Subscription Concert No.828 A Series

Ravel:“Ma Mère l'Oye”, Ballet

Ravel (1875-1937) originally composed “Ma Mère l'Oye” between 1908 and 1910 as a four-hand suite for his friend’s children to play. Later, when asked to make a ballet out of it, he wrote a story to bind all the pieces together, added two more movements, rearranged the performing order, and inserted interludes to connect the pieces (1911-12).

Prélude: It begins with soft chords. A fascinating harmony of the harp and the celesta leads us into a world of magination. Fragments from the themes in pieces Ⅲ to Ⅴ appear, fortelling the fairy tales.
Ⅰ Dance of the Spinning Wheel and Scene: A merry dance theme prevails over the busy notes depicting the fast spinning wheel. When the harp signals the glissando, Princess Florine is stung on her finger and falls into a long sleep.
Ⅱ Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty: An old dance circling around the sleeping princess.
Ⅲ The Conversations of Beauty and the Beast: Movements Ⅲ,Ⅳ and Ⅴ are fairy tales, whose scenes appear in the princess’s dreams. In Ⅲ, the clarinet sings the theme of the Beauty, while that of the Beast is rendered by the contrabassoon. In the slow waltz in the main section, the Beauty accepts the Beast’s love when the music halts in a whole rest. Then the harp’s glissando resolves the spell and the Beast turns into a handsome young prince.
Ⅳ Hop o’ my Thumb: Bread crumbs, which the boy scattered on the path to show the way home, are all eaten by birds. The chirping of birds reminds us of the scenary of a forest.

Ⅴ Little Ugly, Empress of the Pagodas: An exotic harmony on the pentatone scale. While the empress is taking the bath, dolls start playing on chestnuts and almonds as their instruments.
Apothéose “The Fairy Garden”: The princess is woken up by the solo violin and viola playing the motifs of a pavane, and is united with the prince who is led on to the stage.

John Adams: Scheherazade.2 — Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra (2014) (Japan Premiere)

The impetus for the piece was an exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris detailing the history of the “Arabian Nights” and of Scheherazade and how this story has evolved over the centuries. The casual brutality toward women that lies at the base of many of these tales prodded me to think about the many images of women oppressed or abused or violated that we see today in the news on a daily basis. In the old tale Scheherazade is the lucky one who, through her endless inventiveness, is able to save her life. But there is not much to celebrate here when one thinks that she is spared simply because of her cleverness and ability to keep on entertaining her warped, murderous husband.

Thinking about what a Scheherazade in our own time might be brought to mind some famous examples of women under threat for their lives, for example the “woman in the blue bra” in Tahrir Square, dragged through the streets, severely beaten, humiliated and physically exposed by enraged, violent men. Or the young Iranian student, Neda Agha-Soltan, who was shot to death while attending a peaceful protest in Teheran. Or women routinely attacked and even executed by religious fanatics in any number of countries—India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, wherever. The modern images that come to mind certainly aren’t exclusive to the Middle East—we see examples, if not quite so graphic nonetheless profoundly disturbing, from everywhere in the world including in our own country and even on our own college campuses.

So I was suddenly struck by the idea of a “dramatic symphony” in which the principal character role is taken by the solo violin—and she would be Scheherazade. While not having an actual story line or plot, the symphony follows a set of provocative images: a beautiful young woman with grit and personal power; a pursuit by “true believers;” a love scene (who knows…perhaps her lover is also a woman?); a scene in which she is tried by a court of religious zealots (“Scheherazade and the Men with Beards”), during which the men argue doctrine among themselves and rage and shout at her only to have her calmly respond to their accusations); and a final “escape, flight and sanctuary”, which must be the archetypal dream of any woman importuned by a man or men.

I composed the piece specifically for Leila Josefowicz who has been my friend and champion of my music (and many other composers) for nearly fifteen years. Together we’ve performed my Violin Concerto and my concerto for amplified violin, The Dharma at Big Sur, many times. This work is a true collaboration and reflects a creative dialogue that went back and forth for well over a year and that I expect will continue long after the first performance. I find Leila a perfect embodiment of that kind of empowered strength and energy that a modern Scheherazade would possess.

©John Adams

Ⅰ Tale of the Wise Young Woman - Pursuit by the True Believers
Ⅱ A Long Desire (Love Scene)
Ⅲ Scheherazade and the Men with Beards
Ⅳ Escape, Flight, Sanctuary

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