Arabian night

MSFO prepares eclectic program, including Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade,’ for evening performance

 Benjamin Hoste | Staff PhotographerMusic director Timothy Muffitt leads the Music School Festival Orchestra in its second performance of the 2013 Season, on July 8 in the Amphitheater.

Benjamin Hoste | Staff Photographer

Music director Timothy Muffitt leads the Music School Festival Orchestra in its second performance of the 2013 Season, on July 8 in the Amphitheater.

A domineering sultan declares women unfaithful and launches a campaign to kill each of his wives after their first marital night. But in an attempt to save her own life, the clever sultana Scheherazade begins spinning wondrous tales for the sultan every night, and every night he is temporarily persuaded to abandon his plan. One thousand and one nights later, he gives it up completely.

Chautauqua Institution’s Music School Festival Orchestra will end tonight’s show, which begins at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater, with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

“Rimsky-Korsakov was really a great orchestrator,” MSFO conductor Timothy Muffitt said. “He knew how to make the orchestra speak with brilliance and color and excitement and subtlety and in coloration.”

Muffitt spoke of “Scheherazade” as an important piece for the MSFO to learn how to play. It requires advanced skill to perform, and students will likely have to play sections of the piece later when they audition for jobs.

The four movements of “Scheherazade” are vaguely named after the tales of Sinbad. Small parts of the story stand out, such as the shipwreck during the piece’s fourth movement.

“There aren’t quite so many specifically dramatic moments in the piece, but more of a suggestive path of a journey, the story of Scheherazade,” Muffitt said.

2013 David Effron Conducting Fellow Vlad Vizireanu will open the concert with Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute)” and Samuel Barber’s Essay No. 1, Op. 12.

Mozart’s and Barber’s pieces differ dramatically. “The Magic Flute” requires the orchestra members to pay close attention to each note.

“Everything is so transparent at this point,” Vizireanu said. “Even if you’ve never played a note of music in your life, you can tell when someone got it wrong with Mozart, because the texture is so sparse that there is really nowhere to hide.”

“The Magic Flute” contains many religious symbols and ideas, most likely because of Mozart’s involvement with the freemasons toward the end of his life. The number three appears throughout the work, representing the Holy Trinity. Another theme in the piece is the exploration of what it means to be a hero.

Vizireanu’s second piece of the evening, Barber’s Essay No. 1, takes a contemporary turn. Barber created a composition form he dubbed “the essay,” which involves an entire composition inspired by one idea, or a thesis statement. This thesis runs throughout the piece, rather than dying out or being interrupted by other pieces.

“On one hand, with the Mozart [piece], you have this lighthearted idealism, but with the Barber [piece], it seems like it’s all just tragedy from the start,” Vizireanu said.

Barber experienced many difficulties in his youth, which may have inspired the dark and tragic nature of his work. The tragedy in Essay No. 1 is expressed in its hurried, aggravated middle section.

“It’s a cry for help and also a cry for some hope at the same time,” Vizireanu said.

Vizireanu faces a challenge when he conducts the pieces of composers with whom he has nothing in common. But he still brings a part of himself and his own experiences to the podium for every composition.

“What you have to do, I think, as a conductor, is think about the piece as much as you can within the light in which it was written, within the historical context,” he said. “But then you have to find something within yourself, your own life, that you can use to genuinely emote.”

Muffitt will also conduct Christopher Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body.” The composition is influenced partly by medieval themes. When he was composing the melody, Theofanidis imagined it would be performed in a cathedral.

“He writes in the effect of an echo in a grand hall by having several instruments starting on the same note,” Muffitt said. “But while one will continue with the melody, others will linger with the note that was originally played to create this remarkable effect of spaciousness and echo.”

Muffitt said the entire program will challenge the orchestra and excite the audiences.

“It spans a nice arch of time and music style,” Muffitt said. “It also requires a great deal of versatility on the part of the orchestra to play in a stylish fashion in all these different selections.”