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Program Notes: Romeo and Juliet (March 16-17, 2024)


March 16-17, 2024

Kirven Douthit-Boyd, artistic director

Adam Schoenberg

Picture Studies


Three Pierrots 


Olive Orchard 


Calder’s World 



Cliffs of Moher 

Pigeons in Flight 

The Big Muddy Dance Company Choreography by Kirven Douthit-Boyd 

Dance commissioned by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra 


Sergei Prokofiev

Romeo and Juliet: Selections from the concert suites

Montagues and Capulets – 


Juliet, the Young Girl 

Masks – 

Montagues and Capulets (continued) 

Romeo and Juliet (Balcony Scene) 

Friar Lawrence 

The Death of Tybalt 

Romeo at Juliet’s Grave – 

Juliet’s Death


Program Notes

In 1874 the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky took his listeners on a musical promenade through an art museum, giving aural life to sketches and paintings in vividly imagined musical vignettes. Nearly 150 years later, American Adam Schoenberg (no relation to Arnold) did the same thing in his painterly Picture Studies, inspired by selected works from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. 

Picture Studies has been described as “kaleidoscopic,” ranging from “sensuous melody” and “tender delicacy” to “jaunty whimsicality” and “explosive rhythmic brutality.” A glowing review in the Kansas City Star after the 2013 premiere concluded: “Picture Studies stands as a model of how arts groups can work together to achieve greatness, and it is without doubt one of the Symphony’s (and the Museum’s) smartest recent ventures.”

In these concerts, Picture Studies is at the center of a new creative collaboration, one that brings Schoenberg’s work full circle: music inspired by art is given (visual) shape with choreography by The Big Muddy Dance Company’s artistic director Kirven Douthit-Boyd. Perhaps it was inevitable that dance would enter the mix: Schoenberg’s final movement, inspired by Francis Blake’s photograph Pigeons in Flight, has been described as a “big, unmistakably urban, irrepressibly optimistic danceable climax.”

After intermission, we shift from the new to the familiar with music that conveys its own optimism, even as it tells a tragic tale, and which is just as “irrepressibly danceable”—Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The variety of mood you’ll hear in Schoenberg’s music is just as apparent in the narrative journey that Music Director Stéphane Denève has assembled from Prokofiev’s concert suites. Whether it’s portending doom, girlish playfulness, swaggering youth, tribal posturing, or the ecstasy of love and tragedy of death, the emotional range of Shakespeare’s drama finds perfection in Prokofiev’s cinematically vivid ballet music.

Adam Schoenberg

Picture Studies

Adam Schoenberg

Born 1980, New Salem, Massachusetts

The composer writes…

In November of 2011, I received a commission from the Kansas City Symphony and the Nelson-Atkins Museum to write a 21st-century “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The idea seemed both intriguing and ambitious, and given my own interest in visual art, I welcomed the challenge. After conceptualizing the piece for six months, and visiting the Nelson-Atkins on three different occasions, I decided to compose a series of studies.

Unlike Modest Mussorgsky, who based all of his movements on sketches and paintings by Viktor Hartmann, my piece brings eight seemingly disparate works of art to musical life. In honor of Mussorgsky and his original work (for solo piano), four of the ten movements were conceived in the form of piano etudes and later orchestrated. My main objective was to create an architectural structure that connected each movement to the next while creating an overall arc for the entire piece.

I used this series as a way of pushing myself both intellectually and emotionally as a composer. I felt inspired and liberated as I gave myself permission to explore new compositional terrain. The outcome is Picture Studies: a 27-minute work for orchestra based on four paintings, three photographs, and one sculpture. Creating this series pushed me in a new direction and allowed me to grow as an artist in the most unexpected ways.

The following impromptu notes were jotted down from initial impressions and repeated viewings of the artwork, after my selections had been made. They helped dictate the form, style, and musical arc of each movement, and ultimately the entire piece.

I. Intro: Ghost-like piano theme (using the piano to pay respect to Mussorgsky) that transports the listener to the inside of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. [This forms a parallel with the Promenade movement in Mussorgsky’s work.—Ed.]

II. Three Pierrots (based on Albert Bloch’s painting, Die Drei Pierrots Nr. 2): Comedic, naïve, and excited. A triad will represent the three Pierrots, and throughout the movement the triad will be turned upside down, on its side, and twisted in every possible way. The form will be through-composed. End big.

