Play on: Shakespeare meets the classics in Allentown Symphony concerts
William Shakespeare is often considered the most influential writer in the English language.
We studied Shakespeare in school and some of us can even recite famous quotes from his plays: “To be or not to be: that is the question” from “Hamlet”; or “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” from “Romeo and Juliet,” or ”If music be the food of love, play on.” from “Twelfth Night.”
Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” was one of the plays I remember reading in high school, but I still have to say that my favorite Shakespeare play is “Romeo and Juliet.”
Shakespeare lived from 1564 -1616, so it is amazing to me how much influence he has had on music, arts and culture long after his time.
So many composers were inspired by the words of Shakespeare and they composed pieces of music that carried the titles of Shakespeare’s plays, or told the same stories in music.
Two of my favorite examples of this are Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture to Romeo and Juliet,” and Mendelssohn’s incidental music written for sections of the play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Both of these pieces will be performed by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, 7:30 p.m. March 16 and 3 p.m. March 17, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown.
The “Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture” was written by Tchaikovsky in 1869 when he was 29-years-old and still developing his musical style. The slow opening section, in chorale style, depicts Friar Lawrence. He then he writes a vigorous theme depicting the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets.
My favorite part, however, is the sword fight section where the cymbal crashes and the bold chords in the orchestra, imitate the striking of the swords and the two families fighting.
Another famous section is the love music, which reminds me of the classic movie scene where two lovers run towards each other on a beach with a beautiful sunrise in the background.
Of course, the piece has a tragic ending, just like Shakespeare’s play, and we hear the death strokes of the timpani against the somber chords of the winds as Romeo takes his life and then Juliet does the same.
In striking contrast to the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet,” we have the fun and humor of Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” set to music so beautifully by Felix Mendelssohn.
Mendelssohn wrote the “Overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in 1826 when he was 17-years-old. It is amazing how he captures the sprightliness of the fairies and the braying of the donkey.The music is happy and uplifting and fits so nicely with the text.
Mendelssohn wrote the rest of the Incidental music for the play in 1842 for a production at the Royal Theatre of Berlin. The Allentown Symphony will perform the piece featuring two actors associated with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. The actors will read excerpts of Shakespeare’s play in between the pieces of music that Mendelssohn wrote.
Joining the Allentown Symphony for the performances will be actors Erin Partin and William Connell.
Partin has performed with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, as well as the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.
Connell‘s acting credits include appearances at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, as well as Lincoln Center, New York City, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the San Francisco Playhouse, the Gulfshore Playhouse, and the Two River Theatre, among others. He has also appeared on television and film in “Madam Secretary,” “Law and Order,” and “Manhattan Love Story.”
Mendelssohn wrote a part in his “Midsummer Night’s Dream” music for women’s chorus, so joining us for the March 16 and 17 performances will also be the Parkland High School Women’s Chorale with their director Frank Anonia.
Perhaps the most famous and recognizable music from ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the “Wedding Music.” Yes, that piece of music that most people have played as the recessional at their weddings was written by Mendelssohn for the wedding scene in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I love to hear the rustle of recognition go through the audience when we begin that portion.
Sandwiched between our two famous Shakespeare-inspired orchestral works, we will feature the 2018 winner of the Allentown Symphony’s National Schadt String Competition, Canadian violinist Timothy Chooi.
Chooi, 24, is pursuing a master’s degree at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.
After winning the Schadt competition in Allentown last spring, Chooi went on last fall to win first place in the Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition in Europe, and was awarded a prize of 50,000 euros ($56,727).
He will perform the Bruch Violin Concerto, No.1, written in 1866 and dedicated to the famous violinist of that era, Joseph Joachim, namesake of the violin competition.
Chooi performs on a 1717 Windsor-Weinstein Stradivarius, which is on a three-year loan from the Canada Council for the Arts. He is a rising star and a person that you definitely want to come and hear play in person.
Combine a fabulous violinist with two amazing actors, and the words of William Shakespeare with music by great composers like Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn, and you have a concert that the entire family will enjoy.
See you at the Symphony!
“Meet the Artist” with Allentown Symphony Music Director-Conductor Diane Wittry, Timothy Chooi, Erin Partin, William Connell, Allentown Symphony Orchestra Conducting Fellow Thomas Taylor Dickey, noon-1 p.m. March 15, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. The talk is free and open to the public. Bring your own lunch.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of The Garden State Philharmonic, New Jersey, and author of “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics.” She teaches conducting workshops throughout the United States and Europe.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, for those up to age 21, underwritten by the Century Fund, are available for Allentown Symphony Orchestra concerts.