The 2023 Maynardville Open-Air Festival kicked off with three performances by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra of Mendelssohn’s marvellous symphonic work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, interspersed with dialogue, anecdotes and excerpts from the Bard’s famous comedy.

On 19, 20 and 21 January 2023, the upper voices (sopranos and altos) of VOX Cape Town, together with soloists Lauren Pharaoh and Setsoane Jeannette Ntseki, joined the orchestra for three performances enriched by the mellifluous tones of broadcaster John Woodland who lured audiences into Shakespeare’s ethereal world of scurrying fairies, waylaid lovers and mistaken identities. The concerts were conducted by Brandon Phillips.

VOX enjoys a close relationship with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra through the activities of its founder and director, John Woodland. In 2018, VOX participated in the CPO’s performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) to celebrate the restoration of the Cape Town City Hall. During lockdown, VOX partnered with the CPO for a virtual performance of Eric Whitacre’s The Seal Lullaby – the first performance of this work by a choral ensemble together with an orchestra.

Interview on Fine Music Radio's 'Cape Diary' 13.01.2023

by Hadley Tituss and John Woodland

Programme note by John Woodland

The four delicate, magical, transformative chords that open Mendelssohn’s score to A Midsummer Night’s Dream urge us to suspend our disbelief. Instantly, we are transported through space and time to Shakespeare’s ethereal world of scurrying fairies, waylaid lovers and mistaken identities, replete with braying string ‘hee-haws’ representing the donkey-headed Bottom.

The Overture dates from 1826 when Mendelssohn was just seventeen years old, with the rest of the incidental music following a decade and a half later. Mendelssohn contrasts instrumental movements such as the famous ‘Wedding March’ with intimate songs and melodramas for voices, incorporating Shakespeare’s text and mimicking the Bard’s ingeniously-devised play-within-a-play. The break of day is signalled by the same four enchanted chords heard again at the end of the work, releasing us from Mendelssohn’s spell and returning us to the real world.

Tonight’s performance, under a southern sky and amongst the Shakespeare-steeped oaks of Maynardville, will be accompanied by a selection of passages taken from the original play (and occasionally from beyond) intended to augment – but not to interrupt – Mendelssohn’s musical re-telling of this famous tale.