Written by Music Director Daniel Meyer
Classical music is serious business! Well, it can be, and while I am currently diving in to Mahler’s Third Symphony, it strikes me how different this work is from the other ‘big’ work I will be conducting this month. From a philosophical point of view, Mahler is trying to come to grips with the great themes of existence in a musical format. Steeped in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, he wrestles with how to project the forces of nature and the elements into an all-embracing statement that poses unanswerable questions of how we fit in the cosmos. Heady for sure, but this seems to be how Mahler was able to create such epic musical edifices, making use of such dramatic contrasts and brash juxtapositions.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, on the other hand, is just plain fun. Also a work of dramatic contrasts and brash juxtapositions, it reveals a deft hand in depicting the waves of the sea, the pageantry of ancient Arabia, and the colors and perfumes of the night. The piece is a large, bold musical statement of vivid storytelling. The solo violin role, depicting Scheherazade herself, is stunning in its sinuousness and flexibility. It is one of those pieces that you likely had some contact with when you were very young, whether portions of it were played in a Young Person’s Concert at the symphony or on a ‘Best-Of-Classical’ compilation album (sandwiched between the Bee-Gees and Rolling Stones in your parents’ record collection.)
For me, Scheherazade represents a work that takes very little preparation to understand and fully enjoy upon first hearing. The sweep of the music is irresistible. Combined with Rimsky-Korsakov’s creativity for rich-hued sound pictures, the piece is a pure joy to hear. To conduct, it’s also a thrill. The sonic power, the rapidly dashing figures, the long, curvaceous melodies all conspire to make it a guilty pleasure, and it's certainly 'easy on the baton.'
I’ve combined the piece with two other evocative, colorful works in Britten’s Four Sea Interludes (with obvious maritime connections to the Rimsky-Korsakov) and Rodrigo’s unabashedly Spanish-flavored concerto for guitar and orchestra. With world-renown soloist Sharon Isbin joining us onstage, January’s symphonic concert is the perfect antidote to any wintery blues you may have, and a study in how imaginative composers can bring sonic ‘images’ to life with striking effect.
Music Director, Erie Philharmonic