In the second concert devoted to the celebration of John Adams’ 70th birthday, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are joined by violinist Leila Josefowicz for a performance of Adams’ Scheherazade.2, followed by MTT and the Symphony’s Grammy-winning interpretation of a suite from Prokofiev’s gorgeous ballet music for Romeo and Juliet.
Known as a passionate proponent of contemporary violin music, Leila Josefowicz shares her enthusiasm for new works with composers, orchestras and conductors around the world. Ms Josefowicz was the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship in 2008, and has had violin concertos written for her not only by John Adams, but also by Esa-Pekka Salonen – which was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2014 – by British composer Colin Matthews and American composer Steven Mackey.
Leila Josefowicz has been a friend and champion of John Adams’ music for the past 15 years, and together they have performed his Violin Concerto and his concerto for amplified violin, The Dharma at Big Sur, on many occasions. So, when Adams received a commission from the New York Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for a new work in 2014, he responded with a Scheherazade.2 – a Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra – in which the principal character would be portrayed by a solo violin, and which he created for Ms Josefowicz.
The inspiration for this work came to Adams at an exhibition of the history of the Arabian Nights, the collection of ancient tales which the sultana Scheherazade related to her murderous husband in order to keep him entertained, and to prevent him from putting her to death. The theme of brutality towards women in many of these tales – and that faced by Scheherazade herself – made a deep impression on John Adams, an impression that was reinforced by the many instances of oppressed, violated or abused women, and those who are victims of religious fanaticism, even today.
Adams’ Scheherazade.2 doesn’t follow an actual story line, but creates a series images, divided into four movements, depicting a determined and beautiful young woman; her pursuit by those who would consider themselves to be ‘true believers’; a violent yet tender love scene; the trial of the young woman by a court of religious zealots; and, finally, her escape.
The work was premiered on March 26, 2015 by Leila Josefowicz, with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York. This week’s performances are the first by the San Francisco Symphony. A recording of this work, featuring Leila Josefowicz with David Robertson and the St Louis Symphony, won a 2017 Grammy nomination.
The second half of this concert at Davies Symphony Hall is devoted to another Grammy achievement – Selections from Romeo and Juliet, a recording of which won MTT and the San Francisco Symphony a Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance of 1996.
Sergei Prokofiev wrote his score for Romeo and Juliet in 1935 and 1936, and it takes its place among the most beautiful of his works. It did, however, have a somewhat checkered introduction to the world. Originally planned as the score for a ballet by the (then) Kirov Theater in Leningrad, the work was offered to the Moscow Bolshoi Theater after the Kirov backed down from their agreement. The Bolshoi, however, decided that the music was impossible to dance to, and rejected it. Then the Leningrad Ballet School announced that it planned to stage the ballet on the occasion of its 200th anniversary in 1938, but the Brno Opera in Czechoslavakia also had plans to stage the work that year. When the Leningrad school defaulted on its agreement, the work was premiered in Brno in December 1938, and it wasn’t until 1940 that the Kirov staged the ballet.
Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in John Adams’ Scheherazade.2 with soloist Leila Josefowicz, and a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet at Davies Symphony Hall from February 22 to 25. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.
An hour before each performance on February 22, 23 and 24, John Adams hosts a panel discussion on feminism, gender and sexuality in his works. Panelists include scholar Laura Stanfield Prichard, pianist, writer and producer Sarah Cahill, and Stanford University professor Adrian Daub. On February 25, Laura Stanfield Prichard gives a pre-concert talk on Adams’ work.
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