MUSIC REVIEW

Rain makes way for `Ducklings'

Music Review/by T.J. Medrek
Sunday, June 22, 2003

Daniel Pinkham's "Make Way for Ducklings,'' with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra conducted by Charles Ansbacher, at Boston Common, yesterday; repeats today at the Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, and other locations through Aug. 23.

Water may be dandy for ducks, but it's not so hot for finely tuned musical instruments. So yesterday's world premiere on Boston Common of Cambridge composer Daniel Pinkham's setting of the classic children's book "Make Way for Ducklings'' became - like most of life these days - an adventure in Boston weather.

The Boston Landmarks Orchestra had secured an indoor location for this premiere on the first day of summer - a double premiere, in fact, with performances at 4 and 5:30 p.m. But sentiment favored debuting this orchestra-plus-narrator setting of the Robert McCloskey tale of a family of Boston ducks nearer its actual Beacon Hill-Public Garden setting. So they chanced it.

About 900 spectators showed up by 4. So did Pinkham and Nancy Schon, creator of the bronze sculptures of the ducks in the Public Garden. But the early show, introduced by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, turned out to be a not-so-dry run cut short when, just as Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings were about to waddle their way through traffic in the story's climax, the rain came. Much of the audience left as musicians sought cover for their instruments and narrator Ray Brown, of WCRB-FM (102.5), gamely read the rest of his text minus the music.

It seemed for a while that the premiere would be a complete washout. But as the rain let up, Landmarks founder and conductor Charles Ansbacher decided to attempt the 5:30 show. The audience was smaller but attentive and enthusiastic. And while a few light raindrops accompanied an exuberant waltz heralding the safe reunion of Mr. Mallard with his family, real rain held out until the end.

The orchestra played with sharpness and animation that revealed the detail in Pinkham's score. Among the music's virtues is the characterization of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard as complementary members of the woodwind family. Mr. Mallard has a mellow theme played with the clarinet's simple directness. His wife swims to a, well, flightier tune on the tangier, more complex oboe.

The high point is when Mrs. Mallard and her brood plunge into the Beacon Hill traffic. It's sheer delight to hear the ducklings, portrayed by bells arranged in an eight-note scale, as they make their way through a near-gridlock of strings and brass.

With performances scheduled in various locations through the summer, "Make Way for Ducklings'' is likely to make its way to a neighborhood near you. Don't miss it - rain or shine.

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