III. Repetition (based on Kurt Baasch’s photograph, Repetition): Four figures walking, and each person is clearly in his or her own world. The idea of repetition can lend itself to an ostinato. This is a photograph, a slice of life, and represents only one moment in time. Take this concept of time and manipulate it. Change the scenery (lighting, shade, color), so to speak, with a shutter click before returning to its original state. ABA form with an abrupt switch to B to represent the shutter click.

IV. Olive Orchard (Vincent van Gogh’s painting, Olive Orchard): Extended impressionism. Colorful, full of love. Perhaps a meeting place for two lovers. Start thin, gradually build to an expansive texture, end colorful. ABC (C references A to show the organic growth of the piece).

V. Kandinsky (Wassily Kandinsky’s painting, Rose with Gray): Geometrically fierce, angular, sharp, jagged, violent, jumpy, and complex. A battleground. Mustard yellow, encapsulates a sustained intensity. Block structures, cut and paste.

VI. Calder’s World (Alexander Calder’s sculpture, Untitled, 1937): As if time has stopped, dangling metal, atmospheric, yet dark. Quasi-aleatoric gestures, perhaps improvised. Gradually fade to niente.

VII. Miró (Joan Miró’s painting, Women at Sunrise): Child-like, yet delirious. There appears to be a sexually ambiguous tone. Try something new, a saxophone or bombastic E-flat clarinet solo. Something spontaneous, bouncy, tribal, and raw.

VIII. Interlude: Return of original Ghost-like piano theme with minimal additional orchestrations. Takes us to the final chapter to be played without pause until the end.

IX. Cliffs of Moher (Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photograph, Atlantic Ocean, Cliffs of Moher): Delicate and flowing, find a way to musically represent the ocean and cliffs in the most gentle and subtle means. A return to an ostinato.

X. Pigeons in Flight (Francis Blake’s photograph, Pigeons in Flight): I’ve never looked at pigeons this way. There appears to be so much joy, beauty, and depth. This will be the longest and most expansive movement. Fly away.

Adam Schoenberg © 2012

About the composer

Adam Schoenberg has twice been named among the top ten most performed living composers by orchestras in the United States. With more than 200 orchestral performances worldwide, his works have been performed by such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic at venues from the Kennedy Center to the Hollywood Bowl. 

His numerous achievements include the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship and Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the MacDowell Fellowship (2009 and 2010). Recent commissions include his percussion concerto Losing Earth for the San Francisco Symphony; Orchard in Fog for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and the San Diego Symphony; Automation for cellist Yves Dhar and the Louisville Orchestra; and a concerto for orchestra to be premiered in 2024 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

His debut orchestral album Adam Schoenberg: American Symphony, Finding Rothko & Picture Studies with Michael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony was nominated for three Grammys, including Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Recent releases include The Blakemore Trio Plays Music of Adam Schoenberg and Migration, featuring his Symphony No. 2. 

For film and TV, he has composed several soundtracks, including Graceland, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival; PBS’s That Far Corner: Frank Lloyd Wright in Los Angeles, which received two Emmy Awards; and ABC’s Nightline theme package. He frequently writes music for museums such as Dubai’s Museum of the Future and works on curated sound installations. 

Adam Schoenberg received his Doctor of Musical Arts from the Juilliard School, where he studied with John Corigliano (Academy Award-winning composer for The Red Violin), and he is a tenured professor at Occidental College, teaching composition and film scoring. 

Studies in Dance

We spoke to Kirven Douthit-Boyd about the inspiration and form behind his new dance work Picture Studies.

Adam Schoenberg’s Picture Studies music is distinctive in the way it takes direct inspiration from specific artworks. This, in turn, has given choreographer Kirven Douthit-Boyd two layers of inspiration: visual and musical. 

“I noticed that all of the art was very different,” says Douthit-Boyd. “There are portraits, there are paintings, there’s sculpture. And while there’s no real through-line or connectivity in the art, there’s an obvious connectivity in the sound Adam has created.” 

In particular, the artworks shaped the structure of the new dance work, by suggesting different groupings of dancers. Albert Bloch’s Three Pierrots painting, for example, naturally called for a trio of dancers. Kurt Baasch’s 1913 photograph Repetition, with its four figures crossing the street, suggested a quartet. For other sections of the music, Douthit-Boyd looked to Schoenberg’s own personal response to the art. In Vincent van Gogh’s Olive Orchard, for instance, Schoenberg speculated that the scene might be a meeting place for two lovers. And so Douthit-Boyd’s choreography centers on a pas de deux for a lead couple, with three other couples who “sweep in and out of the space.” 

