You know how every new Disney movie is an “instant classic”? I won’t use that term, but I think this CD/book combination have the potential to become as standard as Prokofiev's “Peter and the Wolf” and Britten's “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” for introducing the orchestra to children. Not that I think those books should be replaced, it’s just nice to add something new once in a while.
The Composer Is Dead (Book & CD), by Lemony Snicket, with music composed by Nathaniel Stookey and performed by the San Francisco Symphony, and illustrations by Carson Ellis (Harper Collins Publishers, 2009) is a picture book with companion CD, but like its predecessors it is also a piece to be performed by orchestra and narrator.
As the title indicates, a composer has died, and an inspector is called in to investigate. The orchestra seems to be full of the composer's enemies, and the inspector interviews them section by section. Intrigue follows, and many protestations of innocence. In the end, he comes to a very interesting conclusion.
The music is terrific. I especially like the part when the inspector goes through a list of other dead composers; musical quotes and references fly through the air with each name. The story is definitely irreverent, but done with imagination and a real love for symphonic music. And if some of the humor is over the kids’ heads, that’s okay. Their parents and teachers can enjoy it.