Peer Gynt started off as a collaboration between two 19th century Norwegians: Ibsen for the play, and Grieg for some of the most beautiful incidental music. The result: four hours of performance that include special effects; trips around the world, over the seas and under ground; magical spirits, seen and unseen, and a full scale orchestra with chorus. Needless to say, cost conscious producers did not exactly line up out the door to stage it. Grieg however extracted some musical suites out of the score, which have reached a happy place in the musical pantheon. It joined the recently heard Schubert's incidental music from Rosamunde (performed by the Chicago Symphony), where the play there was just inane, or Debussy's Jeux, the score for a ballet telling of frolicking on the tennis court, as example of musical scores which dumped their accompanying beginnings and took a life of their own outside of the context of their original creation.
The SF Symphony attempted to bring back the text to the music. Ibsen's tale is on its own a literary monument, the epic story of a young cad who commits a bunch of misdeeds, just because it's the easiest way, but eventually faces some existential angst about it and realizes the wrongness of his youthful indiscretions. Rather than staging the original, MTT went in a new direction, and created a collage of different scenes with music excerpted not only from Grieg's, but also from later settings of the text by Schnittke and Robin Holloway. Holloway is the charming British composer who just orchestrated Debussy's song for voice and piano into a full fledged orchestral score last week. Actors declaimed some lines to make it a hybrid theater/concert experience with video projections. Because it's 2013, we demand video projections, dammit.