David Bui
Photo cortesy of Bucharest Competition

VSO: Tea & Trumpets Concert Series

A Shakespearian Romp

When & Where November 16, 2023 at 2pm | Orpheum Theatre

Conductor David Bui Host Christopher Gaze

PROGRAM Bernstein's West Side Story: Overture; Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream - Nocturne; Midsummer Night's Dream - Intermezzo & Scherzo; Sibelius' The Tempest: Prelude; Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture

Reviewer John Jane

In a concert that offers up music connected to Shakespeare’s works, it’s perhaps fitting that it would start with Leonard Bernstein's Overture from West Side Story. Anyone who has seen either film version or a stage production of West Side Story has had no problem identifying it as being based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet are transposed from Italy in the sixteenth century to become Tony and Maria in New York City’s upper west side. The only work in the program by an American composer, the drama of overture is less to do with the narrative, and more to do with movement. Leonard Bernstein's evocative overture renders the tensions and emotions of turf war through an exhilarating extended dance sequence.

Shakespeare's rustic fairytale is unique among Shakespeare's works. Midsummer Night's Dream isn't based on any other story, being purely Shakespeare own. Often described as incidental music due to its lightness, Felix Mendelsohn’s score is nonetheless full of euphonic treasures, including the well-known Nocturne and Scherzo, and for this afternoon, the Intermezzo. For whatever reason, Maestro David Bui decided to perform the three movements in reverse chronological order, beginning with the tranquil Nocturne featuring woodwind. The audience is invited to imagine lovers Lysander and Hermia sleeping. The Intermezzo is adventurous in its harmony and texture, while the lively Scherzo heralds the arrival of the fairies.

While not as well known as his chef-d'oeuvre Finlandia, Jean Sibelius' dramatic use of brass and percussion in his epic work The Tempest is certainly worth coming to a concert hall to hear. The Finnish composer’s Prelude – heard this afternoon – is scored rather darker and fearfully evocative of a storm at sea, yet concludes with a serene finale.

In a way, the concert ends similarly to how it started – with a musical slant on the warring factions of the families of Romeo and Juliet. While Bernstein's gritty Overture is only loosely connected to Shakespeare’s sixteenth century tragedy, Pyotr Tchaikovsky's twenty-minute Fantasy-Overture does centre on the battle between the two families. The piece is structured in sonata form transforming a tragic romance into a musical narrative. As we have come to expect from the Russian composer, the work is imbued with simple, but powerful melody lines. It captures the tension and intensity of the young couple’s passion.

Christopher Gaze was ideally suited to host this Shakespeare themed concert. Currently the artistic director of Bard on the Beach, he has been Involved with the Bard in some capacity since 1966. Delivering anecdotes from his personal experiences and re-enacting famous speeches he was most definitely in his element. As part of his introduction to the Mendelsohn trilogy he gave an amusing demonstration of how Shakespeare has influence modern English language.

It would hardly be a Tea & Trumpets concert without an encore. Sticking with concept, the orchestra played out with a short extract from the late William Walton’s film score for Henry V.

© 2023 John Jane