Art and About
The sexy princess and the Houston Symphony: Get inside Scheherazade
She may have been manipulative. But in her defense, she was trying to save her life.
That's the story behind Russian composer Nikolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, the not-so-narrative account of a sexy princess who told tales to avoid being executed. One wife's adulterous behavior had motivated the Sultan to do away with his brides after the first night, but Scheherazade kept his interest by inciting his curiosity, night after night, telling him fantastical stories of love, festivals and shipwrecks.
This weekend, the Houston Symphony will perform this colorful masterwork in addition to Mozart's Serenade No. 6 in D Major and Mozart's Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major, featuring principal flutist Aralee Dorough. With tickets starting at $25, it's an inexpensive way to get your sexy on, classically speaking.
Based on the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights, the work exemplifies two of the composer's aesthetic obsessions: Colorful orchestration and appetizing Eastern influences. In fact, that was the philosophy du jour in Russian circles. Think of Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin.
As it relates to music, color is more easily understood as timber, and Rimsky-Korsakov was a wiz at manipulating it. He understood instrumental idiosyncrasies and was able to achieve his desired effect by choosing, in the listener's perspective, the perfect instrument or combination of instruments.
The voice of Scheherazade is the violin, mostly accompanied by the harp, traveling in a neighbor-note ornamented descending line followed by an upwards arpeggio. The affect changes as it mimics the emotional content of the specific movement, sometimes gentle, sometimes playful and sometimes slightly gritty and impassioned.
The violin writing is slightly awkward. The challenge is to perform it flawlessly, beautifully and seductively, a task concertmaster Frank Huang takes rather seriously, working out the physical difficulties and superimposing his interpretation.
CultureMap visited Huang and senior director of artistic planning, Aurelie Desmarais, inspiring an "Art and About" adventure.