Going Out: Party pieces: Children needn't yawn their way through Bach and Strauss. Alexandra Buxton reports on fancy-dress classical music

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The Independent Culture
Throngs of children will descend on the Barbican Centre, London, tomorrow - many of them for their first taste of live classical music, played by a proper orchestra. The audience has been invited to come dressed as heroes and heroines in tune with the theme of the programme. 'But NO weapons please]', implores the poster.

Sitting with her family in the stalls will be Mari Markus Gomori, the concert's presenter, an elegant woman in her forties. In Cambridge, where she has already presented 13 Concerts for Children, Mari Gomori is a household name. The success of these initial concerts - tickets sell out weeks in advance - has encouraged her to bring them to a wider audience. Next spring the concert will tour all over the South East.

Many attempts to present classical music to youngsters have met with only a lukewarm response: children have been expected to sit still; the pieces have been too long; the atmosphere has been too reverential. At Mari Gomori's concerts, children are expected - even encouraged - to wriggle. The pieces are held together by a skilful narration, and the audience is given plenty of scope to participate: clapping, stamping, rattling containers, shaking keys. An appeal for volunteers to go on stage elicits a sea of eager hands.

Most of the children attending the Cambridge concerts are under 10, and have yet to learn that classical music is 'boring'. Going to a concert made my four-year-old daughter feel very special. Sitting bolt upright at the start of her very first concert, a flush of pleasure spread over her face as the orchestra plunged into Johann Strauss's 'Thunder and Lightning Polka' (the theme was 'the weather'). When, during the thunderstorm from Beethoven's 'Pastoral', some of the orchestra put up umbrellas, she shouted with glee.

Mari Gomori herself is no musical buff. She loves music but doesn't play a single instrument. Her childhood ambition to sing came to nothing. But RADA training in stage management, and subsequent jobs in theatre and television, gave her an acute sense of the theatrical, so that parents enjoy her stagings as much as children.

'For many of the children who come, it is their first experience of being in a theatre,' she says. 'I always have a theme, and pick pieces I enjoy - and not necessarily music which is supposed to be for children. We've had Bach, Vivaldi, Britten and Stravinsky.'

Concerts for Children sprang from a conversation which took place four years ago. 'I'd stayed at home for 13 years looking after my children. I'd loved every minute of it, but once the smallest was at school, I needed a career. A good friend said 'You have all that creativity, and it's going to waste'. That evening I was on the phone to another friend, who's a conductor. It was one of those moments which change your life.'

Although she had some useful contacts in the music world, she knew nothing about administration. 'I thought you could book an entire orchestra with one phone call,' she says. 'For the first concert, I had to fix the entire orchestra myself, which meant 60 phone calls, followed by 60 letters, followed by 60 more phone calls when they didn't answer]

'As I embarked on a completely new venture, I often recalled my father who, at the age of 50, was forced to begin his life again. When I was a young girl, we fled the Hungarian Revolution, crossing the border into Austria on foot. The very next day, I stood with my father outside the State Opera House in Vienna, queuing for standing tickets.'

Tomorrow's Concert for Children, sponsored by Network SouthEast, at the Barbican Centre, Silk St, London EC1 (071-638 8891). It will be broadcast by Classic FM at Christmas. The concert will be performed at the following places early in 1994: Colchester, 5 Feb; Chichester, 6 Feb; Canterbury, 12 Feb; Bournemouth, 20 Feb; St Albans, 26 Feb; Hornchurch, 6 Mar; Oxford, 13 Mar; Milton Keynes, 19 Mar. Information and tickets (081-200 0200)

(Photograph omitted)

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