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Vivaldi's The Four Seasons reimagined by Michael Morpurgo and Daniel Pioro

Vivaldi's The Four Seasons gets a thrilling reinvention in a collaboration between Michael Morpurgo, Daniel Pioro and the London Sinfonietta

Daniel Pioro

Daniel Pioro ends his residency at the Southbank Centre with this performance of The Four Seasons. Image: Raphaël Neal

“More mud than mist these days. More rain than shine. Leaves to scuffle; berries and nuts to squirrel away,” reads a familiar voice. “The house hunkers down, heaves and creaks. In the monster gale that shakes windows and doors… it’s not Wordsworth, but that gives you a flavour,” says Michael Morpurgo, smiling out from the screen. Occasionally, this job has its perks, and Sir Michael giving an impromptu reading of work-in-progress via Zoom is certainly one of them.

The War Horse author has written a new piece to complement Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the evocative violin concerto that captures the essence of spring, summer, autumn and winter. He’ll narrate the words alongside violinist Daniel Pioro, who has curated the concert (May 21, Queen Elizabeth Hall) as part of his residency at London’s Southbank Centre.

The Four Seasons is one of the most recognisable pieces of classical music, up there with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Puccini’s Nessun dorma and the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen. In some ways that popularity hasn’t helped – you’re more likely to hear a tinny recording of Spring as hold music on the phone, rather than see it performed live on stage. Pioro thinks that’s a shame: “Vivaldi’s music is packed with colour and character,” he says. “I’ve always adored the vividness of Michael’s words and I was hoping he’d be enthusiastic about writing for Vivaldi’s seasons.”

He was – Pioro received a draft almost immediately after the proposal. It’s not the first time the violinist and writer have worked together: Pioro has performed the stage version of Morpurgo’s The Mozart Question – the children’s story about a violinist’s parents’ experience during the Holocaust –for over a decade. Music is important to Morpurgo; in 2021 he wrote new episodic pieces to accompany Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, which was performed by the Kanneh-Masons at the Proms. But the writer is under no illusions of his own musical ability. “I took Grade one violin – and just passed,” he smiles. “It is an honour to be connected to music through words.”

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons have been sampled and reworked for centuries – including by the composer himself. Astor Piazzolla’s irresistible tangos The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and Vanessa Mae’s improvisations, often performed on electric violin, feature among modern versions. Max Richter’s 2012 “recomposition” splices and slices Vivaldi’s themes with original material, looping phrases in gently kaleidoscopic turns and twists, creating an electro-Baroque masterpiece. But, although Vivaldi based each movement on a descriptive sonnet, words are rarely incorporated into the concerto. “We want Michael to be part of the ensemble, rather than a separate narrator,” says Pioro.

That’s because these words are an integral part of The Four Seasons, drawing out the meaning behind the music. The chattering of nesting birds, flower-strewn meadows, joyful harvests and chilling winters shaped the society that Vivaldi lived in – something that is under threat in the 21st century due to human degradation of the natural world.

“People don’t tend to live the seasons now, they are just weather forecasts, which is not the same thing,” says Morpurgo. “In previous generations a harsh season would mean starvation. That’s still the case in many parts of the world. In the west, we can get any fruit at any time of year flown in from everywhere. But that has a knock-on effect. Climate change is interfering with the natural rhythm of the seasons. We’re at risk of destroying everything that we love. Vivaldi is there to remind us.”

Daniel Pioro, Michael Morpurgo and London Sinfonietta perform Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 21, 4pm

Recording of the week…

Mozart composed some of the most intricate keyboard concertos, passionate arias and a powerful requiem, but he also wrote one of the most famous nursery songs: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (originally Ah! vous dirai-je, maman). Being Mozart, he of course went on to embellish the melody, which became a set of variations. These – and Ernő Dohnányi’s version for piano and orchestra – feature on Isata Kanneh-Mason’s new album Childhood Tales (Decca 4854180). The pianist, who has had a Mozartian upbringing herself as one of the seven Kanneh-Mason siblings, also includes the programmatic Debussy’s Children’s Corner and Schumann’s Kinderszenen.

Claire Jackson is a writer and editor.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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