Oregon Symphony

 

Scheherazade

Saturday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Monday, September 23 at 8 p.m.


Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Sergio Carreno, percussion
Niel DePonte, percussion
Jonathan Greeney, percussion
Luanne Warner Katz, percussion
Michael Roberts, percussion

TORU Takemitsu


Intermission


Nikolai
Rimsky-Korsakov
Scheherazade
  • The Sea and Sinbad's Ship
  • The Kalender Prince
  • The Young Prince and the Young Princess
  • Festival at Baghdad - The Sea


THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical FM. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit the web site allclassical.org to watch the video on demand.


TONIGHTS PROGRAM presents two different perspectives on the East, one first-hand and one as seen through a 19th-century Westerner's conception of the "exotic" Orient. Toru Takemitsu's ethereal percussion concerto embodies the essentially Japanese concept of ma, the energy perceived in the silences and spaces between notes. In contrast, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheher-azade is, as the composer acknowledges, a European's imagination of a semi-enchanted realm inspired by the Tales from the Arabian Nights, rather than a literal representation.

TORU TAKEMITSU
From me flows what you call Time

Vital Stats

Composer: Born October 8, 1930, Tokyo; died February 20, 1996, Tokyo.

Work composed: 1990; commissioned by Carnegie Hall to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

World premiere: premiered by NEXUS percussion ensemble and the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa on October 19, 1990, at Carnegie Hall.

Oregon Symphony premiere.

Instrumentation:

Five solo percussionists: 1) glockenspiel, vibraphone, steel drum, 2 antique cymbals; 2) 7 Pakistan noah bells, 5 Thai gongs, crotales, 2 Japanese temple bowls on large timpano, 6 Chinese water gongs, anklung (tuned bamboo rattles), darabuka (Arabic or Turkish drum), high-pitched tiny bells hanging on ribbons; 3) crotales, 5 almglocken, 8 tuned log drums, 5 tom-toms, anklung, high-pitched tiny bells hanging on ribbons; 4) crotales, glockenspiel, marimbaphone, 3 tam-tams, 3 sus-pended cymbals, 3 Chinese cymbals, anklung; 5) crotales, glockenspiel, marimbaphone, anklung, 6 Japanese temple bowls placed on two timpani.

Orchestra: 3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo; one doubling alto flute), 2 oboes, oboe d'amore (doubling English horn), 4 clarinets (2 doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, celesta, 2 harps and strings.

Estimated duration: 36 minutes

"Perhaps I am one of those who try to see the invisible, to hear the inaudible."
—Toru Takemitsu

To fully experience Toru Takemitsu's From me flows what you call Time, one should hear it performed in Portland's Japanese Garden, acclaimed as one of the most authentically Japanese gardens in the world outside Japan. Takemitsu would have probably welcomed with this idea. He once observed, "My music is like a garden, and I am the gardener. Listening to my music can be compared with walking through a garden and experiencing the changes in light, pattern and texture." Critic Tom Service describes Takemitsu's music as "embodying the Japanese concept 'ma,' which suggests the concept of a void that isn't empty, an absence that is really a presence, a space between things that is full of energy."

Such musings about classical music may sound alien to Western audiences, based as they are on profoundly Eastern concepts. Another way to approach Takemitsu is by tracing his musical evolution. The first Japanese composer to achieve world-wide recognition, thanks in some part to a fortuitous meeting with Igor Stravinsky in 1957, Takemitsu was an autodidact who began his musical studies during the U.S. occupation of Japan after WWII. While recuperating from his wounds in an American hospital, Takemitsu passed the long hours by tuning in Western classical music, which the Japanese Imperial government had banned during the war, on U.S. Armed Forces Radio. "My first teacher was the radio," he once joked. As a reaction to the toxic nationalism that had gripped Japan during the war, the young Takemitsu turned his musical attention to Western styles, particularly the 12-tone and serial methods then in vogue. Over time, through his friendship with American composer John Cage, who introduced Takemitsu to traditional Japanese music, Takemitsu began to explore the philosophies and aesthetics of his native culture. His later music, including the award-winning score to Akira Kurosawa's 1985 film Ran, combines a unique blend of Western and Eastern elements with a uniquely personal understanding of sound and its relationship to silence.

A typical percussion concerto show-cases virtuosity and dynamic energy, but Takemitsu explained that From me… contains no "superficial intensity and liveliness of the usual percussion concerto. The ruling emotion of the work is one of prayer." The title is taken from the poem "Clear Blue Water," written by Takemitsu's friend, poet Makoto Ooka. Takemitsu explained, "[I] suddenly imagined 100 years of time flowing through this man-made space, so full of special meaning, called Carnegie Hall. It was as if I could hear the Hall murmuring from the numberless cracks between the layers of those years, 'From me flows what you call Time.'"

