Rhinegold Photo credit: Illustration by Wanda Sobieska

Harriet Clifford

Hugh Bonneville joins ESO to launch new storytelling series

1:08, 24th November 2020

On Friday 27 November, the English Symphony Orchestra’s (ESO) new Storytelling Series launches with a musical setting of The Ugly Duckling narrated by actor Hugh Bonneville. 

Under Kenneth Woods, the performance marks the first in a series of new works for narrator and orchestra as part of the ESO’s Music from Wyastone Virtual Concert Series. Bonneville will narrate Woods’ own setting of the Hans Christian Anderson classic, with illustrations by Wanda Sobieska. 

This first series includes world premieres of five new works embracing traditional children’s tales, including Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, Klezmer, and one of the oldest surviving folk stories from ancient Egypt. 

On Bonneville’s involvement in the project launch, Woods said, ‘I knew Hugh would be ideal because his understanding of character is so nuanced. But also, I’ve seen through my own kids watching him, repeatedly, in things like Muppets Most Wanted and Paddington, that children really connect with him – he doesn’t condescend to them, as many do. His work for young viewers is just as sharp and deep as that for the older crowd.’ 

He goes on, ‘Helping audiences to connect with new music is absolutely central to the ESO’s ethos. For us it means finding ways to commission new work as part of everything we do – new symphonies, new concertos, new arrangements and, in this case, new works for young people and families.’ 

Woods hopes that The Ugly Duckling tale will support education about identity: ‘The story isn’t about an ugly duckling who becomes a swan, it’s about a young swan learning to accept himself for who he is, rather than for what others think or tell him he is.’ 

The series continues on 4 December with David Yang’s Lubin from Chelm, a Klezmer-styled re-telling of the classic English folk tale, Lazy Jack, narrated by actor Henry Goodman. 

The Ugly Duckling will be available to view on ESO Digital on Friday 27 November from 6pm GMT. 


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