Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

In order to obtain early tickets to Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra late in 2023 I also had to purchase a subscription to a number of other concerts with the orchestra. The first of these was to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, conducted by their current chief, Simone Young.

I have a little bit of an unhappy relationship with the piece. Back in my high school days in Central Queensland the state youth orchestra came for a visit and advertised a medley of John Williams pieces on the program. Unfortunately, this was actually for the junior grades during the day. The night concert that the rest of us could attend had no film music whatsoever.

They did play Scheherazade.

I realised later that it did actually have some listenable melodies, so I included it in my subscription package.

Due to trackwork and traffic jams I only arrived five minutes before the start of the performance, discovering that I was seated in the middle only five rows back, not bad for a cheaper ticket!

The first music played was actually a modern piece, Frontispiece by the female Korean composer Unsuk Chin. Whilst not particularly melodic and rather dissonant, there were some really interesting orchestral textures and I enjoyed listening to it.

A Steinway grand piano was then dragged on the stage and the very lanky French pianist Cedric Tiberghien walked out to play Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D for the Left Hand. This was written for Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right hand in World War One.

At first the orchestra plays, then it is the pianist’s turn, his hand dancing up and down the entire keyboard, low notes sustained to provide a backing for high note theatrics.

I was in the perfect position to watch Tiberghien’s agility across the keyboard and it was mesmerising. I’m not certain that I would listen to the music alone, but in person with the orchestra and virtuoso skills of Tiberghien it was wonderful.

A duet with both Young and Tiberghien playing the piano followed. I have no idea what they played but they were obviously having fun together as friends.

After the intermission l, it was time for the main event. Like my beloved film scores, Scheherazade tells a story. Or in this very meta case the music tells the story of Scheherazade telling stories, the Arabian Nights.

There are a few central themes in across the four movements. They dance between sections of the orchestra in many variations. The are also solo violin moments which concertmaster Andrew Haveron plays with precision and intensity.

I prefer the first half of Scheherazade, by the second my lack of lunch and sleep is catching up with me, but it is still a pleasure to listen to.

I emerged from the concert more than satisfied with my attendance. Although many of the classics disappear into the background when listening at home, when performed live by the orchestra there is much more to appreciate and enjoy.

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