Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade

Concert image

Borodin Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor
de Falla
 Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade

Cambridge University Sinfonia
Tess Jackson conductor
Mark Zang piano (CUMS Concerto Competition 2019 prize-winner)

Tickets: £15, £10, £8
Concessions: £13, £8, £6
Students and under-18s: £3

Available here

A murderous Sultan hears tales of princes and princesses, ginormous genies, mystical fakirs, an island on the back of a vast fish, violent storms and wild festivities in Rimsky-Korsakov’s enduring masterpiece. Convinced of women’s faithless capriciousness Sultan Shahryar takes a new wife every night and executes them come morning. However, the brilliant Scheherazade resolves to survive by telling a tale each evening which never concludes by daybreak, and the Sultan, eager to hear how the story ends, lets her live. For 1001 nights Scheherazade spins a new yarn until the Sultan falls in love and grants her her life. Rimsky-Korsakov brings these tales to vivid life with beautiful melodies and exquisite orchestration and CUMS Conducting Scholar 2019-20 Tess Jackson, with her Cambridge University Sinfonia, will be story-teller-in-chief. Where Rimsky-Korsakov brought to vivid life the sights, sounds and smells of a mythical orient, so Manuel de Falla wafts the scent of jasmine and citrus trees our way in his Nights in the Gardens of Spain, his own impressionistic depiction of an Andalucía of dreams and fantasy.

The Cumans, or Polovtsians, were an ancient nomadic people widely dispersed across the Eurasian Steppes. The 12th Century epic poem The Tale of Igor’s Campaign describes a semi-mythical failed campaign against these people and this was the inspiration of Borodin’s unfinished opera Prince Igor. The most enduring music from this opera is a set of dances from act I or II (dependent on version) depicting the wild pagan festivities of the Cumans. Musically Borodin’s work is firmly of a Russian Nationalist tradition of fascination with ancient heathen and oriental practices, traceable through Glinka (for example in his Ruslan and Ludmila), Rimsky – Korsakov (in Scheherazade) and on to Stravinsky (in most notably his Firebird and Rite of Spring). This manifests itself musically by associating the mythical orient or the untamed lands of the Steppes with chromaticism and melisma and contrasting this with a folk-like modality for the music of the Russian characters.