One of my students emailed a link to something I loved, loved, loved.
It was a performance of Scheherezade, conducted by the ineffable, absolutely unqiue and wonderful Leif Segerstam. At the climax of which — and I hope you’re ready for this! — Segerstam and the orchestra start shouting.
- Segerstam facts, on Wikipedia.
- Piece on him from the Guardian, showing how unique — ineffable — he is (the composer of 319 symphonies, as of the day I’m posting this; only 251 when the Guardian piece came out).
- And here he is giving a TED talk, as only he could give one, impelling the audience to help perform a piece he creates on the spot.
Of course some people will think the shouting is out of bounds, forbidden, something you should never, never, never, never do in a classical music performance. It’s not artistic! Not refined! It isn’t in the score! Rimsky-Korsakov didn’t intend it! Probably wouldn’t have liked it!
But, you know…
Rimsky-Korsakov’s not with us anymore. And for me, the shouting took an already exhilarating performance clear over the top. I loved it. And found it completely appropriate.
Because Scheherezade, after all is a storytelling piece. And the story of the final movement, according to its title, is “Festival at Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman.”
Now, Rimsky-Korsakov didn’t like the titles we give to the Scheherezade movements (which he didn’t choose), but they’ve stayed in use, because they so clearly seem to describe what the music is saying. And the moment when everyone shouts (well, not the winds or brass, since their mouths are otherwise engaged) — that’s the shipwreck.
So of course shouting! Wouldn’t the sailors have shouted, when their ship crashed into a cliff?
But let’s not discuss the theory of this. Just watch the performance — the video link starts shortly before the shouting begins — and see for yourself. I think the shouting even is structurally correct, since it underlines the climax of the piece. Do you agree?
Stay with the music right up to the end, which isn’t far off. Do this just to see the beatific joy on Segerstam’s face, after he’s brought the piece home.
Even without the shouting, this is a radiant performance, worth watching from the beginning. The orchestra — the Sinfónica de Galicia — is top-quality, both the principal players and the various sections (shining brass, glowing cellos and horns, firm, strong basses, evocative winds). The concertmaster plays the solos like a master storyteller, with great feeling, great love.
And, under Segerstam, there’s joy throughout. Or maybe the Sinfónia always plays with joy! I’d love to think so.