Inspired by the legendary folk stories of “A Thousand and One Nights, “Scheherazade” tells the story of a beautiful young bride who must use her charm as a storyteller to save herself from the wrath of a jealous sultan. Also featured are Bernstein’s “Slava!” and Shostakovich’s high voltage Cello Concerto No. 1 — both written for legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.
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“SLAVA! A POLITICAL OVERTURE FOR ORCHESTRA”
CELLO CONCERTO NO. 1 IN E-FLAT MAJOR
Allegro con moto
The Sea and Sindbad’s Ship
(Largo e maestoso - Allegro non troppo)
The Tale of Prince Kalandar
(Lento - Allegro molto)
The Young Prince and the Princess
(Andantino quasi allegretto)
The Festival at Bagdad; The Sea; The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock
“Slava! A Political Overture”
Bernstein composed Slava! in 1977 as a birthday tribute to his friend and colleague, Mstislav Rostropovich. The two became friends in the post-World War II era, when they both used their fame and international standing to promote human rights and their music as a means of political expression.
Bernstein was known for this brand of artistic activism throughout his career, but as citizens of the USSR, Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, faced greater personal risks as they fought for democratic values. They eventually defected to the U.S. Though Bernstein’s personal circumstances were far different, the beliefs he shared with Rostropovich prompted both men to speak out on behalf of Soviet Jewry and dissenters such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov.
Listeners who know their Russian music or who aced their social studies courses will recognize the word “slava” as the Russian word for “glory” and as Rostropovich’s nickname—indeed, as the common diminutive for names like Mstislav with the “slav” syllable.
There is a traditional Russian folk melody for the word and this theme recurs in music by Russian composers and others—notably in Beethoven’s second Razumovsky quartet. But it is most familiar to operagoers from the thrilling coronation scene in Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Small wonder that Rostropovich, a political and musical hero who also happened to be the greatest cellist of the latter half of the 20th century, was called “Slava” by everyone who knew him.
Bernstein’s commission for this work marked Rostropovich’s first season as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in 1977, and Slava himself conducted the premiere. The assignment called for a “rousing new overture,” and for it Bernstein borrowed thematic materials from his political musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which had been introduced in Philadelphia during America’s bicentennial celebrations.
---Elizabeth Elliott leading the University of Miami Frost Symphonic Winds in Leonard Bernstein's "Slava!" Video 4:19
Marked “fast and flamboyant,” the overture opens with brass-heavy razzle- dazzle that modulates as if to quicken the pulse of a political crowd. In fact, a canon in 7/8 time merges with a parody of political oratory and eventually with a brief statement of the traditional Russian melody for the word “slava.”
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major
Like many other Soviet and pre- Soviet composers, including Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, Shostakovich was rigorously trained in piano performance as well as composition. So it is not surprising that he produced two excellent piano concertos that are now standard-rep works; or that, at age 27, he was at the keyboard in Leningrad for the premiere performance of his first piano concerto; or that his second is a tenderly evoked concerto that was a birthday gift to his son Maxim, who was an accomplished pianist in his own right.
But we can only listen with astonishment at the fluency and confidence he demonstrates in his masterful Cello Concerto No. 1. Dating from 1959, this concerto is acknowledged as one of the most masterfully constructed and demanding showpieces in the cello repertory. In its passion for the instrument we can hear the depth of his friendship with Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom he wrote it.
Though Shostakovich’s first symphony had established him as a rising star, Stalin’s infamous denunciation of his style in 1936 put his life and his family at risk. From then on, the politics of the tyrannical Soviet regime shadowed every aspect of Shostakovich’s life, his family and his music. Stalin’s death in 1953 lessened the immediate threat to the composer’s safety, but not the sense of oppression he faced as a composer under constant scrutiny by cultural watchdogs.
In 1959, Rostropovich was known as one of the busiest and most fearlessly outspoken musicians in the world. Composing for him allowed Shostakovich to express his solidarity with dissenters in music, but it did not afford him the traditional luxury of spending time with the musical dedicatee to work out musical details.
