/ Peter and the Wolf: Behind the Scenes of the Iconic Tale

2023 narrator Ilyse Robbins onstage (Photo by Hilary Scott)

In 2009, Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) began a truly remarkable partnership with Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO). This collaboration introduced BYSO’s celebrated annual performance of Peter and the Wolf, which has become a beloved family favorite that almost always sells out Symphony Hall! As we work to inspire the future of classical music, our ongoing partnership with BSO is an integral part of our mission.

Every year, over two-thousand concertgoers of all ages experience the magic of BYSO’s Peter and the Wolf. As a former audience member who just played in his first performance of Peter and the Wolf, Elliot has not only grown up with the piece but seen both sides of its production. “His first time seeing the performance, his eyes were glued to the stage with an expression of fixation,” recalls Elliot’s mother Sara. That year, the narrator told all the children in the audience that they, too, would one day be on stage playing.

And this year, Elliot took this stage with his Bass! “Our first time rehearsing as a group, we started at the peak of the wolves’ action,” he recalls, “and all of the music came back to me—I remembered the entire thing.” Working with the piece has also given Elliot an understanding of how Peter and the Wolf’s moving parts work together: the layering of sound, the dipping in and out of noise, and the embodiment of the story's emotion all work together to tell the tale. While rehearsals have been challenging, he has developed a deeper appreciation for the difficulty and complexity of the piece.

Elliot in the audience at one of his first performances of Peter and the Wolf (left) and Elliot performing at the 2023 performance (right, photo by Hilary Scott)

Over 10 years ago, Taichi Fukumura played in BYSO’s first-ever performance of Peter and the Wolf. Thinking back to that formative experience, he says, “the music not only tells an engaging story for kids, it’s effective at evoking emotion." Taichi also notes that working with the piece is a unique opportunity to explore emotions and gestures. "Playing alongside a narrator opens your mind to how interrelated all forms of art are." Now, as a conductor, Taichi has led students through the experience of Peter and the Wolf many times, always finding the piece as rewarding as it was when he was onstage at Symphony Hall.

Scroll down to hear from this year's soloists about the process of creating BYSO's Peter and the Wolf

The Duck

Playing the duck voice in Peter and the Wolf allowed me to play the Oboe with a playful tone and expression that you won’t find in most other pieces. The duck is an interesting character. Her voice is always playfully light even when she sings sorrowfully from inside the wolf’s belly. – Ezra, Oboe


Peter's Grandfather

I was first introduced to Peter and the Wolf in a live performance when I was seven, and I was intrigued by the unique characteristics of each instrument. Along with other concerts I attended, it piqued my interest in classical music, and I eventually decided to play the bassoon. Today, making music as part of BYSO has become an integral part of my life. BYSO gifts me with experiences and bonds that I will value forever. – Bella, Bassoon

The Cat

When preparing this solo, I thought deeply about the cat I was portraying. I created a mental image of the cat I was portraying. Then, to express this vivid mental image through the clarinet, I thoughtfully worked on the delivery, rubato, and timbre of every note in the cat’s parts throughout the piece. Once I was happy with my playing, I listened to many recordings, looking for new ideas to integrate into my version of the cat. – Rohan, Clarinet

The Bird

The opening bird solo in Peter and the Wolf is one of the most daunting orchestra excerpts in flute literature. As a flutist, I feel nervous when I hear the narration right before the opening flute solo, but as a BYSO member, I can’t help but feel joyful as I take in how much fun the story is. Playing Peter and the Wolf with BYSO is absolutely magical: it’s incredibly interesting to hear how the other players interpret their characters and bring them to life. What I love most about BYSO is its open, creativity-inducing environment, and my experience in Peter and the Wolf has been exactly that. – Chloe, Flute

The Wolf

I still remember stepping onto the stage at Symphony Hall for the first time and listening in awe as the narrator and my orchestra worked together to tell Peter’s story through music. Every performance since then has transported me back to the magic of that very first experience. As a senior, I’m sad that this will be my last time playing Peter and The Wolf with BYSO, but grateful for the countless memories I've made. – Ben, Trumpet

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