Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra presents three unique works by three diverse composers
By Joe Aiello
On Thursday, Oct. 13 and Saturday, Oct. 15 in the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra will present this season’s second Classical series concert Romeo, Juliet and Prokofiev, providing musical “bookends” for Prokofiev Meets Shakespeare, the Friday, Oct. 14 Classical Connections series’ second concert. All start at 8 p.m.
For all three concerts, Bruce Cromer — professor and head of acting for the Professional Actor Training program at Wright State University and a resident artist with the Human Race Theatre Company — joins Neal Gittleman and the orchestra to inject portions of the narrated script of Shakespeare’s original play into Prokofiev’s music.
All three concerts are about love: love of one’s homeland, the love of — and for — music, and romantic love.
“Alegria” (Al-ā-gree-ah), a 10-minute work by 50-something Puerto Rican composer Roberto Sierra opens the Classical program. Besotted by his love for the modernism of European music and the folk music of Latin America, Sierra has fused the two, very disparate genres into something he has coined tropicalization.
And does it ever jump!
Alegría means happiness, and Sierra depicts it musically with swiftness, tonal brilliance, enthusiasm and brisk beat. The piece features sections where it appears almost as if Sierra couldn’t decide whether he wanted the characteristically Latin six-beat to exist in two sets of three beats or three sets of two.
The result is an ecstatic flurry, with the orchestra seemingly straining at times to keep pace with individual musicians who, much like runners in a 100-yard dash, are trying to finish ahead of the pack. All in all, it’s 10 minutes of thoroughly invigorating, life-affirming music and a composer’s loving valentine to the music of his homeland.
The second piece on the Classical concert program is the song without end referred to in our title: the Symphony Number 8, D. 759 in B minor, the Unfinished symphony by Franz Schubert. One of the first of the so-called romantic composers, Schubert was a master of the art song, or lied, having composed more than 100 songs before he turned 20 and pioneering the song cycle.
In his mid-20s, Schubert started work on the B minor 8th Symphony, scoring the first two movements, sketching the third, and — sometime during that period — contracting syphilis (a not-all-that-unusual occurrence in those times) which, arguably, some contend is the reason why the symphony remained “unfinished” (a standard classical symphony has four movements).
The first movement, marked Allegro moderato (moderately joyful) has at first all the solemnity of a funeral provided by the basses, built upon by a gently flowing lyric melody that builds, gaining momentum, seeming to depict running or moving toward an ever-upward destination and a sudden conclusion. There is a slight pause, followed by a brilliant, waltz-like melody that seems to say, “You’re on the first plateau now; enjoy it, but don’t get too terribly comfortable.” Suddenly, an abrupt horn passage underscores the tenuousness of your landing spot. It, too, then builds, followed by the waltz once more, pushing you ever upward as it melds into a peaceful, reassuring, transitional statement. Then, the tone changes again, taking full advantage of all the sturm-und-drang feeling that music written in a minor key frequently evokes, reprising the opening and ending with solemn dignity.
The second (and final) movement, marked Andante con moto (at a walking pace, with motion) opens with a strikingly peaceful, beautiful movement that suggests a totally relaxed state of being. The woodwinds follow with a melody reminiscent of the sound of a waterfall or of wind blowing through a wheat field on a lazy, summer day. The tranquility is almost unbearable. The music changes key, and the themes repeat, several new layers of instrumentation fleshing out the melody. Finally, the tranquil theme wins out over the overbearing reprisal, and the movement wends dreamily and quietly to its end.
After intermission, the Classical concert concludes with perhaps one of Sergei Prokofiev’s ultimate masterworks, his music for the ballet Romeo & Juliet and the multiple suites taken from it. It was not the first time the composer took a shot at writing music for a ballet, but it was the first time for a full-length ballet (Cinderella being the other), and the work was undoubtedly his most popular in the genre.
The musical work has been characterized as “a great lyrical symphonic epic, in which Prokofiev used his unique gift for beautiful melody to give life to all the characters. Definite motives are identified with those characters and also with specific emotions – emotions such as innocence, love, anger, jealousy, despair.”
In extracting the three suites from the ballet, Prokofiev didn’t even try to follow the plot. Nor will the DPO. There is an old axiom in screenwriting: “Don’t tell me the facts; tell me the truth.” That will be both the orchestra’s and Bruce Cromer’s job. To tell the truth of the story, the DPO will present 60 of the total 75 minutes of the three suites, selecting those pieces that most accurately impart the truth of the tale.
The movements selected, in order of their presentation, are as follows: “Montagues & Capulets,” “The Child Juliet, Romeo & Juliet,” “Friar Laurence,” “Folk Dance,” “The Death of Tybalt,” “Romeo at Juliet’s Before Parting” and “Romeo at the Grave of Juliet.”
In all, love is the ultimate star standing center-stage in this bookended series of concerts: love of one’s homeland, the love of — and for — music, and romantic love.
And all three composers, were they able to attend, would undoubtedly stand before you, their hearts securely fastened to their sleeves.
For more information on the Romeo, Juliet and Prokofiev and the Prokofiev Meets Shakespeare performances and to purchase tickets, visit www.daytonphilharmonic.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@DaytonCityPaper.com.