Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade concludes CSO Masterworks season
Scheherazade wants the nights to never end. If the mad king Shahryar loses interest in the romantic stories Scheherazade tells, he will have her beheaded at dawn, as he has done to 1,000 other brides. And so she tells stories, on and on, for her very life. This central tale from the Arabian Nights is the source material for a symphonic suite by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Thursday’s final performance in the Chattanooga Symphony’s Masterworks season. Let’s hope it ends well.
“I like to finish the season with a big bang,” says CSO Music Director Kayoko Dan. “Scheherazade is one of those huge masterpieces that people love to listen to, and that musicians love performing. This music is particularly fun, telling a story within a story—the 1001 Arabian Nights—and our challenge is to make it sound interesting and exciting, using different colors, articulations, and energy distributed to tell the story correctly.”
What to expect from this Thursday evening at the Tivoli? “The audience should come with the expectation of using their imaginations,” Dan says. “It’s very colorful music, scenic music with an Oriental theme. Rimsky-Korsakov was a master orchestrator, putting together instruments within the orchestration to come up with the sound that he wanted. Everyone experiences it differently, but I want the audience to be able to imagine, as they listen to the music, what kind of scenery and story we’re trying to paint.”
In the first half of the program, renowned young pianist Stanislav Khristenko will take on Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. “It will be my first time coming to Chattanooga as well as my debut performance with the Chattanooga Symphony,” Khristenko says. Born in Ukraine and schooled at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, he brings deep sensitivity and a personal connection to the music.
“This concerto is one of the gems of the piano repertoire,” Khristenko says. “It’s romanticism brings a lot of memories of my childhood and teenager years. This work shows endless possibilities of the piano, as the composer gives a lot of freedom to the soloist, which makes it very tricky in terms of collaboration with the orchestra.”
Conductor Dan is confident of the match-up, explaining that Khristenko won the right to perform with the CSO as the Gold Medal winner of the 2013 Cleveland International Piano Competition, a springboard for the next generation of promising pianists. “When we sign up to be a host orchestra, we agree to host the winner of the competition,” Dan says. “We haven’t performed this Chopin concerto for a while; this will really show off his skills.”
As to the 2015-16 season coming to a finale, CSO Executive Director Samantha Teter cites success in the “second highest season subscription sales in the past seven years—just behind last season that included Yo-Yo Ma.”
And the story is the same across the board: “On our First Tennessee Foundation Pops Series, we had the highest ticket sales ever for our Home for the Holidays concerts,” Teter says. “Our Tribute to Paul McCartney and Seth Carico concerts were good sellers, we just sold out Disney in Concert last weekend, and our Peter and the Wolf family concert at Volkswagen back in February oversold—we had to keep adding chairs!”
Becoming executive director in early 2016, Teter has taken on a nonprofit organization’s perennial challenge: financial sustainability. “Ticket sales cover just under 40 percent of our budget,” she says. “The remaining funding comes from individual donors, foundations, ArtsBuild, the Tennessee Arts Commission, as well as corporate supporters. So we are currently looking for ways to increase our endowment and to build a ‘risk’ fund that will allow us to function through any type of economic stress.”
Surrounded by supportive people, Teter says, “We have a great board of directors, staff, and musicians, and we are embarking on a strategic plan together that will help us continue to build our footprint in the community and find new funding sources through increased audiences, more corporate support, or new grant opportunities.”
More opportunities abound for the artistic staff as well. The Scheherazade performance calls for a “large orchestra with lots of percussion, a huge brass section, and woodwinds relatively large as well,” says conductor Dan. “There are a lot of violin solos, both cadenzas and within the piece, and every wind player, the flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and horn; the principal cellist; the trumpet, trombone, and harp—they all get their solos. It really shows off the concertmaster (first chair violin) too.”
CSO concertmaster Holly Mulcahy notes that after hearing Scheherazade at an early age, she fell in love with the violin and knew that it would be her future.
Perhaps Thursday night at the Tivoli you’ll fall in love with something or someone—or at least embrace the artistry of Chopin and Rimsky-Korsakov.