Hèctor Parra, Three Shakespeare Sonnets

Hèctor Parra, Three Shakespeare Sonnets

Hèctor Parra took for inspiration 3 of the sonnets by William Shakespeare (lthe 18, 19 et 20) to compose this new opus for tenor and orchestra that will have its World Premiere on 28 May 2017 by the Freiburger Barokorchester conducted by Jérémie Rorher with tenir Julian Prégardien at the Kölner Philharmonie. 

Concert information

Have a look at the score:

Hèctor Parra about his Three Shakespeare Sonnets

How was this project conceived? How were the three Sonnets chosen?

A year and a half ago, Louwrens Langevoort, the Intendant of the Kölner Philharmonie, commissioned me to compose an eight-minute-long piece for tenor and Baroque orchestra. It was for the Freiburger Barockorchester, who I had already worked with in 2014 for my Opera Das geopferte Leben, and the wonderful tenor Julian Prégardien. It was Louwrens himself who suggested putting Sonnet 20 to music. Shortly afterwards, I realised that using the sequence of Sonnets 18, 19 and 20 would allow me to give real meaning and musical autonomy to my composition, and so eventually the work became a small, more developed cycle of about 12-13 minutes.

How do you put Shakespeare to music? Do his words have any musical strength?

You don’t need English as a mother tongue to realise that Shakespeare’s words are pure music in every which way: acoustically, semantically and obviously poetically. In that sense, the Sonnets are quintessential. Shakespeare uses them to focus his understanding of the fragile human condition: how love glorified by a sole artistic creation allows us to survive the tragic fate that awaits us as conscious beings. With words that are beautiful and strong beyond compare, they are full of irony and an almost aphoristic concentration of thought, as well as surprising plays on words and tones. In this sense, in order to compose my cycle and give a singing voice to the Sonnets 18, 19 and 20, I was largely inspired by the interior rhythms – always fluctuating and slightly asymmetrical – and the stunning tones of intimacy, and strengthened by declarations recorded by current English actors; some specialists in Shakespearian English such as Ben Crystal, and other great Shakespearian actors like Patrick Stewart and David Tennant.

Is there an adaptation of your composition for less modern instruments? Have you changed your usual musical style? 

Yes, undoubtedly. Older instruments open up some surprisingly rich possibilities, and they are not exactly the same as those offered by modern instruments. So, rather than adapt my writing, I explored other facets of my musical thought – other ranges, textures and colours, those which are impossible to develop with modern instruments – in a very personal way.

How do you view the temporal and aesthetic encounter between an 18th century orchestra and 21st century language?

You should bear in mind that, although early music orchestras are meant to play music from centuries past with the highest degree of authenticity, these ensembles are the product of the second half of the 20thcentury and were designed by great artists of our time such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt or Gustav Leonhardt. As creators, it could be considered that they give us a new look at instrumental range and sound – perhaps more agile and less “inflated” –, and an orchestration that is less based on the saturating build-up and is closer to the concept of resonance and vibration by physical similarity. Consequently, writing for such an ensemble does not necessarily mean continually or literally revisiting the styles of the past, but rather radically rethinking the way in which instrumental energy is approached in writing and the expression of the act that produces it.

What will you be working on next?

I’m currently working on Inscape, which is a piece for full orchestra, sixteen soloists from the Ensemble InterContemporain placed around the room, and IRCAM electronics in real time. It is a psychoacoustic journey into a black hole, an imaginary experience I thought up, in detail, together with the astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet, a world-renowned specialist on the subject. For the past few months I’ve also been working on a large-scale symphonic work for the Orquesta Nacional de España and the Orchestre National de Lille, called Avant la fin… vers où ?. I also have Orgia – Irrisorio alito d’aria in the project phase, which is a work that couples the Baroque ensemble Concerto Köln with the contemporary music ensemble Musikfabrik.