I was excited to attend the premiere of John Adams’ ‘dramatic symphony’ at the New York Philharmonic. Scheherazade.2 at the very least proves that the tremendously evocative female character of Medieval Arabic literature still resonates, inspires, and empowers artists to create great works. Since the main character of my 1001 series is a modern day Scheherazade, I was curious what John Adams would do with his modern version.
Taking off from Rimsky’s tone poem with minimal blurbs for each musical movement, we get the depiction of a modern woman of great power and bravery, brutally oppressed by the fundamentalist male world. Scheherazade is portrayed by a violin soloist, passionately performed by Leila Josefowicz, often accompanied by the Hungarian table dulcimer, the cimbalom, an instrument championed by Stravinsky during World War I.
The cruel world is depicted by the orchestra, and this is not the ostinato-machine orchestra of Nixon in China or even the later Dr. Atomic, but a dissonant, dense, post-serial orchestra that is clearly the work of John Adams in his ‘late period.’ Not since Orlando di Lassus was struck by lightning and totally cleaned up his harmonic language, or Stravinsky threw off neo-classicism for his rival Schoenberg’s harmonic vocabulary has a composer made such a transformation. All to serve the drama.
I am waiting to make any further judgments until I hear a recording, since this is such a dense, complex work. But I have read a lot of reviews, and found the Wall Street Journal’s article the smartest of the lot. Here it is, with mention of other recent premieres by major composers.
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