Ein Winternachtstraum (a Winter Night’s Dream) – my 1st BIG ballet

Wow… This year has been stupidly busy for me – and my Blog intentions have really been impossible as I’ve been continually chasing the next deadline. Between Febuary & June I had to compose two new Orchestral scores totalling 45 minutes, and also expand the orchestration of my Concerto for Turntables & Orchestra (making over an hour of scores to finish & proof) – my head was spinning by the end.
Anyway, one of those projects:  Cathy Marston‘s new Ballet of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; re-titlled ‘Ein Winternachtstraum’ (a Winter Night’s Dream) is going to be premiered tomorrow in the very pretty red & gold Stadttheater Bern (Bern City Theat. I’m trying to take my mind off it and get on with another orchestral composition, but I just can’t keep still; the mix of nerves & excitement for the General Rehearsal tonight & the Premier won’t leave me alone….


So a bit of background… About a year ago Veteran ballet-dancer, (& my unofficial new-godfather) David Drew (who’s been dancing with Royal Ballet for over 40 years) had given Cathy the CD of my Concerto for Turntables. She really liked it & then somehow decided that it would work well in a ballet of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; alongside the existing M.N.D. Overture & incidental music of Mendelssohn!
To be honest, I was quite doubtful about this combination, and had never thought that my Turntable Concerto could be set to MND…?! But despite my scepticism I thought I’d give it a try – as I was keen to work with Cathy & the chance to be involved in a full-length narrative ballet has been a long-term ambition of mine (and even better if it’s performed by Bern Ballet & Bern Symphony !). So with much curiosity & uncertainty I went to a meeting with Cathy & her scenario man Edward Kemp, in his office at RADA….
….Well …  It worked! Cathy knew exactly what she was doing, and somehow in the setting of the Mendelssohn and Shakespeare my Turntable Concerto did make sense as music for MND. Edward read through the Scenario as Cathy played back all the music on her laptop. It was really clever. The context of the Mendelssohn put more emphasis on the ‘classical’ elements of my Concerto; and it sounded even more than ever like twisted /upside-down classical music; and was therefore perfect music for the crazy dream that the fairies create in the centre of the play. And the Turntables (which manipulate recorded sounds of a real orchestra) can then represent the way that Puck & Oberon manipulate the real lives of the lovers & mechanicals. I was smiling with surprise! And really shocked again by how much context can change one’s perception of music.
But there was one more twist to come. Cathy explained that she would need another 20 minutes of new music for scenes that weren’t covered by the existing music – that was great news; as I really wanted to compose something new for this ballet; but, Cathy was keen that I use some of Mendelssohn’s existing themes from MND. How about a new version of the famous Wedding March, may be in a different style? How about a Watlz version, someone said (it might have even been me!). Oh no! Here we go again! I thought. You see, not long before I’d agreed to do this crazy Orchestral Remix of Beethoven’s 9th (a commission I was seriously struggling with at that time – blog on that coming soon(ish)), and now I was going to have to start meddling with Mendelssohn aswell! Well I guess I had to resign myself to half a year of sacrilegious messing with the masters…
And the truth be told, I had so much fun composing the new music for Ein Winternachtsraum; following the witty scenario, enjoying bring my own little twists to the action; that incorporating a bit of Felix M themes here and there just added to the fun.
Also, I discovered that I actually liked Mendelssohn much more than I had anticipated; I’d never really given his music that much time – always found it ‘too classical’; like a romanticised, light re-hash of Mozart; but I was wrong.

A quick overview of what Mendelssohn I used:
I took the theme from Mendelssohn’s humorous ‘Dance of the Rustics’, to create a lesbian love scene between Titania and Bottom (who is female in Winternachtstraum): Bottom’s famous theme is at first slowed-down by 16 times and sustained to provide the harmonic basis for a sensual opening. Then later Mendelssohn’s famous Donkey ‘squeak’ is used but in an even more explicit way; as the climactic scream of Bottom as she and Titania manage to release their long pent-up passions together.
As for the wedding March… At first the opening fanfare starts to emerge as a fragmented alarm-call, to wake up the Lovers & Mechanicals from their strange adventures; then it whirls them into a Wedding Waltz (using an interrupted phrase from the wedding march) and even a moment of wedding disco (and I threw in a couple of quotations from Wagner’s famous wedding tune).
For the several spells that are cast, I developed ideas from the opening of my Concerto (which becomes the Puck (twins) theme) with elements of Mendelssohn’s original spell music.

As for this whole production… That deserves another blog in itself.In brief: it’s a very dynamic production; Cathy’s choreography is quite sophisticated: great details, and lots of character, but also very witty at times & quite sensual too. Both set & costumes are modern – but beautifully detailed. The whole Ballet takes place on a derelict fair-ground, guarded by the fairies, with the Mechanicals as yellow-hatted demolition men. Bottom, ends up with a fair-ground horse’s head on her and a rather phallic tail. Martin Baumgartner is performing the Solo Turntablist part, and doing an exceptional job – super tight & with funk (which is a mean feat when you have to keep it locked to both Orchestra and Ballet dancers). His tuning on the pitch-controlled melodic solo in MeditNow is the best I’ve heard. And of course the Bern Symphony, conducted by the brilliant Dorian ‘genau’ Keilhack (with 4 extra percussionists) are doing a great job. Really nice punchy sound; they seem to particularly enjoy the Titania Bottom Love Duet.

For fact finders… A few coincidences connected to this project:
– This not the first time that the names Mendelssohn and Prokofiev have been put side by side.
My grandfather Sergei Prokofiev’s second wife was actually called Mira Mendelssohn.

– The premier of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture was at a concert in Sszsecin, Poland in1827, and Beethoven’s 9th was performed in the second half; (that other master-work that I was messing with!)

– I acted Puck when I was 12 years old; so Midsummer Night’s Dream was my first real experience of Shakespeare.


And one recommendation:
Bern is definitely worth a long weekend visit… Not only is there Bern Ballet; but in 1 hour you can get up into the alps. I managed to go right to the top of the Schilhorn and have a drink in rotating Piz Gloria restaurant (of James Bond & Blofeld fame); and there was even the obligatory Bollywood film-shoot happening on the mountain top for new Tamil movie: Ishtam. See photos below:


Ein Winternachtstraum
Choreographie von Cathy Marston // Musik: Gabriel Prokofiev, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy


Do. 03.11.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette
Sa. 12.11.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette
Di. 15.11.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette

Do. 24.11.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette

Sa. 10.12.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Ausverkauft

Fr. 16.12.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette

Mi. 21.12.2011, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette

Mo. 26.12.2011, 18.00 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette
So. 15.01.2012, 18.00 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette
Sa. 21.01.2012, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette
So. 22.01.2012, 15.00 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette

Di. 31.01.2012, 19.30 Uhr, Stadttheater Billette


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