Fiery virtuosity mixes with magical fairy tales during the next Wichita Symphony Orchestra performance. “Scheherazade” and the overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla” by Russian composers Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Mikhail Glinka will share the stage with an orchestral work by American-born George Gershwin.
Grammy-nominated pianist Terrence Wilson will perform the challenging solo in Gershwin’s Concerto in F. The symphony will accompany Wilson as he performs this piece by one of America’s legends.
“It’s very complicated for both the orchestra and the pianist,” guest conductor Eckart Preu said. “Gershwin was extremely inspired when he wrote it. It digs at your emotions. You can hear the loneliness. You can hear the bluesy-ness.”
Wilson’s respect for Gershwin’s 1925 piece, which the composer called “an orgy of rhythm,” is just as strong.
“What makes this piece so great is how each movement relates to each other,” Wilson said. “Its melodies and inflections form a wonderful dialogue between the soloist and the orchestra.”
Wilson began playing the piano at 10. By the time he was in high school, the New York City native was performing nationally. A graduate of The Juilliard School, Wilson said he had an “emotional need to play the piano.”
Wilson has performed under Preu’s baton and looks forward to working with this conductor again.
“I enjoy working with him because he’s very clear, very efficient,” Wilson said. “I also respect how he thinks and how he talks about music and pacing.”
Preu, originally from East Germany, studied music since childhood. He currently conducts for both the Spokane, Wash., and Stamford, Conn., symphonies. He said he is excited for both the challenge of conducting a new orchestra and visiting a new location. Although he commutes from Washington state to Connecticut and makes guest appearances worldwide, he has not yet used his baton in the Midwest.
He admires the Gershwin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glinka works that Daniel Hege, the symphony’s music director and conductor, has chosen for this concert.
Preu called “Scheherazade” “absolutely brilliant.” He said, “It’s colorful and inspired at every moment. It’s a brilliant tapestry of colors. I didn’t know ‘Scheherazade’ until I went to college. I’ve been in love with it ever since.”
Rimsky-Korsakov’s piece, which premiered in St. Petersburg in 1888, is based on the Arabic classic “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.” The music transforms from exuberance to heraldry as the princess spins her yarns and temps the Sultan. Before marrying the princess Scheherazade, each of the Sultan’s previous brides are executed after one night of marriage. In order to stay alive, Scheherazade piques the Sultan’s curiosity by enticing him with a different tale each night for almost three years.
Along with using strings as percussion instruments, Rimsky-Korsakov’s dynamic work showcases several of the symphony’s accomplished musicians. Violin, clarinet, oboe, flute and bassoon solos are sprinkled throughout “Scheherazade.” The violin represents the princess; its sounds incorporate her emotions, her seductiveness and her gifted storytelling techniques.
“Rimsky-Korsakov really understood the violin,” said Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster, John Harrison. “What she had to do in her storytelling was a fragile thing.”
While he plays this difficult violin solo, Harrison imagines what Scheherazade was feeling.
“I think about how I want to spin my sound and how I want to shape my phrases,” the principal violinist said. “I feel honored and excited to be able to play it for the orchestra.”
As in “Scheherazade,” tales of battles and magicians are transformed into music in the overture to “Russlan and Ludmilla” by Glinka. Based on the 1818 Alexander Pushkin poem, this opera tells of a kidnapped princess, her Russian hero, an evil sorcerer and a wizard.
“Glinka’s work is extremely colorful,” Preu said. “It’s a true show-off piece. It has beautiful Russian melodies and lots of brass. It’s a miniature version of the Rimsky-Korsakov piece.”
Glinka, known as the father of the Russian nationalistic music movement, premiered his opera in 1842 in St. Petersburg. He wrote the overture in 24 hours after he attended a wedding reception. Glinka said that the frenzied movements of silverware and plates inspired him.
This quick-paced orchestration is evident in the energetic drive of the violins and the dynamic use of kettledrums. In less than five minutes, the overture encapsulates a Russian fairy tale including a kidnapping, battles and a happy ending.
Although Preu views conducting as intense work, he relishes the music and finds the spark in each piece. Preu said, “I really enjoy exploring the inexplicable, unexplained emotional things that happen on the podium.”