London Symphony Orchestra (LSO)
London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) marked Shakespeare400 with a special series of concerts exploring some of the greatest music inspired by his words.
Shakespeare’s words have provided inspiration for generations of artists in every conceivable medium, reaching far beyond its literary roots. From theatre and film to painting, sculpture and music, his influence has affected all facets of modern culture. This enduring appeal can be put down to the universal nature of the subject matters that Shakespeare confronts – love, loss, power, ambition and greed are all timeless themes, and instantly relatable to anyone. This unique quality makes his stories inherently understandable and incredibly adaptable; they hold just as much relevance now as they did 400 years ago, transposing seamlessly from period settings to modern-day adaptations.
In music, Shakespeare’s influence has been profound, inspiring many great composers to write their finest works. Hector Berlioz, a particularly ardent and committed admirer of Shakespeare once described his influence as ‘…a sublime thunderclap, illuminating the most distant depths. I recognized true grandeur, true beauty, and dramatic truth’. In the world of opera, Shakespeare’s plays have proven particularly important, inspiring the creation of well over 400 separate works. It is easy to see why – the vividly drawn characters, lyrical, pulse-driven language and bold, dramatic narrative trajectories translate seamlessly from the theatre to the opera-house.
Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The special series of concerts opened with Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Tue 16 Feb.
Mendelssohn, who adored Shakespeare’s writings, composed his concert overture based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The overture was immediately acclaimed as a masterpiece and, many years later, he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the King of Prussia to provide a score for an entire production in 1843.
For the second concert of three marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, Gianandrea Noseda, lead the LSO for more music inspired by Shakespeare.
The evening of history and tragedy began with Smetana’s interpretation of Richard III’s rise to power and eventual downfall, before Simon Trpceski, joined the stage to perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2. The concert then continued with Tchaikovsky’s first masterpiece, his fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet, before moving on to Strauss’ dramatic Macbeth to finish the evening with a flourish.
Romeo and Juliet
The season came to a climactic close on 28 February 2016 with Berlioz’s monumental Romeo and Juliet Suite, widely considered to be the composer’s greatest symphonic achievement.
Janine Jansen, an energetic and authoritative violinist with an enviable international reputation, performed Shostakovich’s heroic Violin Concerto No 2, the last concerto he ever composed and one of his most moving works. Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet was his greatest and most daring symphony, performed here in a special suite arranged by the conductor himself.
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts
Throughout January 2016 the LSO presented a series of BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts focusing on great chamber works inspired by Shakespeare, with ensembles including the Gould Piano Trio and the BBC Singers.
LSO Discovery Day: Berlioz and Shakespeare
The day began with Gianandrea Noseda guiding the LSO through Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet Suite at the Barbican, followed by a short talk by the conductor.
In the afternoon there was a talk by expert Julian Rushton on Berlioz and his enduring fascination with Shakespeare, illustrated by performances by soprano Ruby Hughes with pianist Joseph Middleton.