“Each section,” he continues, “has its own vignette of groupings and pairing of bodies. And then for the final movement, Pigeons in Flight, everybody’s just kind of flying.” Douthit-Boyd characterizes the overall concept as a series of “family portraits that have come to life.”

First performance: February 1, 2013, Michael Stern conducting the Kansas City Symphony

First SLSO performance: These concerts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (two doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd doubling E-flat clarinet, 3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano (doubling celesta), strings

Approximate duration: 27 minutes

Sergei Prokofiev

Romeo and Juliet: Selections from the concert suites

Sergei Prokofiev

Born 1891, Sontsovka, Ukraine 

Died 1953, Moscow, Russia 

If you know Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet music from the theater, you’ll know that the curtain rises to the sound of a love motif, doomed from the outset. If, on the other hand, you’ve come to know the music in the concert hall or from recordings, your recollection probably begins with the tortured orchestral shriek of Montagues and Capulets—the opening movement from the second and most popular of the concert suites from the ballet. 

When performing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet music in concert, some conductors assemble their own suites of highlights by taking numbers from the ballet score. This week, Stéphane Denève has chosen movements from Prokofiev’s three concert suites, offering revelations you won’t hear in the theater.

When Romeo and Juliet eventually reached the stage, it was an immediate hit. At the Soviet premiere in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1940 there were 15 curtain calls; more than 80 years later it’s unchallenged as the best-loved 20th-century ballet. But the road to popularity never did run smooth.

The ballet was plagued by politically driven delays and problems with the scenario (a happy ending was contemplated). Meanwhile, the music itself was declared “un-danceable,” which put Prokofiev in very good company, since Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky had weathered the same criticism. By 1936, the ballet score was complete but, having been cancelled by Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, it seemed it might never be produced. 

Prokofiev responded by devising the first two orchestral concert suites, which were favorably received. And when he was offered a chance to have a 60-minute version of the ballet produced in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1938, these suites were used for the music. 

Finally, in 1939, the complete ballet was in production at Leningrad’s Kirov Theatre (now the Mariinsky). But the challenges continued. Despite his deep admiration for Prokofiev’s music, the choreographer, Leonid Lavrovsky, insisted on changes not approved by the composer. The orchestrations were made bigger and thicker, achieving a “monumental” sound that appealed to the Soviet aesthetic as well as being easier for the dancers to hear in the challenging Kirov acoustic. And Prokofiev was forced to add conventional solos for the principal characters in the manner of a 19th-century ballet. Accented, dissonant trills across the ensemble introduce a new soundscape that is darker still and even more brooding. Solo violin and upper woodwinds emerge from the darkness, juxtaposing a lyrical melody with a sense of impending doom. The music swirls higher and higher, as a listener might imagine Icarus’s ascent towards the sun. As the strings reach the upper extreme of their range and disappear into the heavens, the lowest instruments in the orchestra quietly and carefully move in the other direction, reaching down into the depths of the earth.

As a result, in many ways the concert suites—especially the first two—come closer to Prokofiev’s intentions than the final ballet score. (The third suite, from which we hear The Death of Juliet, was completed later, in 1947.)

The concert suites reveal Prokofiev to be both more subtle and more symphonic. One example of this is Montagues and Capulets (Suite II, No. 1). In this movement, two horns begin then more instruments join in, until nearly everyone except the harp plays three massive, shrieking chords. But the strings aren’t shrieking at all: they enter playing very softly—only when the winds and brass stop do they emerge from the texture. This is the music for the Duke’s decree against dueling and it’s an extraordinarily effective dramatic gesture (sometimes you need to get people’s attention, and then lower your voice to make them listen). Prokofiev knew it would be equally effective in the concert hall.

But the music we know as Montagues and Capulets is never heard in this form in the ballet. That shattering opening appears early in Act I; the ritualistic dance that follows is from the Capulets’ ball later in Act I (where it’s known as the “Dance of the Knights”). These two sections of music have very specific roles to play in the ballet, but by combining them for the concert hall, Prokofiev turned them into a broader representation of an ancient and bloody feud. 

You may have noticed, however, that Stéphane’s selection for this concert follows, more or less, the narrative of Shakespeare’s play. And so, in a minor reversal, he has moved the “Dance of the Knights” section of this movement to its original place in the dramatic sequence. 

