In 1926, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius put finishing touches on music he wrote for a production of Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. After its premiere, Sibelius arranged two orchestral suites of the music for concert performance. However, the order of the suites does not follow the story.
At 8 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 20, on Classical MPR, you'll hear a live performance of the Minnesota Orchestra, playing Osmo Vänskä's arrangement of Sibelius's music for Shakespeare's play, narrated by the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater, Joe Dowling. "It's one of the most musical of Shakespeare's plays," Dowling says.
Emily Reese sat down with Joe Dowling to hear his thoughts about Sibelius's interpretation of Shakespeare. Dowling also describes what he'll be doing after he leaves his post at the Guthrie, making way for newly named artistic director Joseph Haj.
Here's what Dowling had to say:
Dowling on Sibelius's take on The Tempest"It was really interesting to listen to the Sibelius and see how the themes were picked up musically and to try and sort of match those with the language and where the language of the play goes, so that was part of the fun of it, and finding how those themes are explained relatively simply because it's quite a complex play when you boil it down."
Dowling on what Sibelius left out of The Tempest"You know obviously there's a limited time and people come to hear the music mainly, so there are large aspects of the play that can't be dealt with at all, the whole Stephano/Trinculo and how they and Caliban plot to kill Prospero and their foolishness and their humor there's no room for that because that's not part of where Sibelius has taken the piece.
"And similarly, Prospero sets up these magnificent masques that are all through the play and various different gods and airy figures appear, well again, out of context, they're extremely difficult to explain and to understand, so keeping just to the main romanced theme which is primary to the play, with Miranda and Ferdinand, and the theme of usurping power, and how power is won back, and how eventually, Prospero breaks his staff and abjures this rough magic, so this sense of power being used for good as opposed for evil, you know he says, 'In virtue rather than in vengeance' and I think there are some lovely aspects of it that are worth emphasizing and others that perhaps it's not that easy to do."
Dowling on the musicality of Shakespeare's The Tempest"It's one of the most musical of Shakespeare's plays I mean Ariel's songs are extremely well-known, and he talks about the music on the island. Caliban talks about the island having these strange sounds that are beautiful, and Sibelius has picked up on those strange island sounds and made them very beautiful. So I think the marriage of these two things, the text and the music, it's kind of enchanting."
Dowling on working with the Minnesota Orchestra"It's a rare treat and a wonderful treat for me, kind of overwhelming to stand there in front of an orchestra and then to speak and hear the orchestra pick up those themes it's quite magnificent."
Dowling on his post-Guthrie plans"People are sort of using the word 'retirement,' which rather sort of bothers me because retirement doesn't come into my calculation or even into my lexicon. My plan is to continue working as a director, probably basing ourselves in New York my wife and I have a place there but we also intend to return to Ireland quite a bit because of family there …
"[And] we'll be coming back to Minnesota quite often; we have a son and a lovely daughter-in-law and two beautiful grandchildren, so we won't be leaving quickly or that readily because obviously they're a draw.
"My plan is to continue to work, to direct, to teach and to continue on but not with the responsibility of running a major institution."
Dowling on the Minnesota Orchestra's place in the communityIt's a great honor to work with the orchestra and Maestro Vänskä, and just to say how somebody who's been here for a long time and seen the ups and downs and trials and tribulations of recent times to see and to hear the orchestra back in full swing again and to hear those sounds in Orchestra Hall, I couldn't be more thrilled and I know that I speak for a lot of people when I say it's so great to have the orchestra back, and to have them back in full strength and with Maestro Vänskä in the lead, so it's a terrific honor for me to do this, and an honor, I believe, for the community to have this orchestra as strong as it is."
Listen to the live broadcast of the Minnesota Orchestra on Friday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. Fred Child hosts.