While we can envision stories in our heads as we listen to the music, many composers conversely take stories and transform them into music. The Colorado Springs Philharmonic's upcoming Symphonic Stories concert highlights just a few such musical works that aurally illuminate some of the more illustrious works of Western literature.
Colorado Springs Philharmonic Music Director Lawrence Leighton Smith was so affected by composer Sergei Prokofiev's treatment of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, he said, that he was "actually swooning" as he studied the suite from which The CSP will perform five pieces.
"Early in his life, Prokofiev was criticized for having no sense of melody. He was a real enfant terrible in his conservatory years. But after he left his homeland in the Soviet Union and then later returned, he truly found the melodic sensibility that we all recognize now. In fact, his ballets rival Tchaikovsky's. I wish we were playing the entire ballet -- it's serious, incredible music," said Leighton Smith.
Following the theme of love, the CSP will then perform "Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- Felix Mendelssohn's interpretation of Shakespeare's rustic comedy of errors for mischievous fairies.
"A lot of people forget that Mendelssohn was truly a musical genius along the lines of Mozart," said Smith. "He wrote this highly developed, intensely difficult overture when he was only 16 years old. But his work is incredibly sophisticated too -- it has roots in the work of Bach and Beethoven, but is also wholly original and takes those ideas further."
The CSP will then take leave of Shakespeare and dip into Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" -- the beloved suite inspired by the fantastic adventures told in the stories of the 1001 Nights.
"Scheherazade" follows the tale of a sultan's wife who tells an ongoing series of stories to her murderous husband in order to postpone her own execution. Her tales are so intriguing that she manages to put off being slain by the Sultan for, what else, 1001 nights.
The music not only follows this dramatic narrative, but also captures the Middle Eastern sounds of the story's origin. Smith described this concept as "an entire harmonic vocabulary that introduces the listener to the foreign concepts of the Middle and Far East."
This is the first time the musicians of the Philharmonic will take the stage without any guest artists since their harrowing inception last year after the collapse of the Colorado Springs Symphony. But Leighton Smith says it's the perfect opportunity for them to prove their mettle.
"I love rehearsing and performing with these musicians. They are not jaded -- they really care about the music. The players in the Springs play like their lives depend on it -- and they do. "
-- Bettina Swigger
The Colorado Springs Philharmonic with Lawrence Leighton Smith, conducting
Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Saturday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2:30 p.m.
$12-48; Call 520-SHOW or www.ticketmaster.com