Programming a Yale Philharmonia concert is always about providing context for each piece. To open the 2018-2019 Philharmonia season, Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian has put together a program of repertoire inspired by the words and works of Shakespeare: Berlioz's Overture to Béatrice et Bénédict, based on the Bard's Much Ado About Nothing; Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, which uses text from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice to celebrate the power of music; and selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. "There is a lot of extraordinary music that was inspired by arguably the greatest poet of all time," Oundjian pointed out, explaining that "it's the element of curiosity and adventure that make this kind of program so interesting."
The challenge members of the Philharmonia have taken up with this program is, in Oundjian's words, "to basically sound like many different orchestras in one evening. You need to be able to be many, many characters and describe many scenes." For the Berlioz, he said, the musicians "need sheer virtuosity." The Serenade to Music, for which the Yale Glee Club and the Yale Voxtet will join the orchestra, is intense in its serenity and introspection. (Reportedly, Rachmaninoff, who performed on the same program in 1938 that featured the premiere of the Serenade to Music, was reduced to tears by the piece’s beauty.) "This piece is magical," Oundjian said, looking forward to collaborating with the Glee Club and Voxtet. "It's a thrill to hear wonderful vocal groups. There's nothing more immediate or direct than the singing voice."
Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, "one of his absolute masterpieces," Oundjian offered, carries the listener from the tender to the tragic. For this performance, the Philharmonia will use Oundjian's arrangement of the composer's ballet score, whereas most orchestras perform one of the three concert suites that Prokofiev created. "The order of events, in the suites, is not respected," Oundjian explained. "(Prokofiev) didn't try to make the suites chronologically correct." In creating his arrangement, Oundjian sought to offer a symphonic expression of the ballet. "I wanted people to be able to follow the story," he said.
The Philharmonia will tell that story, and those being told by Berlioz and Vaughan Williams with inspiration (and words) from the Bard. Members of the Philharmonia, Oundjian said, are "extremely sensitized to deep human emotions. They've had to find a way to connect with deep human emotions because they play an instrument."
Together, they are able to convey and express what a composer—three composers, in the case of this program—sought to share with concertgoers. They enjoy the process of putting a program together and letting it take on a life of its own on stage in Woolsey Hall. "By the time the concert comes, there's a camaraderie that they've discovered in a very short time," Oundjian said. "There's absolutely a sense of discovery and spontaneity."
Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian leads the Yale Philharmonia in a program of music inspired by Shakespeare on Friday, September 28, at 7:30 pm, in Woolsey Hall.