Scheherazade.2 2014 | 48 mins
The centuries-old tale of Scheherazade is about a beautiful woman newly married to a vengeful Sultan who vows to have each of his wives slain after their wedding night—his bloodthirsty habit intended as punishment meted out to all women for having once been deceived by a lover. But Scheherazade manages to outwit her husband by entrancing him each night with a new story that ends with a “cliff hanger,” thus playing on his curiosity. Composer John Adams says, “Every classical music listener is familiar with how she survives. But I wonder how many have stopped to ponder that the story itself is really quite horrifying. There is not much to celebrate here when one thinks that she is spared simply because of her cleverness and ability to keep on entertaining her warped, murderous husband.” An exhibit on Arabian Nights at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris prompted Adams to imagine what a contemporary Scheherazade might do to cope, and notable examples of women facing threats today came to mind. Adams felt there was no shortage of daily news to remind him of the ongoing oppression and abuse of women; it’s in this sense that Scheherazade.2 is an “updated version” of the original tale. Soloist Leila Josefowicz says that the writing for the soloist is particularly taxing but also fulfilling. She compares its demands to those of “an actress preparing for a very serious role. I thought of many strong women throughout the ages, women who have lived in real life as well as fictitious characters. They all gave me inspiration.” For her, “Scheherazade's character is a wise young woman, wise beyond her years. She was a very independent thinker who will not surrender her thoughts or ideas to any conventional beliefs. A lot of the piece is about her searching, longing, and finding out what she believes and thinks for herself . . . She stands out as a rebel.”
Music from Romeo and Juliet 1936 | 45 mins
Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeare’s famous tale of the same name, is probably Prokofiev’s most loved score today. Michael Tilson Thomas has called this piece “a great lyrical symphonic epic, one in which Prokofiev used his unique gift for beautiful melody to give life to all the characters. Definite motifs are identified with those characters and also with specific emotions—emotions such as innocence, love, anger, jealousy, despair.” The excerpts we hear at these performances show how a great composer shaped character, communicated emotion, and captured the dramatic sweep of one of the world’s great love stories.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.