Feudal love: Symphony Orchestra to break hearts at final performance

Members of the UW Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Michael Griffith, have been preparing since spring break for their final performance of the year, Romeo and Juliet. The concert will feature works that tell dramatic stories of love and loss. (Photo courtesy of Michael Griffith)

Love, loss and drama will come together in the Romeo and Juliet Symphony, the final orchestral performance by the UW Symphony, taking place on May 4 and conducted by Michael Griffith.

This symphony performance will include Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Mahler’s four “Songs of a Wayfarer”, Libby Larsen’s “What the Monster Saw”, “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” from Götterdämmerung, by Wagner, and Gluck’s “Overture to Orpheus”. Griffith said that these works were carefully selected to fit the theme he had in mind.

“Romeo and Juliet is about a relationship that ultimately fails, so I looked for music that composers had written about that,” Griffith said. “I wanted pieces that all sounded different from each other but that were centered around the idea I wanted the music to represent.”

Griffith said that he accomplished this goal by picking music that is full of emotion. The symphony’s title piece, “Romeo and Juliet”, tells Shakespeare’s original story through instrumental music.

“It’s not just music that sounds great—it’s music that tells a story as well,” Griffith said. “It’s probably one of the most popular pieces of classical music ever, so I am really glad that we are doing it.”

“Songs of a Wayfarer” features mezzo-soprano Katrina Zook, who is a faculty member of the UW music department. Zook said that preparing these pieces has been a challenge due to the intense emotions the performance calls for her to portray.

“For me, the performer, it has been the most emotionally draining thing I have ever sung in my life,” Zook said. “The texts are about the process of loving someone and not having that love returned.”

Zook also said that the rehearsal process has helped her to grow as a vocalist.

“It’s been a lot of work preparing the voice to be able to do what the composer asks the singer to do. I’m glad for that challenge,” Zook said.

Gemma Szott, second violin player in the orchestra, said that the challenges that have come with putting this concert together have helped her grow as a musician.

“There’s a lot of deep emotion in the pieces,” Szott said. “I like the emotional journey that you go on when you perform it. There are a lot of really fast notes and it is a challenge to put together, but it is worth it.”

Griffith said that each of the pieces selected tells a story of love gone wrong. “What the Monster Saw” by Libby Larson, is the most contemporary piece and is a retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

“Now most people know about Frankenstein’s monster, but all they think of is this inert slab lying on a table that comes to life and becomes the monster,” Griffith said. “If you know the rest of the story, he actually wants to become a part of humanity, which would include finding a woman to fall in love with. There’s a 20th century take on a failed romantic relationship.”

Griffith said that compiling all of these thematic works has allowed him to put together a program he is proud of conducting.

“I think I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, which was to choose enough music to fill a whole concert that is all about feudal love relationships—and yet it’s not concert that is all going to be sad,” Griffith said. “Actually, it’s a lot of exciting and very different music.”

The UW Sympony’s final performance will take play May 4 at 7:30p.m. Those who are interested in using social media networks during the performance can request special “tweet seats”, which are located in the back two rows of the auditorium and allow attendees to use electronic devices without distracting other concert-goers.

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