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Having made a name for herself in the world’s most esteemed concert halls, conductor Simone Young leads a spellbinding concert of Russian and French masters. Hear one of the most colorful and evocative scores in all classical music: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, a wondrous symphonic portrait of the fairy tale collection Arabian Nights. Also on the program, pianist Louis Lortie brings “total spontaneity” (The London Times) to Ravel’s jazz-infused Piano Concerto in G major.
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
Pavane for a Dead Princess 1899 | 6 mins
Piano Concerto in G major 1931 | 20 mins
In 1899, the twenty-four-year-old Maurice Ravel was anything but an established composer. Not cut out to succeed as an academic, he instead forged his career in the salons of Paris, most notably that of the Princesse de Polignac (heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune). Ravel’s Pavane—dedicated to the Princesse—remains one of those pieces that everybody recognizes instantly and encapsulates an emotional coolness, a restrained melancholy, and a mysterious timelessness that lends it a unique personality. Read More
In contrast, Ravel's G major Concerto begins like some wondrous contraption in a toy shop: A percussionist releases the wound‑up spring of the slapstick. The piano is there, right from the beginning, contributing to the buzz. After a while, it comes to the fore with a languid theme that reminds us that this work was written to charm American audiences. Ravel was smitten with what he knew of jazz, and diverse blue twists are seductively prominent. LISTEN FOR: The Adagio is the reason we not only delight in this concerto but truly love it. The piano, alone, spins out a long, long melody over a kind of slow waltz bass. The brief and irresistible finale completely lives up to Ravel’s “lighthearted and brilliant” concerto ideal. In the end, a crack of percussion carries us back to the concerto's opening, and the final bang is colored by a bass drum thump. Read More
Scheherazade 1888 | 46 mins
Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade is an indisputable masterpiece—a marvel of orchestral color, narrative ingenuity, and melodic invention. But it is also a story of a woman working herself out of an appalling situation imposed by a powerful and horrible man. As composer John Adams (who wrestled with the story’s complexities in his own brilliant violin concerto, Scheherazade.2) notes, “Every classical music listener is familiar with the outcome, how she survives. But I wonder how many have stopped to ponder that the story itself is really quite horrifying.” Rimsky-Korsakov himself wondered about the balance between the storytelling and the purely musical elements of his work, and did not want his listeners to be distracted by extra-musical details. Indeed, we can, if we choose, enjoy Scheherazade for its uncanny ability to carry us away into the deepest realms of the imagination with its sheer beauty. LISTEN FOR: Scheherazade is full of glorious solo opportunities and astonishing orchestral moments. Note the flattering violin-voice of Scheherazade, full of mystery, which recurs throughout; the second movement’s tangy solos for bassoon, oboe, and clarinet that contrast with erupting brass fanfares; the third movement’s impassioned strings and charming percussion writing; and finally, the grand declamation of trombones against swirling strings in the climax of the fourth movement. Read More
Steven Ziegler is Managing Editor at the San Francisco Symphony