Beginning in 2003 with concerts in Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands, The Shakespeare Concerts presents recitals by world class musicians of music inspired by the immortal bard. These pieces include settings of the original English text to settings in translation by composers from the 17th through the 21st century. The mainstay of the series is the music of Joseph Summer. Since its inception, The Shakespeare Concerts have premiered over two dozen of his eighty-plus Oxford Songs.
In 2005, The Shakespeare Concerts released its first CD on Albany records, What A Piece of Work Is Man?
The disc showcased eleven of the Oxford Songs, including five settings from Hamlet as well as sundry sonnets and songs from The Tempest and The Merchant of Venice. In October 2006, The Shakespeare Concerts released its second CD, Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day, a collection of works premiered during the third and fourth seasons.
Summer’s third CD, So Many Journeys, featured Shakespeare Concerts’ long-serving mezzo-soprano, Kellie Van Horne; Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Christian Van Horn; andtwo remarkable Czech soloists: Petr Nouzovský, cello; and MiroslavSekera, piano. Released in 2009, the disc included several settings from Summer’s Hamlet; sonnets; and a new cello and piano sonata.
The last lustrum has been one of prodigious growth for the series. Besides the many concerts, Summer’s string quartet, The Garden of Forking Paths was released on Albany Records and The Shakespeare Concerts launched a new project, The Shakespeare Concerts Series CDs in collaboration with Parma Recordings. The Parma project has resulted in spectacular reviews from around the globe for its first two albums: Shakespeare’s Memory and The Fair Ophelia. The latter is a new direction for The Shakespeare Concerts’ recording projects in that it combines settings of the bard by composers like Brahms, Strauss, and John Cage with the work of Joseph Summer. The latest recording, Goddesses, becomes available in August 2014. Three more CDs for Parma are already in progress.Orpheus with his Lute will display the virtuosic violin playing of Josef Špacek in Szymanowski’s nonpareil Mythes; Kathryn Guthrie’s “fearless” soprano in Summer’s Sonata for Violin and Voice; and MiroslavSekera “one of the outstanding personalities of our young piano generation,” accompanying. Ariel will include the little known work of Thomas Linley the Younger, a contemporary and colleague of Mozart. Born the same year as Mozart, Linley died tragically at the age of 22, while composing music for Shakespeare’sThe Tempest. His last work will be contrasted on the album with the stunning but rarely heard Three Shakespeare Songs of Igor Stravinsky, Tippett’s Three Ariel Songs, and songs for Ariel from Summer’s opera The Tempest. Before 2015 is half way over, the aforementioned opera will be performed in concert in Somerville and subsequently recorded for Albany Records.
Concurrent with the numerous recording projects, The Shakespeare Concerts is spreading beyond Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands with upcoming performances in several venues across the United States, the Czech Republic, and the People’s Republic of China. Joseph Summer’s three act opera, Hamlet, is in the queue.