The first full movement is the confident and stately Minuet (Suite I, No. 4). This use of an “antique” dance form to accompany the arrival of the Capulets’ guests might be seen as one of Prokofiev’s few concessions to the Italian Renaissance setting of the play. (In the ballet they depart to an equally anachronistic gavotte lifted straight from Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony.)

With Juliet, the Young Girl (Suite II, No. 2) Prokofiev introduces a youthful yet complex character. He gives her yearning, half-finished phrases, with different instruments from the woodwinds suggesting the welling up of unfamiliar emotion. But he also represents her with the spontaneous playfulness of a scherzo—light and fast, simple but musically vibrant—as she teases her nurse. The mood is subdued when Juliet’s mother arrives with news of an arranged marriage.

Masks (Suite I, No. 5) accompanies Romeo and his friends as they plan to gatecrash the Capulets’ ball. There are musical reminders of Peter and the Wolf in the stealthy percussion and cheeky clarinet as the three young Montagues swagger into enemy territory—equal parts cautious and intrepid. The good-humoured clockwork character yields at the end to the “Dance of the Knights” section of Montagues and Capulets. This set piece is a ritual display of power, arrogance, and thinly masked aggression. Hear the solemnity and clannish posturing in the stamping bass line, the emphasis on brass and drums, and the jerky rhythms of the wide-ranging melody. There’s savagery lurking under the surface; menace in the sound of a saxophone. But two minutes in is a section labelled “Ladies Dance”—graceful and courtly.

The heart of our suite, and the climax of Act I in the ballet, is the soaring love music of Romeo and Juliet – Balcony Scene (Suite I, No. 6). Again, this movement conflates two numbers from the ballet: the dreamy strings of Juliet’s musings and Romeo’s signature motif from the balcony scene, followed by the soaring ecstasy of the lovers’ first pas de deux. (Omitted is Romeo’s solo that sits between them—one of the ballet numbers Lavrovsky bullied Prokofiev into adding.) 

On the surface, Friar Laurence (Suite II, No. 3) is given solemn music befitting of a priest. But the complexity of his role—a peacemaker, yet partly responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet—is reflected in the dark orchestral colors, with the bassoon playing a prominent part, and mystical character of the melody.

For the conclusion of his first suite, Prokofiev created a study in orchestral virtuosity, The Death of Tybalt (Suite I, No. 7). Once again, it’s constructed from several numbers. First, there’s Tybalt’s fight with Mercutio, tellingly marked “Precipitato” (precipitously) as the duel theme rips through the violins—imagine their bows as flashing foils. Prokofiev omits Mercutio’s death, instead jumping to the section in which Romeo fights Tybalt himself. His own scenario makes a key distinction between these two duels: “Unlike the duel between Tybalt and Mercutio, in which the opponents did not take account of the seriousness of the situation and fought because of their high spirits, here Tybalt and Romeo fight furiously, to the death.” The music reaches peak intensity with 15 thudding strokes of the timpani—musical death throes which then underpin the implacable chords and heavy tread of a funeral “march” in triple time.

The suite reaches its tragic finale in the Capulet family crypt with two movements: Romeo at Juliet’s Grave (Suite II, No. 7) continuing directly into the conclusion of Juliet’s Death (Suite III, No. 6). These final scenes are introduced with the unsettling sound of high violin tremolos. The music is slow and stately—funereal—yet marked by extreme emotion. When the brass section takes over from the strings, the music becomes edgier. Eventually melody is abandoned to anguished strings and discordant fragments—a return of the great love theme—and all subsides. The waves of emotion hinted at in Juliet, the Young Girl reach fruition, richly colored, full of heart-breaking chords and sublimely poised melody. The “curtain” will fall as the last somber sounds die away, icy violins poised above the lowest of the orchestral instruments: tuba, double bass, contrabassoon.

In performing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet music in the concert hall, we “rescue” it from the confines of the theater pit. And by choosing to perform from the concert suites, we’re also able to experience the leaner and more translucent orchestrations of Prokofiev’s original conception, as well as the care he gave to symphonic form and musical contrast in fusing different episodes. At the same time, we lose none of the boldness, clarity, authentic characterization, and heartfelt drama that make this the greatest of 20th-century ballet scores. Icarus employs an electronic instrument rarely seen on the orchestral stage—the theremin—that is more typically at home in scores of films and TV shows containing otherworldly elements, such as First Man (2018) and the Apple TV+ series The Big Door Prize. Its haunting, ethereal waves of sound push the orchestra into a fantastical musical realm.

