Elvis branches out with an orchestra to help a forest grow

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The Independent Online
The rock star Elvis Costello is collaborating with Britain's most successful chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, on an orchestral work for children which will indeed be played in a field.

In a unique venture, the work will form part of a concert to be played to 2,500 schoolchildren in a field in Thames Chase Forest near Brentwood in Essex. Every child at the concert will then plant a tree in a dedicated copse as part of an environmental scheme to replenish what has been termed a community forest.

The concert is the culmination of an extensive education project in Essex working with local schools. Part of that project has included learning about community forests - a rich mosaic of woods and farms, woodland and leisure enterprises, nature areas and public open space, forming a landscape for wildlife, employment, education and recreation on the edge of towns and cities.

Costello has scored an orchestral version of Tom Thumb, which will be conducted by Sir Neville Marriner and performed in a clearing in the forest next week. It is the first work Costello has composed for a full chamber orchestra. The script, written by John Cleese, will be narrated by children's television presenter Zoe Ball.

A spokeswoman for the academy said the orchestra was particularly keen to work with a contemporary composer to bring classical music to children.

Giving the first details of the project yesterday, Costello told The Independent his piece would be followed by "Green Man Ho", a poem by the late William Anderson with music by composer Paul Pritchard.

Costello said: "This is the first time in my career I've ever been the opening [support] act for anybody, apart from for Bob Dylan. But this is a special project."

He added: "It's not really like anything else I've ever written. It's the first thing I've written for kids."

Costello is a passionate believer in introducing music to children in as creative and inspiring a way as possible.

One of his models is Peter and the Wolf, which helps children get to know each instrument. His Tom Thumb composition also has different instruments for different characters.

He says: "I try to go against type. I didn't make Tom Thumb a piccolo. He's a bassoon because he's always trying to be bigger than he is, huffing and puffing."

Costello was originally asked to narrate the piece as well, but declined. "I can speak quite fluently, but I'm not an actor," he says. "Kids in the audience can relate to Zoe Ball. If it was me they would say it's him with the glasses, it's not as good as when he sings."

He says his mother took him to classical concerts when he was young, and that took away any fear he might have of classical music.

"The last thing you want is to get terribly po-faced. I've never written any music before just for the pure enjoyment of hearing it with words.

"It has always been about deeper, personal emotions. This is a completely new experience.

Tickets for the concert on 3 July are free - some are still available, telephone 0171 702 1377.