beloved symphonic fairy tale, often used to introduce children to the instruments in the orchestra.
Prokofiev wrote the score, in which a narrator tells the familiar story of the Russian boy Peter and his encounter with a fierce wolf, using the instrumentation to “illustrate” the action, in 1936. Three horns portray the wolf, for example, while the stuffy old bassoon conjures grandfatherly vibes. Over the last 90 years, Peter and the Wolf has become one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music in the canon.
That’s party what makes it a perfect vehicle for ROCO, which has always held as its mission a dedication to bringing music to the people of Houston. The chamber group performs in venues all over the city—churches, museums, the Saint Arnold Brewery—blending their concerts to their surroundings and working to ensure that audiences who are unfamiliar with the repertoire have an experience that is approachable and fun. Continuing that tradition, ROCO presents Peter and the Wolf at the Houston Zoo, partnering with Horse Head Theatre Company and the nonprofit design house Magpies and Peacocks. Horse Head is another artistic company known for producing theater in unconventional spaces; Magpies and Peacocks creates upcycled fashion from donated items.
For this performance, ROCO players are joined by Horse Head actors who will be in costumes designed by Magpies and Peacocks. Lawyer says the entire collaboration offers an energetic retelling of the familiar tale.
“Our concerts have many moving parts,” she explains. “Houston has such a breadth and depth of creativity, and has always been part of a tradition of the innovative and the new. I don’t like to use the word family-friendly because I believe all of our concerts are multi-generational experiences. And we love to collaborate with all of the city’s unique partners through music.”
The concert is free with Houston Zoo admission, and Lawyer says even those who’ve heard the piece before will find things to love.
“It’s hummable. It’s a short piece, but impactful. It’s clear. It’s clever. It isn’t dumbed down,” she says. “It’s whimsical, which is sometimes lost. But it has a lot of gravitas.”
ROCO Connections: Peter & the Wolf on Sunday, Jan. 14 at 2, 3 & 4 p.m. Free with Zoo admission. Houston Zoo, 6200 Hermann Park Dr.