So Quiet / Tako tiho

Symphony orchestra composition for infants and babies

In the international art project B-AIR, a group of composers created orchestral works for babies and toddlers. The symphonic composition "So quiet" ("Tako tiho") by the composer Larisa Vrhunc, played by the Symphony Orchestra of RTV Slovenia conducted by Catherine Larsen-Maguire.

The symphonic composition So Quiet/Tako tiho for babies and toddlers was written by the composer Larisa Vrhunc. Photo: Darja Štravs Tisu

On this occasion – the inaugural performance of this symphonic composition for children – Radio Slovenia prepared two concerts in cooperation with B-AIR, both on Saturday, January 21st, 2023. The first, at 5 p.m., aimed at babies, toddlers and their parents, and their response to specially thought-out sound stimuli. At 7:30 p.m., the concert was broadcast live on Programme ARS in front of a live (this time adult) audience.

The Symphony Orchestra of RTV Slovenia, the first to perform a very special composition, a symphonic composition for babies and toddlers. Photo: archive of RTV Slovenia

Sound is touch
The project aimed at young children involves international experts in the field of developmental psychology, neurophysiology, neuropsychology, psychoacoustics, music therapy, music pedagogy and other fields. Renowned artists, composers, write new orchestral scores keeping in mind the special responses that babies and toddlers have to different sounds, and looking for ways to create a safe and nourishing space with high-quality sound stimuli – a listening space for weaving and deepening the bonds between the youngest listeners and their parents.

Saška Rakef Perko, project manager of B-AIR, on designing art for special audiences: "Music is important to everyone. The production of musical and other artistic content is mainly designed so that the boundary between the stage (the work of art) and the audience is very clearly mapped out. This also set out the expected and acceptable way of the audience to participate in the artistic event, listening peacefully in silence. Babies and toddlers, as well as many vulnerable groups, are unable to participate in this expected way and thus – at an important stage of life – we eliminate them from artistic engagement. In the process of designing symphonic works for infants, toddlers and vulnerable groups in collaboration with artists and professional collaborators, we are thus exploring ways of performing that can contribute to the plurality of formats and thus to the wider accessibility of art for the youngest audiences and vulnerable groups."

Larisa Vrhunc created the material for the work on the basis of sensitivity and response to frequency ranges, but above all it stemmed from the realisation that the listeners of the song needed a sense of security and calmness. This music is so quiet.

"The first realisation after a thorough collaboration with various experts was that young children still have that primal curiosity, but at the same time their systems (both physiological and psychological) are not yet well developed, and I have decided to take this into account. The very distinct peculiarity of young children is that they are much more sensitive to sound stimuli (especially high-pitched ones) than adults. They can't stand sudden changes and loud sounds, sounds that resemble the horrific sounds of nature (repeatedly in the lower part of the hearing spectrum), scare them, they need more time to familiarize themselves with and accept each new information, and therefore feel good about repetitions, slow and gradual changes, higher and quieter sounds, and especially need a sense of security and calmness. So it became clear to me that the music would be silent, that the chosen title was right," says composer Larisa Vrhunc.

The first symphonic piece for babies and toddlers, played in their presence in Studio 26 of Radio Slovenia. Photo: Stane Sršen, RTV Slovenia

In the performance of the concert, special attention was also paid to an environment that will allow children to move freely, to speak, to touch the instruments on offer, and perhaps to leave the room; their activities are an expected part of what is happening. In this way, parents were also able to be more relaxed in relation to the child, build a positive relationship with them and engross themselves in the music together with the child. The composer imagined that there would be two rotating objects in the room, which parents can rotate at any time at the children's request and trigger the tinkering of hanging metal tiles, and the same sounds will also come from the orchestra, as musicians will start moving the same tiles while playing. Children also received pads filled with paper which, when pressed, emitted noises the musicians responded to by "playing" on paper, especially when the audience was most active. The concert's listeners were thus able to partially direct the flow of music through their activity.

About the composer and conductor

The composer Larisa Vrhunc was educated at higher education institutions in Ljubljana, Geneva and Lyon, as well as in numerous international master classes. She is a tenured professor of music theory at the Department of Musicology of the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, where she also received her Doctorate. Despite its complexity, her music is minimalist in its own way, as the sound focuses only on the essential elements. It takes place as a game of fragile, often rhythmically fragmented tones, veiled noises, mindfully selected colors, carefully stacked in miniature layouts.

The conductor Catherine Larsen-Maguire has worked with the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra several times in recent years. She studied musicology and bassoon at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and then at Hanover and the Karajan Academy in Berlin. As a conductor, she developed through assisting conductors such as John Carewe, George Hurst or Vladimir Jurowski. Since 2012, she focuses solely on conducting. She regularly performs with the London Philharmonic, the BBC National Orchestra in Wales, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra or the Berlin Chamber Orchestra. In the field of contemporary music, she conducted the ensembles Musikfabrik, United Berlin, Ensemble Modern and Resonanz.

The Symphony Orchestra of RTV Slovenia was conducted by Catherine Larsen-Maguire. Photo: David Beecroft

Along with being part of the B-AIR project, the selected concert Tako tiho is also part of the Odkritja26 – Discovery26 concert cycle; which was designed by the Programme ARS in cooperation with the RTV Slovenia Symphony Orchestra in 2018 with the aim of presenting the most interesting contemporary composers in the international arena to the domestic audience today, who rarely get the chance to perform at regular orchestral concerts. This year they invited Larisa Vrhunc to participate in creating for the youngest listeners.

“Musica Viva” - Presentation of 4 symphonic composition for children produced by B-AIR, RTV Slovenia