On Friday night, principal conductor Peter Oundjian will kick off the Yale Philharmonia’s 2018-19 concert season with a Shakespeare-inspired program.
The program will feature works by Berlioz, Vaughan Williams and Prokofiev. Friday’s concert, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Woolsey Hall, features a collaboration with the Yale Glee Club and the Yale Voxtet.
“Themed concerts are always interesting, and the theme of Shakespeare is certainly a fruitful one,” said violinist Emily Switzer MUS ’19.
Oundjian’s inspiration for the Shakespearean theme came from recent personal experiences. During his latest season directing the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Oundjian paired up with actor Christopher Plummer to create a “word and music” Shakespearean concert. While preparing for this concert, Oundjian “spent time with great Shakespearean acts” that he described as “fascinating.”
Composers and arrangers alike have used Shakespeare as a common means to adapt various styles of classical music to their personalized tastes.
“The selections in Friday’s concert demonstrate not only the breadth of Shakespeare’s own style, but the unique quality each composer brings in their translation,” said horn player Scott Leger MUS ’24.
The final work on the program is Oundjian’s own creation — he conceived of his own unique compilation of music from Prokofiev’s ballet score to “Romeo and Juliet,” reducing the complete run time from about 90 minutes to roughly 60. Originally composed in 1935 to accompany dancers, the piece fluctuates between various tempos that correspond with the ballet’s original scene changes. According to Oundjian, the “very spontaneous” nature of this piece requires flexibility amongst the players.
Through his past experiences working on Shakespeare-inspired music and a recent Vaughan Williams recording project, Oundjian found that the opportunity to bring this year’s theme into fruition was only natural.
“I wanted to start with something humorous, perhaps even a little glib,” said Oundjian of the first piece on the program, “Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict” by 19th-century French composer Berlioz. This eight-minute opener draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing.”
In the second piece, Oundjian will lead the orchestra and both vocal groups through 20th-century English composer Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music,” which features text from the romantic comedy “The Merchant of Venice.”
“I’ve enjoyed playing three distinct programmatic takes on Shakespeare’s plays,” said cellist Harry Doernberg ’19. “I think there’s a nice arc to concert — this concert and the repertoire show how music can express a variety of characters and emotions ranging from comedic to tragic.”
Oundjian spoke highly of his first collaboration with the Yale Glee Club, which he described as “tight.” He commended the ensemble’s musicality and “huge amount of brain power.” He explained that flexibility during rehearsals and quick adjustment to musical requests is important for all musicians — a skill he says all three groups have mastered.
Even though about half the ensemble comprised of new members of Philharmonia, Oundjian was pleased with the first full rehearsal on Monday.
“The leadership of the returning students and the talent of everyone means that it rarely takes the entire week to sound like we’ve been playing together our entire careers,” said Leger. “It’s always incredible to watch these discrete groups come together and snap so quickly into a unified sound.”
Oundjian said that while the repertoire is demanding, “it’s a good first program.”
While Oundjian frequently travels to guest conduct orchestras around the world, he is committed to garnering more interdisciplinary support between Philharmonia and the rest of the university.
He said that achieving this goal is a priority for the coming years. While he is a self-proclaimed Pink Floyd and jazz fan, Oundjian would “love to see more Yale students from all departments and fields” attending Philharmonia concerts and experiencing what could be a “total thrill.”
“Music is music — it’s an incredible gift to all,” he said.
Eli Mennerick contributed reporting.
Allison Park | firstname.lastname@example.org .