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Edmonton Youth Orchestra revives Shakespeare's magic

EYO plays compelling scores of Purcell, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky and more for the season finale on Sunday, May 5.

Shakespeare was such a dynamic inspiration for musicians, many classical composers wrote myriad genres based on the English playwright’s works. 

Hector Berlioz, Sergei Prokofiev, Jean Sibelius, Franz Schubert, Giuseppe Verdi and Vaughn Williams were composers whose Shakespearean-adapted scores have stood the test of time. Even Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, a recognizable musical theatre staple, is a Romeo and Juliet adaptation. 

It is therefore not surprising St. Albert's Michael Massey, artistic director/conductor of Edmonton Youth Orchestra (EYO) ends the season with Shakespeare as Muse, a special salute to the Bard. 

In a departure from many EYO concerts, hosts Bill Dimmer and Renee Emglot, will narrate the voices of two Shakespearean characters — Oberon and Titania, the fairy King and Queen. 

The younger Intermediate Orchestra begins the Shakespearean ode with Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen. Adapted from William Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was first performed in 1692. 

“It’s a very beautiful piece and we hadn’t done it in a while. It was time,” Massey said. 

The Intermediate Orchestra continues with Nocturne from a Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was composed by Felix Mendelssohn, a child prodigy who captivated the public’s imagination with the composition before he was 18 years old. 

Massey noted the incidental music captures the spirit and essence of Shakespeare's characters and revolves around the unexpected turns in life and love. Narration is added to this work. 

The Intermediates close their set with music Gabriel Fauré wrote for the opera Shylock. It was an adaptation by Edmond Haraucourt of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. 

“We are only playing the first movement. It’s a wedding song and it’s very beautiful. It’s totally French impressionist. It’s a romantic musical suite and it’s not overly difficult. And It has a lovely violin solo,” Massey said. 

The Senior Orchestra begins the second set with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, a pop culture mainstay. It is Tchaikovsky’s representation of familial conflict, drama and isolation intertwined with a swelling love theme. 

“It’s so dramatic and so tragic. It’s very well thought out and is one of the reasons Hollywood continues to use it in many films.” 

The Seniors also play the Oberon Overture from Carl Maria von Weber’s three-act opera. Based on a 13th century epic poem by Huon of Bordeaux, it is the story of Oberon, the Elf King, who argues with his wife, Titania, over who is less faithful in marriage — men or women. 

He vows not to make amends with her until two human lovers are found who are faithful through all temptations. The opera includes Puck and magical fairies that allude to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“It’s very concise and well-conceived with a lovely clarinet. It’s in a sonata form with a beautiful, hushed opening hinting a magic night is about to happen.” 

Every year Massey invites the winner of the Northern Alberta Concerto Competition to play a piece of their choice at the season finale. This year flute soloist Gabrielo Arojo will play Carl Reinecke’s Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283. 

Born in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, Arojo immigrated to Canada with his family at 13. He is a self-taught flutist and is a member of EYO. He was awarded notable recommendations to perform at the Alberta Provincial Music Festival and Canada West Performing Arts Festival where he was awarded first place in Senior Woodwinds.  

Shakespeare as Muse takes place Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. at Winspear Centre. Tickets are $16 to $21. Under two years free. Online tickets are available at Edmonton Arts Council | Edmonton Youth Orchestra Presents:… 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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