What is Concert Theatre?

barbican-bowAntony & Cleopatra: Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra with actors from Shakespeare’s Globe at the Barbican

Concert theatre is a new incarnation of an old genre. It’s actors with orchestra, occasionally projections, puppets, you name it.

Appearing in various different forms over the last 10-20 years, this is one of the most exciting new realms of performance. It channels the days when full orchestras might accompany straight plays – the ‘last’ such major example being Weill’s Der Silbersee in 1933 before he emigrated to the US.

Peter and the Wolf, for example, is concert theatre. So are staged or semi-staged operas where the orchestra shares the stage with the performers.

I have discovered this peculiar terrain to be fertile and full of potential. There are obvious places to start – Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Nights Dream, A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, etc., but if one is willing to fully imagine, adapt, and realise a more daringly integrated work, music and drama can find find rejuvenation in each other.

This is my work.


Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall in Boston Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. Andris Nelsons conducts Weber, Henze and Mendelssohn MENDELSSOHN Incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream

Felix receives a royal commission for op. 61. and must improve upon the brilliance of his Overture written 16 years earlier.

A fully staged version of the play in which the composer plays Puck and Bottom. Just four actors are required. Projections, furniture, costumes and lighting. Two sopranos, women’s chorus. 70 minutes

The Boston Symphony Orchestra with Andris Nelsons, 2016

Adapted and directed by Bill Barclay

Planned remount in the Shed, Tanglewood, August, 2017 with Hans Graf

“Magical…imaginative stage adaptation that reunited the score with selected moments from the play it was meant to illustrate. Barclay fashioned a theatrical frame involving Mendelssohn as both a young boy and as a mature composer at work on his score.”

The Boston Globe

“The liminal world of Shakespeare’s moonlit forest was brought brilliantly to light by orchestra, singers and actors. 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.” – Bachtrack




Freshly adapted with the aid of magician Nate Dendy, the Devil plays all the tricks in this homage to the original traveling trunk show production of 1918; part vaudeville magic act, clown show, and morality tale. Paired with the wind octet (also Stravinsky)

4 actors, 7 players, 70 minutes. Scenic, lights, tricks & props.

Charles Dutoit & The Boston Symphony Chamber Players

Adapted, directed and narrated by Bill Barclay

Tanglewood 2016

“The Soldier and the Devil were actors, dancers, acrobats and conjurors all in one, inexhaustible in their pursuits… wheeled onto the stage in crate and barrel, clambered out, raced through and out the hall at one point, played card tricks and were finally wheeled out again, into the abyss…

“The playing was expert, and the Ozawa Hall staging was the kind of thing — perhaps magnified here — that Stravinsky intended when he wrote the 1918 chamber opera on the Faustian theme. Bill Barclay, also acrobatic, was the director and narrator, speaking in clear, rhymed English couplets…Tanglewood came up with a doozy.

“Lots of good things happened in the Shed this summer, but for this listener, the most extraordinary sequence of events was three programs [including] a staged performance of Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale” that was magical in both senses of the word.”

– The Berkshire Eagle




A full evening of Shakespeare’s play integrated with Florent Schmitt’s 1920 incidental music, taken from his two concert suites, op. 69a and 69b.   5 actors, 90 minutes.

BBC Symphony Orchestra and Shakespeare’s Globe, 2016

Sakari Oramo, conductor.  Bill Barclay, adaptor.  Iqbal Khan, director.

“Fascinating, every second of it.”

-The Guardian

“There was a superb synchronicity between actors and orchestra, with every emotional shift carefully underscored.The driving force behind the project was the Globe’s director of music Bill Barclay, who reordered the contents of the suites to form a coherent musico-dramatic whole.

– The Guardian

“Sensuous and exotic…an imaginative stage direction featuring rarely-heard music…Barclay was creative in sewing together words and music so that references in the Shakespeare (“Music, moody food of us that trade in love”) were echoed in the score.”

– Financial Times

“This was the most accomplished way of combining words and music I’ve witnessed at the Barbican (and several other venues). May it spawn many successors….The performances were riveting…Schmitt’s original score is lost, but Barclay unpicked the stitching, reordered and sewn it back together for a score to accompany a filleted version of the play.”

– Bachtrack




Developed for the Hollywood Bowl & Shakespeare’s Globe, this program tells a tale of lovers ageing in reverse: Antony & Cleopatra, Beatrice & Benedick, and Romeo & Juliet.

This fully staged presentation is highly adapted so movements flow precisely with Shakespeare’s text and action. 5 actors, 2 hours.

SCHMITT – Antony & Cleopatra, adapted.     KORNGOLD – Much Ado About Nothing, adapted.     BERLIOZ – Queen Mab Scherzo.     ROTA – music from the Zeffirelli film

Los Angeles Philharmonic and Shakespeare’s Globe, 2016

Bramwell Tovey, conductor. Bill Barclay, adaptor.

Iqbal Khan, director.




A play with orchestra featuring trumpeter Alison Balsom paints a vibrant cross section of London and Henry Purcell during the Fairy Queen and Glorious Revolution, 1690-1965. 10-15 musicians. 10-18 actors.

Shakespeare’s Globe and The English Concert, 2014

with Alison Balsom and Trevor Pinnock

Play by Sam Adamson

Directed by Dominic Dromgoole

Music Director Bill Barclay

“Most theatre falls into familiar categories. This, however, is a piece that gloriously defies definition.” – The Guardian

“Looking out across Shakespeare’s Globe, I saw the same rapt attention in almost every audience-member I glanced at. Gabriel leaves you giddy with pleasure and fully smitten with the work of Henry Purcell. Conceived as a means of thrusting the world-class trumpet-playing of Alison Balsom into a theatrical environment, it combines stories, some true, some fictional, in a celebration of baroque music and the fleeting majesty of life. Speech, song and score flow together in one teeming whole that sweeps you along with it…the mood rises to so transcendent a strain of melancholy sweetness that I swear you melt, absolutely melt.” – The Telegraph




A family adaptation of Mozart’s masterpiece with puppets and costumes by Kathleen Doyle. 9 singers, 1 actor, 80 minutes.


The Boston Symphony and Youth Symphony Orchestra, 2013

Federico Cortese, conductor. Adapted, directed, performed by Bill Barclay



Performed by Bill Barclay, memorised and embodied throughout the hall. Props and lights. 40 minutes

Commissioned for the Boston Symphony Youth Orchestra with Federico Cortese, Symphony Hall 2012. Repeated 2013.

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