Glen Roven on Creating 'The Runaway Bunny' with Brooke Shields

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Brooke Shields will star in the New York premiere concert of The Runaway Bunny, a concerto by Glen Roven, for reader, violin and orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, April 29 at 7:30PM in the Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage; conducted by Glen Roven.  Tickets are on sale now at www.carnegiehall.org

Presented by Medical Development for Israel with the Ilona Feher Foundation, The Runaway Bunny will be featured as part of the Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel Benefit Concert.

Taking the audience through the journeys of the wayward bunny, this special one-night only, star-studded concert introduces both children and adults alike to the beauty and power of classical music.  Filling a much-needed gap in the symphonic repertoire for family audiences, The Runaway Bunny touches the hearts of anyone who has had a mother or is a mother.  As an organization dedicated to improving the well-being of children, SCMCI is thrilled to be joining hands with fellow child advocates Brooke Shields and the ASO.

In 2006, Emmy award-winning composer Glen Roven collaborated with violin supernova Ittai Shapira to produce The Runaway Bunny recording with Brooke Shields and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London.  Since its UK release on the SONY/BMG label, millions of listeners have embraced it. Following its recent success across the pond, SONY/BMG is slated to release The Runaway Bunny/Paddington Bear's First Concert/Tubby The Tuba children's classics album in the United States April 8.

The program will include American Symphony Orchestra with conductor Glen Roven and Brooke Shields. Plus violinists Ittai Shapira, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Netanel Draiblate, Arnold Steinhardt, Hagai Shaham and Itamar Zorman.

As this is the World premiere of The Runaway Bunny, as it's Roven's Carnegie Hall conducting debut and as Brooke Shields is graciously appearing as the soloist, Roven discussed how he and Shields got to Carnegie Hall...

How did you get to Brooke Shields?

Actually, that was just about the easiest piece of the "collaborative" puzzle. We had the SONY/BMG deal in place, I had already recorded the orchestra with the Royal Philharmonic and we were looking to add the narrator. We had a list and Brooke's name was at the top. The whole thing with Tom Cruise had broken and Brooke seemed like the perfect mother figure. I had a friend who knew her and one Friday night he went to her dressing room; she was performing in Chicago.  She was a huge fan of the book (as is almost everyone!) and twenty minutes later, he called and said she would love to do it. I was thrilled, of course. And just to make me even happier, her agent called that very night to make the deal. I've been in the business long enough to know no Hollywood agent EVER calls at 10PM on a Friday night to say his client was NOT going to do a project.

 You mentioned 'almost' everyone loves the book. Who couldn't possibly love this book? Barbarians?

Shrinks! They think it's about a predatory Mother. Ridiculous!

Back to Brooke: What was it like recording with her?

A total pleasure, beginning to end. When she came to the studio she brought her beautiful daughter Ronan, and Ronan's grandmother. I actually didn't put two and two together until after the session when I realized that was Brooke's infamous mother, Terry! That was exciting in retrospect. It was a wonderful performance because Brooke knew the book so well. And obviously loved it. As did her daughter. When she started to record, her daughter screamed out to her mom, "That's my Bunny book!"

So her second baby wasn't born yet?

No. But she was pregnant. And on the EPK (Electronic Press Kit which I believe is on YouTube) you can see her holding the headphones to her belly and letting her unborn daughter hear the music. We were all in tears.

How did you come to write the piece? Did you grow-up with the book?

No. I actually was probably one of the only people in America who didn't know the book. Which explains a lot about me, unfortunately. I was watching the movie Wit one night in bed. When Emma Thompson is about to die, her first grade teacher comes to visit her and she reads her "The Runaway Bunny." I was immediately touched by the few verses read and ordered the book on Amazon. It came a few days later and I simply loved it.

How did the book become a violin concerto?

I was looking for a piece to write for a very well-known Violinist friend of mine, Ittai Shapira. We had recently started doing things together and I figured if I wrote him a piece, he might play it. I'm just another composer trying to get his music played. I figured I had an in.

What about the story suggested a concerto?

The book is extremely episodic. The Bunny wants to run away and become a trout, or a bird, or join a circus. I knew instantly that it could be musicalized. I would "make" the bunny swim, fly, walk the tightrope. And I knew the sound of a Violin would be the perfect soloist in a concerto. The perfect Bunny.

Did Ittai respond to the idea right away?

Oh, yes. But originally I thought about writing it for Violin, Orchestra and Singer. But Ittai suggested I do it for Narrator as it would be easier to find and rehearse a narrator as opposed to a singer. Our talent pool for the narrator would be larger.

What's your favorite part of the piece?

Hard question. I'll tell you the part I'm most proud of. It's the very opening motif. What we call the Hopping Motif. Ba dum, de dum.  Ba dum, de dum. After Brooke says, "Once there was a little bunny," the violin plays those eight notes and everyone gets it immediately: that's the bunny. I think that's an amazing thing. That lateral connection. A little piece of wood with strings on it makes a sound of eight notes and it's immediately recognized as the bunny. I love that little kids as well as adults get that.

Is the piece for children?

Well certainly children will enjoy it, I hope. But I know the adults will find it enjoyable. Or at least I hope they will.

How did you get Sony to record the piece?

Actually that's the question all my composer friends ask. Happily, I didn't pay a thing! They wanted to do it. A friend of mine, who started out as a clarinet player in the London pit of Chess, Chris Craker, had his own small label at one time, and that label was bought out by a bigger label, and that label by a bigger one, and after a few years he ended up head of SONY Classical UK. So I went to him and he made it happen. Now he's head of SONY worldwide, so maybe I can get some other stuff recorded.

What was it like hearing it played for the first time?

What do you think? Thrilling, of course. Actually we recorded it on July 13, 2005, my birthday. In London. Sadly, we didn't have the money to rehearse it or even play it down before we went to the recording studio. So I had to hear everything in my head. And I was lucky. When I finally heard the orchestra, I had very few changes to make.

Did the Royal Philharmonic enjoy playing the piece?

Well, when they first saw the title, The Runaway Bunny, I think they figured, "Another boring CD for kids." But once they started playing it, I could see them all lean into their stands more and more. They realized they had to work a bit. It's a very challenging piece for an orchestra. As I guess the American Symphony – the orchestra performing at Carnegie – will find out as well.

You've never conducted the Carnegie orchestra… Are you looking forward to it?

Of course! I didn't conduct the album. Barry Wordsworth did and he really did a great job. So this is my first time conducting the piece, my Carnegie debut, and the first performance of the Concerto.

What are your hopes for the piece?

I'd like every orchestra in the country to play it, what do you think?! And I'd love it to become a ballet. Do you know anyone at NYC Ballet?

Ticket proceeds for The Runaway Bunny benefit the Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel.  The Benefit Concert featuring the World Premiere of The Runaway Bunny is Tuesday, April 29 at 7:30PM at Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall (57th St./7th Ave

General Tickets $50-$100.  To buy tickets, call 212.247.7800, or visit www.carnegiehall.org.   To purchase Gala Tickets, call Schneider Children's at 212.759.3370 or visit www.mdinyc.org

For more information visit www.runawaybunnymusic.com

Glen Roven, Brooke Shields

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