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Arts Desk

Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Like a Painting Taking You to Distant Lands

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Sheherizade und Sultan Schariar, 1880, by Ferdinand Keller

According to Middle Eastern legend, Scheherazade saved her own life by telling her husband, the Sultan,  folk tales for A Thousand and One Nights. Those stories-within a-story inspired 19th-century composer Rimsky-Korsakov to create an orchestral suite that remains one of his most popular works today. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

On Sunday, May 20th on WRTI, in a 2016 live broadcast from Hong Kong, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program featuring Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, as well as music by Ravel and Rachmaninoff.

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Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about Scheherazade - what it reflected in the late 19th century, and what it means to us today.

Radio script:

MUSIC: Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade

Susan Lewis: Scheherazade is a musical showcase for the orchestra - there’s the solo violin that represents the young Arabic queen telling her tales; solos for other instruments including bassoon, clarinet, oboe, flute, English horn and cello; as well as lush ensemble playing.   

Rimsky-Korsakov, a naval officer as well as a composer, used the music not to narrate specific stories but to evoke exotic imagery and create a mood. 

Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director YannickNezet-Seguin talks about the desire of the Europeans to learn about foreign lands.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin:  They couldn’t take a plane, like we can now, and be in the Middle East, and savor that culture, and the history. 

And with a piece like Scheherazade, we have to remember that this is fascinating and extraordinary and that our planet Earth is so diverse. A piece like Scheherazade, in the 21st century, sends the message we can still dream together and focus on the beauty...of all the parts of the world.

SL: Scheherazade, composed in 1888, has become a core work in the classical repertoire.