Adapted from notes by Yvonne Frindle © 2024 

First performance: December 30, 1938, a Romeo and Juliet ballet was first performed in Brno, Czechoslovakia, using music from Prokofiev’s first two orchestral suites, which had already been heard in concerts in 1936–37; the complete ballet was premiered on January 11, 1940 in Leningrad (St. Petersburg)

First SLSO performance: February 4, 1949, Suite No. 2, Vladimir Golschmann conducting 

Most recent SLSO performance: March 6, 2016, Gilbert Varga conducting excerpts from the first two concert suites 

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, tenor saxophone, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 cornet, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano (doubling celesta), strings

Approximate duration: 39 minutes

Kirven Douthit-Boyd

Kirven Douthit-Boyd


Kirven Douthit-Boyd began his formal dance training at the Boston Arts Academy in 1999 and as a member of Boston Youth Moves before studying as a fellowship student at the Ailey School and on scholarship at the Boston Conservatory. He is a graduate of Hollins University where he earned an MFA in dance.

He began his professional career as a member of Ailey II (2002–2004) and performed at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival as a member of Battleworks Dance Company in 2003. The following year he joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and during his 11-year tenure he performed leading roles in works choreographed by Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison, Robert Battle, Ron K. Brown, Geoffrey Holder, Jiří Kylián, David Parsons, Camille A. Brown, Ulysses Dove, Christopher Wheeldon, Hofesh Shecter, Twyla Tharp, Wayne McGregor and Ohad Naharin. In 2015 he joined COCA (Center of Creative Arts) as Co-Artistic Director of Dance with his husband Antonio Douthit-Boyd, and in 2016, he joined Ron K. Brown/Evidence, A Dance Company as a guest artist.

Career highlights include performing at the White House tribute to Judith Jamison hosted by then first lady Michelle Obama, as well as guest artist appearances in ballet and contemporary dance galas in Argentina, Mexico, and Canada. His accolades include the 2014 Black Theater Alliance Award for his performance in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, Next Generation in Leadership Award (Freedom House in Boston, 2015), Boston Arts Academy’s Apollo Award (2016), Excellence in the Arts Award (Arts and Education Council in St. Louis, 2021), and Dance Teacher Magazine Award (2022). 

Kirven Douthit-Boyd has choreographed workshops for the Ailey School, Juilliard School, Webster University, Boston Arts Academy, Boston Youth Moves, and COCA. He has also choreographed works for Dallas Black Dance Theater and Ailey II. He is an ABT® Certified Teacher and has completed Lester Horton Pedagogy studies under Ana Marie Forsythe in New York and St. Louis. He has also served as Distinguished Performing Artist at Washington University in St. Louis, where he taught modern dance in the university and COCA’s collaborative MFA program.. 


The Big Muddy Dance Company

The Big Muddy Dance Company was founded in 2010 by Paula David, a former dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. In order to build an audience and donor base with only six dancers, the company performed donated works in living rooms and country clubs around the St. Louis area. After developing a small repertoire, the nine-member company presented its first full production at the Touhill Performing Arts Center’s Lee Theater in June 2011, performing to a sold-out house and standing ovation. Since then, The Big Muddy has increased its membership to 15 dancers and now presents three full production runs each season, as well as running outreach, education, and pre-professional training programs, and it tours across the midwestern–southern region.

Now under the artistic direction of Kirven Douthit-Boyd, The Big Muddy has commissioned more than 95 works and has frequently been recognized as a leading local dance company by audiences and mainstream media.

In 2020, Such Sweet Thunder, The Big Muddy’s collaborative production with Shakespeare Festival, Nine Network, and Jazz St. Louis was awarded St. Louis Theatre Circle Awards for Best Choreography and Best Production of a Musical, as well as a St. Louis Arts Award for Best Collaboration.

Other collaborations include work with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Variety the Children’s Charity, Bach Society of St. Louis, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, The Black Rep, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Jazz St. Louis, Nine Network of Public Media, Andrea Rizzo Foundation, CommUnity Arts Festival, Artists for a Cause, Ari’s Light Foundation, Kranzberg Arts Foundation, and OmniARTS Foundation. The company’s previous collaboration with the SLSO was in 2021, when Kirven Douthit-Boyd choreographed Anna Clyne’s DANCE for cello and orchestra, in performances featuring cello soloist Inbal Segev.


Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.


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