In what feels like a momentous turn, late summer has brought us more than remarkably drier weather and a fleeting shot of seasonal relief. There’s a big celebration on tap as the Mobile Symphony Orchestra (MSO) kicks off its 25th anniversary season via Russian flourish sprinkled with some Gulf Coast genius on Sept. 24 and 25 at the Saenger Theatre (6 S. Joachim St.).
The Russian aspect is in the concert title, “Scheherazade,” composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s musical interpretation of Arabian folk tales known as “One Thousand and One Nights.” The stories were apocryphally spun by the titular Scheherazade, a young woman betrothed to a sultan cycling through a new bride every day who he had killed the following morning before marrying another one. Cleverly, Scheherazade crafted a cliffhanger story before bedtime. When morning came, the sultan was eager to hear the tale’s resolution and delayed her death. She wove suspenseful tales for 1,000 nights until he was hooked on her companionship.
Rimsky-Korsakov drew inspiration from a series of illustrations he came across in the late 1880s that depicted the exotic storyteller. Borrowing from the mythic character’s ingenuity, he dispensed with standard names for the suite’s movements — prelude, ballade, adagio and finale — and gave them thematic flair. The movements became “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship,” “The Story of the Kalandar Prince,” “The Young Prince and Princess” and “Festival at Baghdad; The Sea.”
The exotic and imaginative masterwork lent itself to stage portrayal through dance. It would go on to spur development of a dazzling ballet that mesmerized Paris in the 1910s.
Another folk art-inspired Rimsky-Korsakov work shares the bill. His “Capriccio Espagnol” is derived from Spanish folk melodies and developed around the same time as the aforementioned Arabian-themed suite. It is especially apropos for the occasion since the work is noted for its nuanced development around the specific strengths of a full orchestra’s instrumentation. This will be MSO’s first show with a full orchestra since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
The regional flair comes through the inclusion of Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “A Night in the Tropics.” It was the New Orleans-born composer’s first symphony and although it was performed overseas, the full work didn’t make its American premiere until 1955, a century after it was written. With only two movements, the entire Gottschalk symphony runs about 20 minutes.
MSO Concertmaster and violinist Jenny Gregoire will be featured in the concert. Always excited, MSO Artistic Director Scott Speck seems especially eager to get this solo-laden show underway and raise his baton in front of a full stage of musicians.
The Friday night concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Sunday matinee is 2:30 p.m.
The silver anniversary of MSO is remarkable. Beginning in 1970, a group named Symphony Concerts of Mobile booked classical concerts for the Azalea City. However, those shows were touring stops, snagging groups like the Birmingham-based Alabama Symphony, the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and others for Mobile gigs. The 1997 establishment of MSO meant Mobile finally had its own ensemble to lend more legitimacy to the city’s cultural backdrop. It ushered in a decade-long zenith in Mobile arts.
Six-concert season memberships are $102-$408. Tickets to individual performances are $20-$89. Student tickets are $10. Memberships and tickets can be purchased online, by phone at 251-432-2010 or at the MSO box office (257 Dauphin St.).
Through the MSO Big Red Ticket program sponsored by the Alabama Power Foundation, students in grades K-12 can attend any of the season’s six classical Sunday performances free when accompanied by a paying adult (excludes the special event “A Cinematic Christmas”). More details can be found online at mobilesymphony.org.
“Scheherazade” is sponsored by the Laura Lee Pattillo Norquist Charitable Foundation, the Metcalfe Charitable Trust and WKRG-TV as media sponsor.
All concerts have been made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
MOJO revisits Wonder-ful show for birthday
The Mystic of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO) will recreate one of its most popular shows of the last few years for their 21st-anniversary event on Sept. 26, 6:30 p.m., at Club 601 at The Elks (601 State St.). Keyboardist Cedric Brooks will lead a large band through an homage to pioneering American musical giant Stevie Wonder, an acclaimed show initially staged in January 2018.
Entrance is $15, $10 for MOJO members. A cash bar and food service are available. Cammie’s Old Dutch will supply free ice cream.
For more information, go to mojojazz.org.
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