In January 2018, the Berkeley Community Chorus & Orchestra presented, for the first time, an all-Russian repertoire, under the direction of Ming Luke. In the first half of the program, the orchestra played a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. In addition, the chorus sang three movements from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, and the stirring Alexander Nevsky Cantata by Sergei Prokofiev, based on his score for Eisenstein’s epic 1938 film Alexander Nevsky. BCCO’s performance included movements from three of the suites Prokofiev created from music in the ballet: “Montagues and Capulets”: The two rival families are presented through the string theme and the horn’s counter-theme. In contrast, the middle section, a colorful instrumentation of harp, flute, violas, triangle, tambourine, and snare drums, represents Juliet’s first dance with her parents’ choice of suitor. “The Young Juliet”: One of Prokofiev’s most miraculous musical portraits, it radiates an excited naïveté and intimates the teenage Juliet’s recognition of her growing, mature emotions. “The Balcony Scene”: For what is probably the best-known scene in all of Shakespeare, Prokofiev creates the atmosphere of a magical silvery midnight. The music rises to a level of emotional passion, yet remains luminous. The music and scenery idealize Romeo and Juliet’s love. “Romeo at Juliet’s Grave”: The love theme intensifies Romeo’s grief over Juliet. At the end of the scene, a contrabassoon melody plays while a voice rises from the depths of the tomb, a voice that is silenced by soft, shining strings; a piccolo with a single high note; and, underneath with great sorrow, cellos and a bass clarinet. “Death of Juliet”: In an adagio movement that ends the ballet, Juliet awakens to find Romeo dead beside her and decides to follow him. Prokofiev’s original finale included the two lovers dancing after “death,” suggesting either that Romeo and Juliet didn’t actually die, or that their love lived on. (Please note that this was shot with a single camera, unrehearsed.)
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