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Sunday, August 13, 2017

John Adams - Scheherazade.2 (Leila Josefowicz; David Robertson)


Composer: John Adams
  1. Scheherazade.2: I. Tale of the Wise Young Woman - Pursuit by the True Believers
  2. Scheherazade.2: II. A Long Desire (love scene)
  3. Scheherazade.2: III. Scheherazade and the Men with Beards
  4. Scheherazade.2: IV. Escape, Flight, Sanctuary

Leila Josefowicz, violin
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
David Robertson, conductor

Date: 2016
Label: Nonesuch



For most music lovers, the word Scheherazade likely conjures the plush orientalism of Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestral tone-poem. John Adams’s Scheherazade.2 (2015) also took inspiration from the Arabian Nights but via an exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris that, in the composer’s words, detailed ‘the casual brutality toward women that lies at the base of many of these tales [and] the many images of women oppressed or abused or violated that we see today in the news on a daily basis’.

Adams’s ‘dramatic symphony’ does not tell a particular story but rather ‘follows a set of provocative images’. Adams employs a solo violin to represent the resourceful protagonist, as Rimsky-Korsakov did, though here the part is considerably more elaborate. In fact, Adams’s work was written specifically for violinist Leila Josefowicz and often sounds more like a concerto than a symphony or tone-poem – although it’s quite distinct in style and tone from Adams’s Violin Concerto.

Scheherazade.2 is an expansive, thematically dense and texturally intricate work, and it took me a few listens to begin to grasp its overall structure. Initially, I tried to find my way using the images conjured by the movement titles and the composer’s programme notes, but it wasn’t until I stopped trying to divine an interpretation and simply allowed the music to guide my imagination that it began to pull together. There are exotic elements in the score, certainly (the prominent use of the cimbalom, for example), but these are more for colour than for content. Indeed, there’s an organic quality to the piece’s unfolding that feels closer to Sibelius or early Schoenberg than to Rimsky-Korsakov.

Josefowicz, who has been a champion of the composer’s music for decades, gives a performance here that explains why Adams has such faith in her: suave and sensual, yet assertive and full of longing. The St Louis Symphony play with authority under David Robertson and the recording is beautifully balanced.

-- Andrew Farach-Colton, Gramophone

More reviews:


John Adams (born February 15, 1947 in Worcester, Massachusetts) is an American composer of classical music and opera. He studied composition under Leon Kirchner, Roger Sessions, Earl Kim, and David Del Tredici. The music of John Adams is usually categorized as minimalist or post-minimalist, although in interview he has categorized himself as a 'post-style' composer. His works include Harmonielehre (1985), Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986), On the Transmigration of Souls (2002) and Shaker Loops (1978). His operas include Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Doctor Atomic (2005).


Leila Josefowicz (born October 20, 1977 in Missisauga, Ontario, Canada) is an American-Canadian classical violinist. She attended Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Jaime Laredo, Jascha Brodsky, Felix Galimir and Joseph Gingold. Since her teens, Josefowicz has played with symphony orchestras in Europe, Asia and North America, and made recordings for Philips, Warner Classics, Nonesuch and Deutsche Grammophon labels. She is also acclaimed for championing new compositions, including the works of John Adams, Oliver Knussen and Thomas Adès.


David Robertson (born July 19, 1958 in Malibu, California) is an American conductor. He studied horn, composition, and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He is currently music director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (since 2005) and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (since 2014). Before, Robertson was music director of the Paris-based Ensemble Intercontemporain (1992-200) and Orchestre National de Lyon (2000-2004). He has recorded for labels such as Sony Classical, Harmonia Mundi, Naive, EMI/Virgin, Naxos and Nonesuch.


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