Thursday, 29 September 2016

INTERVIEW: Chris Jarvis and Funharmonics at the Royal Festival Hall

MENTION the name Chris Jarvis and most parents and their offspring will know exactly who you mean.
With his infectious smile, wit and exuberance, the actor, entertainer and presenter has been a regular fixture on our TV screens for more than 20 years. Most recently he has hosted the BBC’s extremely popular daytime CBeebies programme Show Me Show Me alongside Pui Fan Lee, as well as its spin off live show which has toured to theatres across the country.
But what you may not know is that Chris is also passionate about music. So much so that he was asked to present an hour long concert designed to introduce classical music, musicians and their instruments to children and their families.
That was about 17 years ago and it was such a success that Chris has become the regular presenter of the show, Funharmonics, which is performed about three times a year at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.
It is back again on Sunday October 9 with Chris once again at the helm as master of ceremonies in which he will introduce Funharmonics: Tales From The North.
The show will take the audience on a musical family adventure through the weird and wonderful world of Nordic folktales following the footsteps of Norwegian folk hero Peer Gynt as he travels through Norway, Finland and beyond.
During the show audiences will see and hear a wonderful sunset, meet a beautiful princess, have a scary encounter with a Mountain King as well as bump into composer Sibelius and find out how the Finnish landscape, fairy stories and mighty storms inspired him and his music.
With narration by Chris, it will be performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
As I chat to him about his involvement in Funharmonics and what it means to him to be part of it, Chris’s passion for music is evident.
And I can confirm that he is brilliant company and just as cheerful, warm and friendly in real life as he comes across on screen and stage.
“I absolutely love being part of Funharmonics and so it’s lovely to be back at the Royal Festival Hall,” he says warmly. 
“Music is life enriching and this is such a brilliant idea, to enable children and their parents to see and hear a live orchestra, the musicians and their instruments and introduce them to this magical world of storytelling through music - and those who composed the pieces.
“It’s designed to be fairly simple and as accessible as possible and it works really well as it is interactive in a gentle way and which is absorbing and captivating for young people.
“I’ve been doing it about 17 years now and every time I look out into the audience and see the wonder and amazement on their faces it’s terrific.
“And just being in this incredibly magical concert hall is fantastic. I love coming back here.”
This year’s show features some of his favourite music and a story which Chris says will appeal to all ages.
“It follows Peer Gynt and his travels through Norway, Finland and Denmark,” says Chris. “It’s been very cleverly written by our educational consultant with him travelling through these countries with the music sculptured around him and the journey he makes.
“A lot of work goes into it though, as with each of the concerts there is always light and shade, dramatic pieces as well as elements of comedy which gives variety. 
“It’s about taking key moments and phrases to demonstrate the musical storytelling and which instruments do what so it’s a subtle learning experience as well as entertainment.
“I hope what we do with these concerts is to show children, and their parents, that classical music isn’t stuffy or something to shy away from or be scared of - and that the musicians and the conductors are friendly, warm and fun!
“In some ways I feel a fraud because I’m surrounded by the most incredible hard working, gifted and talented people who spend hours perfecting their craft,” he adds. 
“Rehearsals are always intense because of their astonishing attention to detail and the ability to start right in the middle of the piece note perfect.
“It’s awesome and of course I’m there to work but it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just an incredible privilege to be part of it.”
And as well as the concert, throughout the morning there are free musical activities around the building offering a fun and interactive way into the concert, plus opportunities for children to 'have a go' at different orchestral instruments under expert instruction, something that Chris says is “brilliant”.
“Giving youngsters a chance to try out some of the instruments they have seen being played in front of them is a fantastic and brilliant idea,” he says.
“It means that if they’ve seen an instrument that inspires them in the concert they can go and see what it’s like and keep that momentum and interest going.
“After the show I often go into the foyer and see what’s going on and there are always lots of children picking up instruments that they would perhaps not do otherwise and seeing what they are like to play and the sound they make - it’s great!”
Chris’s own passion for music was there from a young age thanks he says to his parents who took him to see concerts and shows and where music was played in the house all the time.
It has he said, given him an appreciation of all genres - from pop to jazz, classical to opera.
“My parents’ taste in music was eclectic so I was exposed to a lot of different stuff,” he says. “I grew up in Essex but had grandparents in Portsmouth and I remember there were long car journeys to see them where we listened to all sorts of things on the radio.
“I realised that my friends had a much more blinkered view of music as they tended to be into one particular variety, whether it was indie or rock, whereas I liked pretty much all of it!
“Even now music is still a major part of my life and I listen to stuff all the time. My favourites are the Russians such as Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky - dramatic music - but I also love fun stuff by people such as Gershwin and Leroy Anderson as well as musicals such as Les Miserables and Sunset Boulevard. And like most people I like a lot of stuff but don’t know the composer or writer.
“But as a child I just tended to lap it up although I do wish I had studied harder when I learned to play the piano.
“I only got to Grade 6 so I’m a bit of a frustrated musician and wish I’d carried on,” he adds modestly. 
“I bought a piano a few years ago and there is nothing better than inviting friends over - especially musical ones - who then take a seat at the piano and start playing. It’s just amazing and I’m constantly in awe of anyone who can play an instrument well.
“I keep thinking I should take up lessons again, but work tends to get in the way what with recording programmes like Show Me Show Me, doing the live show and then at this time of year gearing up for panto.”
And it is Sleeping Beauty in Richmond which he will soon be turning his attention to.
“We have the most brilliant cast including Maureen Lipman who is amazing,” he says. “She’s such a star and a great musician and a joy to work with. It’s going to be a fantastic production - a real proper show for all the family.
“The biggest thing you get from panto is the warmth and that’s what’s great about the Funharmonics too. Everyone has a good time - it’s utterly magical.”

Funharmonics: Tales From The North is on at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, October 9. Tickets from £5. Visit or call the box office on 020 7960 4200 for full listings.

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