Still, Rostropovich’s boldness and technical mastery clearly inspired Shostakovich, who composed a concerto filled with famously difficult double-stops and other challenges. In Shostakovich’s music there is a political subtext in every note and in this concerto’s challenges he joins forces with the openly defiant Rostropovich to proclaim that “we can get through every difficulty.”
Soloist: Sol Gabetta
Conductor: Carlos Kalmar
Orchestra: Orquesta Sinfónica de RTVE
Its exotic, piquant melodies evoke faraway lands. Its brilliantly colorful scoring and scintillating harmonies beguile the ear. And its spectacular displays of orchestral virtuosity are undeniably thrilling.
Scheherazade opens with a brassy warning, ominous and loud, with a distinctive tang we can’t quite place. The melody is spiced with chromaticism. East Asian? Arabian? Before we can be sure, this blaring statement is suddenly hushed, giving way to the ethereal voice of a lone violin. It is the voice of a woman, backed by harp chords that surround her like diaphanous veils.
Of course, she is the beautiful Scheherazade, and in a matter of seconds she has transported us to a setting whose exoticism is beyond anything we could imagine without Rimsky’s brilliance. The newlywed Scheherazade is beguiling her husband and us with vivid tales of sultans, princes and the voyager Sinbad known to us as The Thousand and One Nights.
The four movements of Scheherazade bear names based on incidents in the course of The Arabian Nights, but Rimsky’s observations in his memoirs confirm that the musical passages correspond not to individual plot details, but to a general sense of the overall narrative, with the listener invited to visualize a more specific scenario.
In the first movement, “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” we can easily supply it from the very beginning with two oppositional themes—the overbearing, brass- dominated announcement of Sultan Shahryar and Scheherazade’s beautiful violin theme, introduced by a woodwind choir and tinged with melancholy before it blossoms into storytelling mode. Underlying both themes we can hear the ebbing, swelling sea.
Scheherazade by Léon Bakst (before 1917).
In the second movement, “the tale of Prince Kalandar,” Rimsky- Korsakov’s version of an “oriental” melody migrates through the orchestra in alternation with tutti iterations played in unison. In this, as in all of the movements, brasses provide brightness and throw the textures and colors of other orchestral choirs into relief. A whirling theme by a solo clarinet captures the spinning motion of the Kalandar tribal dervishes.
But the many stories of the 1,001 Arabian nights are ultimately the story of a single romance, as Scheherazade’s wisdom and charm prove even more important than her beauty in saving her life and redeeming the sultan from his bitterness—and in the suite’s third movement we sense the gathering triumph of romance in the onrushing lyricism of “The Young Prince and The Young Princess.”
This plays out in deft contrapuntal melodies riposting between high and low strings, woodwinds and harp. This tapestry of themes culminates in a series of figures that are hushed, yet seem on the verge of bursting with tense energy.
The final movement, “The Festival at Baghdad,” is the most episodic of all and the most climactic in its dynamics and scoring. Dance rhythms are spiced with tambourine and cymbal, then further emphasized with bass and snare drums as their momentum increases.
We hear the gathering energy of Sinbad’s sea- tossed ship until it is finally broken to pieces. And we hear final reprises of both Scheherazade’s and Sultan Shahryar’s themes until they are finally resolved in the suite’s finale—the sultan pacified, Scheherazade serenely triumphant.
---Great presentation of Vienna Phiharmonic conducted by russian Maestro Valery Gergiev, playing the russian work "Scheherazade" of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, at Salzburg Festival 2005. Video 42:43
To listen to this orchestral spectacle is to experience one of Western music’s great feats of orchestration. The New Zealand-based musicologist Paul Serotsky calls Rimsky-Korsakov “... the Master Magician of orchestration, surpassing even Wagner and Berlioz. The music of Scheherazade, is like a magic carpet: it can transport you to another world.”
Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor‑in‑chief for The Santa Fe Opera.
