London Philharmonic Orchestra premieres
Before the Firebird, a new interactive work created for young people

The piece is created by Paul Rissmann and Hazel Gould and is the imagined prequel to Stravinsky’s famous Firebird story

The Orchestra will also tour local primary schools with a chamber version

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) will give the premiere of composer Paul Rissmann and librettist Hazel Gould’s new interactive work for young people, Before the Firebird, on Saturday 13 May 2023 at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall as part of the Orchestra’s FUNharmonics series of concerts for families.

Stravinsky’s original ballet The Firebird tells of a Prince, a magical bird, and their battle to defeat an evil king and release 13 captive sisters. Rissmann and Gould’s imagined prequel tells the tale of how these brave sisters ended up under King Kastchei’s spell in the first place. Rissmann presents and narrates the concert whilst soprano Catrine Kirkman brings to life all the different characters through singing and acting. Michael Seal conducts the LPO and local choirs from the borough of Greenwich: the Blackheath Halls Youth Choir and the Deansfield Primary School Choir. There will be free pre-concert activities for families from 10am in the foyer spaces at the Royal Festival Hall.

Before the Firebird is full of ways for the audience to join in; Rissmann and Kirkman will prepare the audience before the piece begins, and they can also learn the songs in advance in free workshops just before the concert. The story will be told onstage by Rissmann and the choirs of young people, while Kirkman will play the characters in the story, which include evil King Kastchei, the brave sisters, the magical Firebird and another terrifying baddie.

The 30-minute piece includes projected images on a large screen above the Orchestra, and imaginative lighting to help tell the story which includes storms, thirteen precious objects and a wild party in the village. The concert is bookended by extracts from Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.

Paul Rissmann said: “I’ve always loved introducing young listeners to Stravinsky’s magnificent ballet scores; he’s the ultimate adventure story-teller. What an honour it has been to be invited by the LPO, who do such great work with children and young people, to create a prequel to the Firebird, though – what a challenge!

The brief was to create an orchestral work that leads the audience right up to the opening bars of Stravinsky’s very famous score. And crucially, for that new music, not only to present a back story to the ballet, but to be a participatory experience for the whole audience.

Fortunately, I got to work with the brilliant librettist Hazel Gould who created the most compelling narrative. We can’t wait to perform the work at the Royal Festival Hall this May. It’s been a long time coming, especially the premiere should have been in May 2020!

Hazel Gould says: “It was a delight to be able to dive into the incredible world of The Firebird, and really get to know the characters from this rich world. I loved imagining these sisters, in all their strength and power in their battle against Kastchei.  It’s always an honour to get the chance to use well-loved pieces as a springboard for new work.  As new audiences encounter orchestral music, alongside celebrated pieces from the pastz, it’s so important for us to remember that this is a living breathing artform for everyone to enjoy.  I loved writing this piece, I hope you are as enchanted by the story and the characters as I was!”

As part of the Orchestra’s commitment to nurturing a lifelong love of music and creativity, there will also be significant work with schools using the new piece. A chamber-sized ensemble will perform Before the Firebird for primary schools in Lambeth and Lewisham and there will also be a relaxed public performance for families at Woolwich Works on Saturday 20 May (11am).

Teachers from eight schools are taking part in three continuing professional development sessions led by LPO animateurs and musicians, covering creative music-making related to Before the Firebird, as well as ways to learn the audience participation songs. Partaking schools will then attend the LPO’s Key Stage 2 BrightSparks concert at the Royal Festival Hall, connecting their experience of hearing the chamber ensemble with the thrill of seeing the full orchestra live. BrightSparks is the Orchestra’s series of inspiring live experiences for school audiences from Key Stage 1 all the way up to A Level – often this is the first time students will have encountered the wonder of a live orchestra.

Before the Firebird is generously supported by the Lord and Lady Lurgan Trust.


Book tickets to Saturday 13 May FUNharmonics at the Royal Festival Hall here