London Philharmonic Orchestra
The London Philharmonic Orchestra celebrated Shakespeare400 with a festival of concerts, talks and exploratory events celebrating the musical legacy of Shakespeare's work. The season’s pre-concert talks were curated by the London Shakespeare Centre’s Professor Gordon McMullan.
Anniversary Gala concert
A special gala event celebrating Shakespeare with scenes from: Verdi Otello, Tchaikovsky Hamlet, Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music, Britten A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Berlioz Roméo et Juliette, Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, Thomas Adès The Tempest, Walton Henry V and Verdi Falstaff.
‘I have had him in my hands from my earliest youth’, said Giuseppe Verdi of William Shakespeare, ‘I have read and reread him continually.’ Verdi wasn’t alone. Shakespeare’s body of plays has exercised more influence over composers and musicians than anything else in literature bar the Bible.
The concert opened with music from Verdi’s setting of Othello – probably the most bold and significant music he would write – and closed with music from his final, ebullient masterpiece Falstaff. In between came orchestral and operatic settings from Britten, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Prokofiev and Adès, each filled with character and overflowing with drama. Vladimir Jurowski conducted the music, which was interspersed with readings from the plays by actors Anna Chancellor and Dominic West, directed by Simon Callow.
The Tempest: Osmo Vänskä conducts Sibelius and Dvořák
In celebration of the 150 years since the birth of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, perhaps his most significant living advocate Osmo Vänskä conducted some of the last music the composer wrote: Vänskä’s own narrated arrangement of excerpts from the orchestral suites for The Tempest, based on incidental music written in 1925 for a performance of the play in Copenhagen.
This most ambitious of Sibelius’s theatre scores saw the composer exploring the tantalising new sonorities and techniques that might not have come to fruition were it not for his famous creative block of three decades. All the magic and mystery of The Tempest is heard here after a rare performance by Stephen Hough of Dvořák’s compelling and virtuosic Piano Concerto.
Macbeth: Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducts Khachaturian, Stravinsky and Strauss
The Stravinsky who would change music forever was first glimpsed in the luminous 1910 score The Firebird. In this blazing ballet music, Stravinsky unleashed the pictorial powers with which he would shock and enchant generations of theatregoers. The composer had found the perfect subject matter in the compelling collision of the evil powers of Kashchei the Magician with the forceful good of the irrepressible Firebird; the ballet would end in an infernal dance, ripe for Stravinsky’s own brand of violent syncopation. Principal Guest Conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducted the condensed Suite from the ballet alongside the rhythmic vivacity and emotional fervour of Khachaturian’s rhapsodic Violin Concerto.
Romeo & Juliet: Jaime Martín conducts music from Prokofiev’s celebrated ballet score
Long before the Kirov Ballet got round to staging their Romeo and Juliet ballet using Prokofiev’s music in 1940, the bulk of the score was widely heard in a suite in which the composer arranged the most vivid moments of the score for concert performance. Audiences can’t have been in any doubt as to the characters and events Prokofiev was describing in what is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable conjurings of character, mood and circumstance in musical history.