The name of William Shakespeare quickly comes to mind when you think of great literature. With 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two narrative poems, and several other verses to his name, many regard William Shakespeare (1564-1616) as the greatest writer in the English language.
What many might not know is how often his writings have been set to music. Even during Shakespeare’s own time, composers like Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) set his words to music. Some of history’s greatest dramatic composers (including Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Franz Schubert,(1797-1828), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) , Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, (1840-1893), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), Thomas Adès (b. 1971)) have set Shakespeare’s timeless words.
On April 26, the Calmus Ensemble will present “All the World’s a Stage: Shakespeare a cappella,” a collection of pieces spanning from Shakespeare’s day to present day at the Whitney Center for the Arts. The pieces performed in this concert will be drawn from a variety of works including “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Othello,” “Cymbeline,” “The Tempest” and several sonnets.
The Calmus Ensemble is a vocal quintet from Leipzig, Germany. All five are graduates of Leipzig‘s renowned St. Thomas Church Choir School (St. Thomas is perhaps best known because of Johann Sebastian Bach’s tenure (1723-50) as cantor of this church and choir school). Calmus offers the unique combination of a pure soprano voice with four male voices ranging from bass to countertenor. Founded in 1999 in Germany, the a cappella quintet embodies the rich choral tradition of its hometown of Leipzig, the city so closely associated with Bach and Mendelssohn. Deseret Morning News describes Calmus as “Nothing short of remarkable…they, quite simply, bring whatever they sing to glorious life.”
Calmus Ensemble now tours all over the world. Recent North American highlights include Calmus’ New York debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and other NYC engagements at Lincoln Center Great Performers and Met Museum Presents, and a special sacred program in fall 2012 at Manhattan’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the St. Thomas Choir School.
The Whitney Center for the Arts is thrilled to add its name to this list of great music spaces.
This concert is an absolute must hear. Calmus Ensemble performs on April 26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($20/15) are available through the WYO Theater box office. Information on this concert and other WCA events can be found at WhitneyArts.org.
Music always played an important role in Shakespeare’s plays. His friend, English composer Thomas Morley (1557-1602), often composed songs for the plays.
Erin Hanke | Guest columnist