Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tales of Arabian Nights

Chicago Symphony Orchestra Concert

"I have already heard it. I had better not go: I will start to get accustomed to it and finally like it." Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov - Referring to music by Debussy. Conversations with Stravinsky 

The story of Scheherazade and the thousand and one tales she narrates is famous.  In Sir Richard Burton's translation of The Nights, Scheherazade was described in this way:
"[Scheherazade] had perused the books, annals and legends of preceding Kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things; indeed it was said that she had collected a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers. She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred."
Against her father's wishes, Scheherazade volunteered to spend one night with the King. Once in the King's chambers, Scheherazade asked if she might bid one last farewell to her beloved sister, Dinazade, who had secretly been prepared to ask Scheherazade to tell a story during the long night. The King lay awake and listened with awe as Scheherazade told her first story. The night passed by, and Scheherazade stopped in the middle of the story. The King asked her to finish, but Scheherazade said there was not time, as dawn was breaking. So, the King spared her life for one day to finish the story the next night. So the next night, Scheherazade finished the story, and then began a second, even more exciting tale which she again stopped halfway through, at dawn. So the King again spared her life for one day to finish the second story.
And so the King kept Scheherazade alive day by day, as he eagerly anticipated the finishing of last night's story. At the end of one thousand and one nights, and one thousand stories, Scheherazade told the King that she had no more tales to tell him. During these one thousand and one nights, the King had fallen in love with Scheherazade, and had three sons with her. So, having been made a wiser and kinder man by Scheherazade and her tales, he spared her life, and made her his Queen.
Last Saturday evening the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen, performed Scheherazade, the Symphonic Suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  The performance was stunning.  The young conductor who was leading her first CSO subscription concerto managed to bring out the detail and romantic charm of this enduring classic.  Beginning with the Violin solo, elegantly performed by Concertmaster Robert Chen, the piece imagines Sinbad's sea journey and other moments.  Linking all the movements is the theme first heard on the Violin and repeated even to the end of the final coda.  This was an exciting concert for someone like myself who has cherished this piece for almost  his whole life.
The first half of the concert included The Fair Melusina Overture by Felix Mendelssohn and The Mississippi River by Florence Price.  These were performed well but did not have the impact of the Rimsky-Korsakov.  The evening as a whole once again demonstrated the exceptional quality of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.


M. said...

How many, like me, began their "serious music" listening with a found copy of Scheherazade? In my case it was a bulky 78rpm recording of the entire tome poem by, I think, the NY Philharmonic. Recording long gone, but Scheherazade is still a favorite. Thank you for a most thoughtful posting.

James said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. In my case it was an RCA "Living Stereo" LP with Fritz Reiner and the CSO. I still own that recording on a remastered CD and it still sounds wonderful after more than fifty years.