Two arts organizations that perform at Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook are joining forces on a tale of devilish behavior.
The Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra, in collaboration with First Folio Theatre, will present Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” (“A Soldier’s Tale”) Jan. 18 at Mayslake Peabody Estate and Jan. 26 at Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church.
“Stravinsky composed it in the lean times of World War I so they would have something to travel with and hopefully earn some income,” said Stephen Alltop, Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor. “It follows the very huge pieces that he wrote just a few years before, like ‘The Rite of Spring.’”
The work tells, “The classic story of an individual — in this case a soldier on leave — selling his soul in exchange for a magic violin and riches and success,” Alltop said. “Then, of course, the devil comes to collect his fee.”
This piece is designed to be performed by seven musicians on violin, contrabass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and percussion.
Alltop noted, “Although the music is very engaging, it’s meant to be a theatrical work.” That’s why the music director approached David Rice, executive director of First Folio Theatre.
Rice and First Folio Artistic Director Alison C. Vesely put together a short list of actors who had the appropriate experience for this project. “To do what is to some extent a readers’ theater piece, working with an orchestra in this particular way, is a little trickier,” Rice said.
Lydia Berger Gray was selected as the narrator. Alan Ball plays the devil and Aaron Christensen is the soldier.
Alltop is directing the actors, a familiar role for him because he has directed a number of operas. Nevertheless, “My plan is to be pretty collaborative with them,” he noted.
It takes a lot of talent to perform this piece, Alltop indicated. “The music, at times, is almost devilishly difficult,” he said. “But it’s a great part for the solo violin. The solo violin becomes, in a way, like the fourth actor.”
Taking on that difficult task is concertmaster Rika Seko.
“L’Histoire du Soldat,” which runs about an hour, will be performed in the second half of the program. The first portion will consist of solo performances by violinist Seko, clarinetist Andrea R. DiOrio and contrabassist Alison Gaines.
Seko will perform “Sonata op. 115 for Violin Solo” by Sergei Prokofiev. DiOrio will perform Stravinsky’s three pieces for solo clarinet. Gaines’ selection is “Failing” by Tom Johnson.
“I’m pretty excited about it. I’m also a little intimidated by it,” Gaines admitted. “It’s supposed to be sort of theatrical, which I thought would fit well with the Stravinsky and the actors on the second half. You have to talk about the experience of playing the piece and how it’s similar to failing in real life. And you’re playing at the same time. It’s a real coordination exercise.”