Thank you to our sponsors: Ellie and Mike Gordon
Pacific Symphony is deeply indebted to Ellie and Mike Gordon, who have been generous and loyal supporters of the Symphony for more than 20 years. The Gordons have endowed in perpetuity the Symphony's concertmaster chair, now occupied by Dennis Kim.
Annually, they sponsor one of our classical concert weekends. Mike is a former chair of the Symphony board, and currently serves on the executive and finance committees. Ellie is an active member of Symphony 100, and has chaired three Symphony Galas. The Gordons have our most sincere gratitude!
LEONARD ELSCHENBROICH, CELLO
Described by the New York Times as “a musician of great technical prowess, intellectual curiosity and expressive depth,” Leonard Elschenbroich has established himself as one of the most charismatic cellists of his generation. His many awards include the 2009 Leonard Bernstein Award, Förderpreis Deutschlandfunk, Eugene Istomin Prize and a Borletti Buitoni Trust Award. He was accepted onto the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme (2012), was named Artist-in-Residence of Deutschlandfunk (2014-15) and Artist-in- Residence at the Philharmonic Society Bremen from 2013–16.
Elschenbroich has worked with a number of eminent conductors including Semyon Bychkov, Christoph Eschenbach, Charles Dutoit, Manfred Honeck, Kirill Karabits, Dmitri Kitajenko, Andrew Litton, Juanjo Mena, Edward Gardner and Yan-Pascal Tortelier. He has performed with the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, WDR Symphony Orchestra, Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin, NDR Hanover, Dresden Staatskapelle, Bergen Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Swedish Radio Symphony, Basel Symphony Orchestra, Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Stavanger Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Nagoya Philharmonic, Japan Philharmonic, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra Washington, Minnesota Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He has made seven appearances at the BBC Proms.
As a recitalist, Elschenbroich has appeared at the Wigmore Hall, Auditorium du Louvre, Concertgebouw, Frick Collection, Ravinia Festival in Chicago and the Lucerne, Gstaad, Rheingau, Mecklenburg Vorpommern and Schleswig Holstein Festivals. Regular chamber music partners include Nicola Benedetti and Alexei Grynyuk.
A committed supporter of contemporary music, Elschenbroich has commissioned several new works from composers including Mark-Anthony Turnage, Luca Lombardi, Arlene Sierra and Suzanne Farrin. In April 2018, he gave the world premiere of Mark Simpson’s Cello Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, a work that has been especially written for him on a commission from the BBC. He recently gave the world premiere of Brian Elias’ Cello Concerto at the BBC Proms and has also championed concertos by Gilbert Amy, Marc-Anthony Turnage, Peteris Vasks and Magnus Lindberg.
Elschenbroich’s debut CD for Onyx Classics of Sonatas by Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich was released in 2013 and received 5-star reviews from the Telegraph, Guardian as well as Editor’s Choice in Gramophone. Subsequent releases include Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto No. 2 with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Litton, an homage to Schnittke and a CD of French repertoire including concertos by Dutilleux and Saint-Saëns, which received acclaim across the board with Rondo Magazin describing him as a “fascinating and grippingly expressive performer.” Future releases for Onyx include the complete Beethoven Sonatas.
In 2012, he became Artistic Mentor of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bolivia, the country’s first national orchestra, which he co-founded. His commitment to the orchestra sees him return to Bolivia on a regular basis to perform with the orchestra as well as leading educational projects in the area. Other highlights in South America have included appearances with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic, Belo Horizonte Orchestra and Medellin Philharmonic as well as recitals in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima and Sao Paulo.
In 2017-18, he returned to the Bergen Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as well as returning twice to the BBC Philharmonic. Debut appearances include the Warsaw Philharmonic, Residentie Orkest, National Polish Radio Symphony and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Sevilla. Recital engagements take him to Spain, Germany and the UK and he tours North America with the Benedetti- Elschenbroich-Grynyuk Trio.
Born in 1985 in Frankfurt, Elschenbroich received a scholarship to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School in London at just 10 years old. He later studied with Frans Helmerson at the Cologne Music Academy.
He plays a cello made by Matteo Goffriller “Leonard Rose” (Venice, 1693), on private loan.