State of the Arts

S38 E4 | CLIP

Xian Zhang's Romeo and Juliet

The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performs highlights from Serge Prokofiev's heartbreaking score to the ballet Romeo and Juliet. The NJSO's music director Xian Zhang directed the entire 3 1/2 hour score at La Scala, and she reviews the sections she chose for the NJSO's winter concert. Each piece is introduced by Xian, giving a deeper understanding of the lush and romantic score.

AIRED: January 25, 2020 | 0:07:14


van Aalst: So, each year, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

puts on a Winter Festival in January.

And it's three weeks of concerts,

usually unified by some sort of theme.

This year, the theme is Music from the Stage.

Zhang: Good morning, everybody.

To bring music that's written for opera

or ballet out of the pit to the center stage.

van Aalst: Xian's been conducting opera

all across the world from Europe to China.

This summer, she'll be conducting at Santa Fe Opera,

and she's really got a passion for the form.

And it was really exciting for her to come here

and bring some of that passion back to New Jersey

Symphony Orchestra and her home.

Narrator: Xian conducted one of classical music's

most emotional and romantic scores for the stage --

Prokofiev's music for the ballet "Romeo and Juliet."

Zhang: This music is really visual.

It just fills you with emotions and love.

And it's really, probably the most tender love scene

that you can hear in all of the repertoire.

I believe Prokofiev is one of the greatest masters

to capture the colors from an orchestra.

I do love Russian composers' music.

That's true. That's a good observation.

About five years ago, I conducted

the entire ballet with La Scala Ballet in Milan,

but I was so impressed by the whole production.

After doing that, when I picked movements

out of that large of a score, it became so personal.

Narrator: Xian selected seven excerpts from Prokofiev's

"Romeo and Juliet" for the NJSO Winter Festival.

Here are just a few highlights.

Zhang: So, the first movement is "Montagues and Capulets."

It's the two families' last names.

And it gets into this very big gestured dance.

[ Vocalizes ]

Everybody who has even heard the name of "Romeo and Juliet"

would know this tune.

[ "Montagues and Capulets" plays ]








The next movement,

it's a very delicate, very difficult-to-play movement.

It's called "Juliet as a Young Girl."

I think he tried to depict how lively

and how energetic and sparkly she was as a girl.

So, in all of this movement,

you have the violins running this little [Vocalizes]

And the notes are very random.

So, this is a hard movement for the players.

They have to really learn the notes.

[ Vocalizing ]

And [Vocalizing]

[ "The Child Juliet" plays ]



So, the 5th movement we picked will be

"Romeo and Juliet at the Balcony,"

and to me, this is the most touching

and heartfelt moment in the whole ballet.

But this music is so filled with love and so soft.

It has this running heartbeat, sort of a [Vocalizing]

Very lightly.

Sort of bouncing through the movement.

But then comes the timing with the violins,

and they come in with this big romantic line.

It's just beautiful.

[ "At the Balcony" plays ]






And the very final one -- This is my personal choice,

actually, to end with "The Death of Tybalt"

because it's the loudest ending, but it's very, very effective.

Towards the end, you hear this huge, huge line,

very slow, by the trumpet and the violins and horns.

Then the piece I will be ending sort of in glory,

in a way, musically speaking.

[ "Death of Tybalt" plays ]







[ Applause ]


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