The number five, central to the Tibetan folk belief in the Wind Horse, serves as the basic organizing principal of From me…. The Wind Horse, a representation of the human spirit that symbolizes good fortune and carries human prayers directly to heaven, comes from Tibetan folk traditions and was subsequently incorporated into Tibetan Buddhist practices. The Wind Horse is an embodiment of the five natural elements: water (blue), fire (red), earth (yellow), wind (green) and sky (white). In From me…, these elements are represented by five colored ribbons. Musically, From me… begins with a five-note theme sounded by a solo flute; this fragment returns, in different guises, throughout the piece. From me flows what you call Time is divided into nine interludes; each marks a different point on the listener's journey through time. The flutist exhales A Breath of Air, after which the soloists enter to the Premonition sounded by cellos and basses. Musicians and audience move together through the remaining sections: Plateau, Curved Horizon, The Wind Blows, Mirage, The Promised Land, and Life's Joys and Sorrows. The percussionists summon the gods with clusters of tiny bells to invoke a concluding Prayer.

NIKOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV
Scheherazade, Op. 35

Vital Stats

Composer: Born March 18, 1844, Tikhvin, near Novgorod, Russia; died June 21, 1908, Lyubensk [now Pskov district], near St. Petersburg.

Work composed: during the summer of 1888.

World premiere: Rimsky-Korsakov conducted the premiere in St. Petersburg on November 3, 1888.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: January 23, 2006; Michael Stern, conductor.

Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tam-tam, tambourine, triangle, harp and strings.

Estimated duration: 47 minutes

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheher-azade, inspired by alluring images from the Tales from the Arabian Nights, established the Russian composer as a brilliant orchestrator. Rimsky-Korsakov described Scheherazade as "an Oriental narrative of … varied fairy tale wonders." The solo violin, as Scheherazade, stitches the exotic stories together.

The literary inspiration for Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral masterpiece is a collection of folk tales from Egypt, India and Persia that includes stories dating back over 1,000 years. In 1704, French translator Antoine Galland began publishing the Tales of the Arabian Nights in a series of installments, beginning with Sinbad the Sailor. For most Europeans who would never experience the East firsthand, these tales provided a colorful, exotic lens through which the wonders of "the Orient" were viewed. The otherness of all things Eastern colored the imaginations of Westerners; in their minds it became a quasi-magical realm tinged with mystery, the scent of foreign perfumes and spices, beguiling music and other sensual delights. Galland's translations created a frenzy among Europeans for all things Eastern and contributed to the rise of turquerie, an interest in the culture, art and style of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Rimsky-Korsakov capitalized on listeners' instant association of Scheherazade with the East when he immortalized the legendary storyteller and her fantastic tales in music. According to legend, Scheherazade's stories were invented to prevent execution at the hands of her brutal husband. Sultan Shakriar believed all women were naturally deceptive and had each of his wives killed after one night. Scheherazade escaped this fate by telling stories that spun themselves out over 1,001 nights. Her stories were an ingenious amalgam of poems, folk songs and fairy tales. Infected by the universal desire to find out "what happened next," the sultan deferred her execution each morning and eventually lifted her death sentence.

In his memoir My Musical Life, Rimsky-Korsakov wrote, " I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer's fancy on the path which my own fancy had traveled. All I desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders, and not merely four pieces played one after the other and composed on the basis of themes common to all four movements." More specifically, Rimsky-Korsakov indicates the solo violin, which opens the first two movements, the intermezzo of the third movement and the conclusion of the fourth all correspond to Scheherazade herself. (The forbidding theme in the brasses that opens the whole work and is sometimes associated with the Sultan is perhaps better perceived as a metaphor for Scheherazade's death sentence. Postponed as long as she continues to beguile the Sultan with her inventive stories, it is always present as a threatening, if unspoken, reminder.)

Rimsky-Korsakov's student, composer Anatoly Lyadov, suggested the names by which each of Scheherazade's four sections is known to most audiences. Although Rimsky-Korsakov approved them initially, he had them removed from subsequent editions of the score, in keeping with his conception that Scheherazade was not a linear narrative. Instead, Rimsky-Korsakov described it as a "musical kaleidoscope" of images: the ocean carrying Sinbad's ship from one near-escape to the next; the roguish exploits of a Kalendar Prince (the Tales includes several stories of princes who, disguised as beggars, enjoyed daring adventures; Rimsky-Korsakov does not specify which tale he is illustrating but presents a lighthearted composite of mischief-making); an enchanting love story of a young prince and princess, possibly Aladdin and the princess Badur; a vastly different ocean, now storm-tossed and deadly, which finally wrecks Sinbad's ship against the rocks.

©2013 Elizabeth Schwartz

Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a Portland-based free-lance writer, researcher and musician. In addition annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony and other ensembles, she has also contributed to NPR’s Performance Today (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also co-hosts The Portland Yiddish Hour, heard at 10 a.m. Sundays on KBOO 90.7 FM. Email: schwartzelizabeth@yahoo.com.

Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons

Takemitsu – From me flows what you call Time
Carl St. Clair–Pacific Symphony Orchestra
Sony Classical 63044
 
Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade
Sir Thomas Beecham–Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
EMI Classics 66998  OR
Kiril Kondrashin-Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Philips 000708802

These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.

 

 

 


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