The theme for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s program on Thursday and Saturday is, shall we say, especially fluid: the role of water in myth, magic and musical poetry.
SSO’s bill of one Georgian and two Russian works — as conducted by St. Petersburg native Andrey Boreyko — is headlined by a performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite, “Sheherazade,” composed in 1888 and based on the centuries-old Arabic compilation of folk stories known by several titles, including “One Thousand and One Nights.”
Later European editions included such beloved fables as “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” In “Sheherazade” (the title refers to a sultan’s wife who stays alive by spinning stories), Rimsky-Korsakov wrote four movements around unconnected episodes, beginning with the soggy, seafaring adventures of a disaster-prone Sinbad the sailor.
Also on the program is Rimsky-Korsakov student Anatoly Lyadov’s 1909 shimmering tone poem “The Enchanted Lake.” Lyadov, a St. Petersburg Conservatory teacher who taught Prokofiev, incorporated sections of an unfinished opera into the piece, reflecting some of his greatest strengths as a composer, i.e., orchestral color and impression.
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Finally, water indeed flows, separates the living from the dead, and must be crossed in “Styx,” Georgian composer Giya Kancheli’s 1999 emotional requiem for two colleagues, composers Alfred Schnittke and Avet Terterian.
Written for Russian violist Yuri Bashmet, the piece will involve the Seattle Symphony Chorale and Ukraine-born guest violist Maxim Rysanov in his Seattle debut.
“It’s a huge piece, more than a hundred people will be on stage,” says Rysanov, reached by phone on the Isle of Man, where he is teaching a master class at the Lionel Tertis Viola Competition.
Kancheli, who lives in Antwerp and is composer-in-residence for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, is best known in the former Soviet Union for writing film music.
“His music is filled with love for Georgia and a lost world,” Rysanov says. “When he emigrated, he took a lot of memories from childhood. Those still influence his writing and are very important for him.”
“This piece comes off like movie soundtrack music in the most flattering sense,” says Joseph Crnko, Seattle Symphony’s associate conductor for choral activities. “It has dramatic sweeps, wonderful color textures, meditative aspects and overall is a very evocative work, peppered with images. For a modern composer such as Kancheli, it’s rather romantic, tuneful at times and very tonal.”
Originally a violinist, Rysanov switched instruments at age 14, winning the Classic FM Gramophone Young Artist of the Year Award in 2008, among other accolades. He is an ambassador for the rising stature of the viola as an instrument for virtuosos, and is actively building viola repertoire with commissions and transcriptions of non-viola music.
“People still think it’s funny that one can perform a whole concert of viola music,” he says. “Most of viola repertoire was written in the 20th century, when composers began realizing how beautiful the instrument is. Viola has been seen as something for pleasure, played for fun. But these days it is becoming a more prominent instrument.”
Tom Keogh: email@example.com