Thursday, March 02, 2017
Scheherezade as a Riot Grrrl at the SF Symphony
The month-long John Adams 70th birthday celebration at the San Francisco Symphony concluded last weekend with a performance of the composer’s long, ambitious Scheherezade.2, a “dramatic symphony for violin and orchestra.” Composed in 2014 for violinist Leila Josefowicz above, it’s a four-movement work that is a feminist take on The Arabian Nights’ central narrator who tells stories to keep from being murdered by her royal husband, Shahryār.
The symphony is late-style Adams, dense and colorful, rather like The Gospel According to The Other Mary, which the Symphony played the week before. Both works also featured Chester Englander playing the cimbalom, a dulcimer style instrument associated with Hungarian gypsies, Asia and the Middle East.
Josefowicz has been performing this work all over the world for the last two years, and she played the fiendishly difficult soloist’s part with a ferocious intensity that would not have been out of place fronting a Riot grrrl punk rock band. It took a couple of movements to adjust to the sound world of the symphony, but halfway through, when Scheherezade confronts the Men with Beards [zealots] and then goes to Escape, Flight, Sanctuary, the symphony moves with an irresistible momentum. This work would make a great ballet, so let’s hope somebody gives choreographer Mark Morris a chunk of money to create one, and somebody besides Josefowicz manages to learn the piece.
After intermission, Michael Tilson Thomas conducted a long suite of music he had compiled from Prokofiev’s full-length ballet of Romeo and Juliet, which consisted of most of the first two acts, concluding with The Death of Tybalt. Michael Smuin choreographed a version in the 1970s for the SF Ballet that was inventive and dramatic, but it was replaced in the 1990s with a deadly dull version by current artistic director Helgi Tomasson which I have never been able to sit through. I had forgotten how wonderful this music can be, possibly the greatest full-length ballet score of the 20th century, and the Symphony offered a smashing, exciting performance.