SHAKESPEARE ALOUD

Mendelssohn’s Midsummer at the Boston Symphony

In January I directed by own adaptation of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Nights Dream for four actors, two singers, women’s chorus, orchestra, and projections at Symphony Hall, Boston.  Andris Nelsons conducted the luminous BSO in four performances of the adaptation that also featured Henze’s Symphony No. 8 and Weber’s Overture to Oberon – two other pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s play.

Boston Globe review: “Magical start to BSO’s Shakespeare series” by Jeremy Eichler

“A very Puck-ish looking boy remarked to his mother as everyone awoke in the cacophony and chaos of the street outside, “Mom, that was everything!” Yes, it was… and more.”  REVIEW

Barclay’s staging turned Symphony Hall into a forest of enchantments.  REVIEW

“The stories are atavistically part of us, but the language has its own needs and desires.”  FEATURE

Here’s a great short video:

 

Here’s another great slightly longer video with the surprise at the end:

 

 

You can stream the concert here at WCRB.

My program notes:

I believe it is safe to say that Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826) is the single most sophisticated and impressive work composed by a 17-year-old in all of music history.  16 years later, the composer was asked to return to the fresh, imaginative spontaneity of his youth to finish what he started, and we have the magical incidental score of 1843 to prove that he did.  He must have recalled playful afternoons spent with his sister Fanny acting out these characters in their home in Hamburg, reading their great uncle’s German translation, and reveling freely in the characters and delectable poetry of Shakespeare’s hidden fairy kingdom.

I have taken as inspiration Mendelssohn’s, and therefore our, complicated journey as adults to integrate the purer, imaginative dynamism of our youth with the complexities and cynicisms of living today – and perhaps yes, to believe again in fairies, whatever our individual fairies were.  Ultimately I am interested in us much more than Mendelssohn, which is fortunate, as one of the reasons you don’t see him personified very much is he was so good at everything, so nice to everyone, and so dapper and professional wherever he went, that finding any inner conflict with which to forge a dramatic character can feel like grasping at so much smoke.  Admittedly, any anxiety he may have experienced trying to top his lustrous Overture with music equally as good (if not better) is irresistible conjecture.  I just know I’d be worried.

We can’t tell the whole Midsummer story here, but we can tell a different one that wedges us snugly between this remarkable play and the musical astonishments it inspired.  In doing so we honor and reflect on the artistic dialogue between these two titanic creators, a gesture well at home within a Shakespeare 400 festival.  My desire is to connect familiar dots in a fresh way that invites us to employ what we know, to personally connect with the universal themes at play, and to challenge our expectations of concert presentation, bringing us a bit closer together along the way.

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