Questioning Mozart – Interview with Michael Morpurgo

Just prior to the opening of this year’s Festival of Ideas, for which the author will perform a musical reading of his novel The Mozart Question, we caught up with Michael Morpurgo, writer of War Horse and many more famous books.

Originally from St Albans, during his decades-long career as an author, playwright, and librettist, Michael has earned quite a bit of recognition. He was awarded a knighthood, has an OBE, and was the Children’s Laureate. His most famous work might be War Horse (made into a film by Steven Spielberg), but on 5th June he will bring his story The Mozart Question to York Minster. We asked him what audiences can expect from the show.

“The Mozart Question is a mingling of my story and sublime and uplifting music of Vivaldi, Bach, Monti and Mozart,” he explained, “performed by talented musicians.” Describing the meaning of the work, he said, “It is a story of the best and worst of humanity but with hope at the heart of it. I really hope the audience will enjoy it.”

Michael has been to York before, and also worked with the festival previously. “I’m looking forward to coming back to York immensely and particularly to performing in the Minster again with the wonderful violinist Daniel Pioro, the Storyteller’s Ensemble and the actress Victoria Moseley. The Minster is the most incredible building with so much history and I’m delighted to be invited back by the Festival.”

We wondered how easy it was for someone who predominantly writes to take to the stage and perform. “I love performing. It’s in my blood,I think, as my parents were both actors. As I’m reading, I lose myself in the story all over again.”

The Mozart Question was published in 2007, making it a relatively recent work of his. It tells the story of a famous performer who developed his passion for music as a young child. Alongside that, is the tale of his parents who were both musicians, but also Jewish prisoners, who were forced to play music for the Nazis in a concentration camp. We asked what inspired him to write the book originally. “It was when my wife Clare and I were in Venice and we were out on a warm summer’s night. Wandering around we happened upon a small square where a guitarist was playing, but to a single person – a boy of about six who was sitting on a tricycle in his pyjamas. He was completely enthralled to the music. I thought this was an incredible thing– the kind of moment that would change a child’s life, hearing this glorious music in such a setting.

“The very next day my wife and I found a plaque on the side of a wall; a memorial to Jews taken from the Venetian ghetto to concentration camps during the Second World War. It was as if we were seeing the best and worst of humanity in one place.”

Michael has a huge back catalogue of works. We were curious which of them was the most enjoyable to write. “It’s often the latest one that I have written as it’s always the most fresh in my mind. Currently that is a book called In the Mouth of the Wolf. This is the story of my two uncles, one a soldier and one a pacifist, who later joined up to become an SOE in the Second World War. It’s the story of their lives and the people they met, loved, fought and worked with. The most remarkable thing is that it is a true story.

“But, right now, I’m actually between books just at the moment and about to embark on a tour of book events and festivals.”

See Michael perform The Mozart Question at York Minster on 6th June. For more information and to book tickets, visit yorkfestivalofideas.com

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