The Art of Storytelling – The Bremen Town Musicians


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Kile Smith  The Bremen Town Musicians


English Symphony Orchestra
Click here to view the Orchestra List
Narrator: Gemma Whelan
Conductor: Kenneth Woods

Illustrations by ESO Youth: Katy Campbell-Ferguson, Emily Chambers, Mathilda Crutchley, Bethany Lunney, Eleanor Mackey, Charlotte Neville / Students from Chadsgrove School, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire


ESO’s ‘Art of Storytelling’ project presents world premiere recordings and broadcasts of five exceptional works for narrator and orchestra. From the cheeky humour of the Brothers’ Grimm to the touching tale of Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling, and from the Jewish humour of Lubin from Chelm to the ancient Egyptian tale of The Warrior Violinist, this is classic family entertainment for the modern age at its finest, a powerful synthesis of great literature and great music.

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About the Piece - The Bremen Town Musicians

David Yang commissioned The Bremen Town Musicians for Auricolae in 2008. It has since been taken up by other ensembles across the country, as far away as Australia and Qatar, and in the Philadelphia Orchestra “Our City, Your Orchestra” 2021 chamber music series. In 2016 the conductor Kenneth Woods, who as cellist performed and recorded Bremen with Auricolae, asked me to orchestrate it for his English Symphony Orchestra. I’ve adapted the Brothers Grimm story for my libretto, changing none of the salient features of this tale of four animals who, seeking fortune in the far city of Bremen, fall among thieves, outwit them, and find their good fortune as friends together, never arriving in Bremen.

– Kile Smith

About the Narrator - Gemma Whelan

Gemma Whelan

A favourite of young viewers everywhere for her many memorable performances in Horrible Histories, British actress and comedian Gemma Whelan is known for her varied body of work. Theatre includes: Upstart Crow (Gielgud, writ. Ben Elton); A Slight Ache (The Harold Pinter); One Man Two Guv’nors (Theatre Royal Haymarket/National Theatre). Television includes: Killing Eve (AMC/BBC); Gentleman Jack (BBC/HBO); Game of Thrones (HBO); White House Farm, The Moorside, Decline and Fall, Upstart Crow, Queers, Uncle, Morgana Robinson’s The Agency, Asylum, Mapp and Lucia, Hetty Feather, The Persuasionists, Murder in Successville (BBC); The End of the F***ing World (Channel 4/Netflix). Film includes: Emma (Working Title).

About the Composer - Kile Smith

Grammy-nominated composer Kile Smith has gained international acclaim through a distinguished string of commissions. Gramophone called his Vespers “spectacular” and Audiophile Audition, “easily one of the best releases of the year of any type… a crime to pass up.” Ten CDs with his music have been released since 2018. The Arc in the Sky with The Crossing received a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Choral Performance, and his Canticle with Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble helped win the 2020 Best Classical Producer Grammy. The Philadelphia Orchestra featured The Bremen Town Musicians in their 2021 “Our City, Your Orchestra” chamber music series. His first opera, The Book of Job, will premiere in multiple cities in the 2022/23 season.


ESO Leader Zoë Beyers talks to Kenneth Woods and David Yang about the evolution of the Auricolae Music and Storytelling project which gave birth to many of the the storytelling works featured in our series.


The Music Room series is produced by Shropshire Music Trust and supported by Arts Council England.



Richard Whitehouse

The English Symphony Orchestra reaches the concluding instalment of its series for virtual storytelling with one of the most appealing fairy tales – The Bremen Town Musicians, here given in a discreetly updated version which preserves its salient narrative and robust charm.

Maybe through its specifically German setting, what is among the more life-enhancing tales by the Brothers Grimm has never enjoyed the popularity of various other such stories (those who remember an enticingly illustrated version published by Ladybird in the 1960s would no doubt disagree!). The more reason, then, why it should not find renewed currency today – not least with the assistance of this online rendering, which has been vividly and imaginatively illustrated by students from Chadsgrove School in the Worcestershire town of Bromsgrove.

The story is breezily and resourcefully told by Gemma Whelan, assuming a variety of accents and intonations to differentiate those characters – donkey, dog, cat and cockerel – who defy imminent demise to become travelling musicians on a journey to Bremen that (at least in this version) they never reach. Their travails and unlikely victory over a band of rural robbers is underpinned with a score by Kile Smith whose echoes of Stravinsky, Hindemith and lesser-known but worthwhile figures such as Walter Piston is effectively geared to events at hand

The ESO musicians play with style and assurance, while Kenneth Woods ensures poise and humour – not least in several meaningful ‘wrong entries’. The overall presentation is sure to win this story new friends and, as usual, a range of sundry material enhances the experience.

Production Information

Recorded at Wyastone Concert Hall, Monmouth, on 30th July 2020

Orchestra Sessions
Orchestra Manager: Simon Brittlebank / The Music Agency
Stage Manager: Ed Hayes / The Music Agency
Producer & Editor: Tim Burton
Engineer & Editor: Matthew Swan
Voice-over Sessions
Producer & Editor: Tim Burton
Engineer: Richard Cottle