This musical love story, by any other name, is still the same.
Orchestra Iowa is romancing audiences with a boxed set of ear candy wrapped in poetry, through a trio of works inspired by Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Titled “Star-Crossed Lovers,” the concert will be presented Saturday (2/9) at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Sunday (2/10) at West High School in Iowa City.
“This is going to be one of our coolest concerts of the year,” says Timothy Hankewich, Orchestra Iowa’s music director.
- Orchestra Iowa presents “Star-Crossed Lovers ‘
- Cedar Rapids: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2/9, Paramount Theatre
- Iowa City: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, 2/10, West High School
- Tickets: $20 to $50 at Orchestra Iowa Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203, 1-(800) 369-8863 or Orchestraiowa.org
- Program: Prokofiev, “Romeo and Juliet”; Tchaikovsky, “Romeo and Juliet”; McIntyre, “Drive By”; Oden, “Romeo and Juliet — A Beat Poem”; Bernstein, Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”; free Insight discussion with Maestro Timothy Hankewich one hour before performances
- Artist’s website: Frankoden.com
“This is the time of year where arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play, “Romeo and Juliet,’ seems to be the most appropriate, in time for Valentine’s Day,” he says. “So what we’re going to be hearing are three different musical interpretations of that story.
“It seems that every generation likes to reinterpret and reinvent this timeless classic, whether it’s Tchaikovsky’s version of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ composed in the late 1800s, Prokofiev’s version in the early 1920s or Bernstein’s reinvention that was composed in the 1960s, which is his greatest work, ‘West Side Story.’ “
Each piece is very different in tone and style.
“Prokofiev’s is certainly a lot edgier,” Hankewich says. “The music is extracted from his ballet, ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Each movement depicts a very specific scene in the story.”
The orchestra will open with the “Montagues and Capulets” movement, rife with the animosity between the feuding families, then end with “Tybalt’s Death,” in which the tension between the clans escalates into a fatal sword fight.
The mood changes with the Tchaikovsky work, which Hankewich describes as being “a lot more atmospheric.”
“It’s not intended to actually describe the story or the scenes,” he says. “Included in his writing is one of the most memorable love scenes in all the repertoire that everyone is going to recognize.” It also contains the clash of swords, depicted through cymbal crashes.
“In many ways, Tchaikovsky wrote a piece loosely based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and basically wrote about the drama of the conflict and the love story through his melodies,” Hankewich says.
Bernstein brings it home.
“Most people don’t realize that ‘West Side Story’ is a modern reinvention of that timeless story … where you have the Sharks and Jets instead of the Montagues and the Capulets,” Hankewich says. “The genius of Bernstein is that he used the popular music of the day and translated it into the concert hall. A lot of Latino music is incorporated — a samba or a cha-cha or a mambo is used to great effect.”
That same gift permeates through the fourth work on the program, Grinnell College professor Eric McIntyre’s “Drive By.”
“It encapsulates that urban grit and conflict that Bernstein fleshes out in his work,” Hankewich says. “It’s influenced and infused with hip-hop, while it describes in a very simple way, the sound of an approaching vehicle, and the sound it makes when it recedes.”
Bridging the styles and eras is a spoken-word piece designed specifically for a symphonic concert.
Actor/writer Frank Oden of Denver, Colo., will weave his “Romeo and Juliet — A Beat Poem” between “Drive By” and “West Side Story.”
“This is what I’m so excited about,” Hankewich says. “What I want to do is bridge the gap between ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev and fill in the blanks and connect it to the Sharks and the Jets of Leonard Bernstein. So what Frank is going to bring to mix is … this beat poem that begins with monologues of Shakespeare and gradually morphs in to dialogue from ‘West Side Story,’ all in an urban context of a beat poem. …
“Frank did it with the Colorado Symphony and it just stopped the audience.”
Oden wrote the five-minute piece in 2002, commissioned for the Colorado Symphony’s Bernstein tribute. It’s a departure from his usual work, where he dons wild costumes and prances through such family concert themes as Halloween and cowboy tales, designed to engage young listeners.
The “West Side Story” piece takes a different focus, with movement dictated by vocal expression over theatrics.
“I’m somewhat of a physical performer anyhow,” Oden, 56, says by phone from his home in Denver. “This has more emphasis on the language, and this piece is more appropriate to mature audience.”
He has been collaborating and performing with symphonies since the 1990s, and now focuses his career on such gigs around the country and in Canada. Hankewich knew of him through a colleague and heard him perform in Colorado.
“It was just magic,” Hankewich says. “I’ve been trying to get him here for some time.”