Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet”: From Ballet Score to Concert Suite

Character lies at the heart of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1935 ballet score, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64. In the opening bars, the alternating forces of darkness and light become metaphysical “characters.” Demonic dissonances in the brass roar and subside, revealing an angelic string “choir” which seems to have been present all along. It is this battle between the baseness of the world and transcendent higher powers which underlies Shakespeare’s story. A heavy, groaning …

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Berlioz’ “Roméo et Juliette”: Scène d’amour

In 1827, Hector Berlioz witnessed a performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at Paris’ Odéon Theatre. The cast included Harriet Smithson, the Irish actress who became Berlioz’ first wife and creative muse, as well as the inspiration behind Symphonie fantastique. Shakespeare’s tragedy had a visceral effect on the composer, who did not understand English but was affected by the pure sound of the poetry and the power of the acting. In his Memoirs he wrote, …

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Eight of Prokofiev’s Quirkiest Ballet Melodies

Last week, the Richmond Symphony returned to the orchestra pit for five performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s shimmering and comic 1944 ballet, Cinderella. Bringing off Prokofiev’s music, both technically and musically, often feels like solving a puzzle. Hovering somewhere between austere twentieth century Neoclassicism and moments of sudden lush Romanticism, this music is always keeping us off guard. We never know exactly how to take it. It is simultaneously humorous and sarcastic, cool and calculating (like …

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Yannick Nézet-Séguin Heads to the Met

Last week, it was announced that the 41-year-old Canadian conductor, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, will succeed James Levine as music director of the Metropolitan Opera. The jet set Nézet-Séguin is currently music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain. In 2018, he will complete his tenure as principal conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. Yannick Nézet-Séguin has brought innovative programming to Philadelphia. Last season, he premiered One Land, One River, One People, a work by American jazz …

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Valentine’s Day with Mandolins

  My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite. -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet In celebration of Valentine’s Day, here is the quirky Dance with Mandolins from Act II of Sergei Prokofiev’s 1935 ballet score, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64. Given this ballet’s multitude of powerful, dramatic music, this excerpt may seem slightly off the beaten path. But …

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From Russia With Love

  From Russia With Love is a collection of violin and piano miniatures, recorded by violinist Oleh Krysa and pianist Tatiana Tchekina. The CD focuses on Russian composers, including Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. Here are a few spectacular excerpts from the CD: A transcription of Masks from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet: The haunting waltz from Prokofiev’s ballet, Cinderella, arranged by Mikhail Fichtenholtz: Russian Song, transcribed from Igor Stravinsky’s opera, Mavra, by Samuel Dushkin. Listen to the almost …

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Music Inspired by Shakespeare

Historians believe that today marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. Throughout history, Shakespeare’s plays have been a rich source of inspiration for composers. A few months ago we heard Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet tone poem. Now let’s celebrate with some more music inspired by the Bard of Avon: Play, music! And you, brides and bridegrooms all,With measure heap’d in joy, to the measures fall. -As You Like It The man that …

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