Sunday 3 April: Prokofiev Ivan the Terrible

Sunday 3 April: Prokofiev Ivan the Terrible

Thursday 7 April: Nielsen Aladdin

Thursday 7 April: Nielsen Aladdin

Thursday 7 April: Nielsen Aladdin

Sunday 17 April: Stravinsky The Firebird

Sunday 17 April: Stravinsky The Firebird

Sunday 17 April: Stravinsky The Firebird

Thursday 5 May: Copland Billy the Kid

Thursday 5 May: Copland Billy the Kid

Thursday 5 May: Copland Billy the Kid

Sunday 5 June: Bernstein Candide

Sunday 5 June: Bernstein Candide

Sunday 5 June: Bernstein Candide

Thursday 23 June: Mendelssohn A Midsummer Night's Dream

Classic Tales

Classic Tales: music-making meets story-telling
From now until the end of the season in the summer, we’re pleased to present a series of concerts at the Barbican that all have tales to tell. From Aladdin and Peer Gynt in April to The Firebird and Billy the Kid in May, and Candide in June, join us for a collection of pieces that take as their inspiration some of the most sensational myths, fairytales and actual historical events ever written.

Read on for inspiration... and come and hear how the music tells the story.


Ivan the Terrible - Sunday 3 April 7.30pm

Prokofiev’s score for Eisenstein’s epic 1940s film Ivan the Terrible brings to life scenes from the reign of the 16th-century Russian autocrat who created a vast empire out of disparate multi-ethnic  Asiatic regions, and became the first Tsar of all the Russias. Prokofiev’s music evokes the grandeur and terror attending the birth of a nation, with brutal battle scenes, liturgical processions, drinking and wedding songs rubbing shoulders with broad folksong-based melodies representing the endless steppes of the emergent Motherland.

Xian Zhang conductor
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Aladdin and Peer Gynt - Thursday 7 April 7.30pm


Processions, dances and celebrations also feature in two Nordic suites drawn from theatrical music – one, tinged with sensuous Oriental exoticism, that the Danish composer Carl Nielsen made from his 1919 stage music to Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp (the well-known story taken from the 1001 Nights), and another from Grieg’s earthy music for Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt (1874-5), the tale of an amoral peasant who rampages around Norway, forsaking his sweetheart and his old mother, abducting other men’s brides, getting chased by mountain trolls, shipwrecked in the Mediterranean and seduced by a sultry North African beauty, and finally, as an old man, coming home after years of weary wandering to find his faithful first love still waiting for him.

Kristjan Järvi conductor
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Love the Magician, Diego Rivero & The Firebird - Sunday 17 April 7.30pm

Fire, ritual and magic link three pieces on 17 April. Manuel de Falla’s ballet score Love the Magician is set among the gipsy population of Granada. The story concerns the efforts of a gipsy girl to exorcise the troublesome ghost of her former lover so that she can get on with her life, and the centrepiece of this colourful score is the celebrated Ritual Fire Dance performed in a cave at midnight. Magic and fire also infuse Stravinsky’s luscious 1910 ballet scoreThe Firebird, based on a Russian folktale about a mythical bird who helps a prince to release some captive princesses from a spell woven by an evil magician. Fire and Blood for violin and orchestra by the American composer Michael Daugherty was inspired by the exotic life stories of the painters Diego Rivero and Frida Kahlo.

Kristjan Järvi conductor
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Billy the Kid - Thursday 5 May 7.30pm

In 5 May’s all-American programme, two popular works by George Gershwin complement another ballet score, this time by Aaron Copland. Billy the Kid deals with the short life and brutal death of an archetypal outsider – the outlaw whose lonely, peripatetic existence is contrasted with the songs and dances of the Establishment, represented by settlers carving out a life in the vast prairies of the American West.

François-Xavier Roth conductor
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Candide - Sunday 5 June 7pm
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Thursday 23 June 7.30pm

Bernstein’s musical Candide on 5 June tells a wholly improbable but highly entertaining tale of survival against all the odds, and Shakespeare and Mendelssohn’s enchanting fairies and a set of miniature children’s fairytales, delicately envisioned by master-orchestrator Ravel, form the focus on 23 June.

5 June
Kristjan Järvi conductor
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23 June
Bernard Haitink conductor
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Text by Wendy Thompson

Get reading!

Do the Classic Tales concerts leave you wanting to know more about the stories that inspired the music?

To coincide with our series, Barbican Library have created a special list of library materials that will take you even deeper into the tales – there’s everything from Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible on DVD, to Mother Goose picture books for younger readers. You’ll find these and many more items on display in the Library on Level 2 of the Barbican.

> Click here to download a PDF of the reading list


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