Opening Night Gala September 30 | 7:30pm

Join us for an Special Evening!

Includes Concert, Benefit Dinners, Cocktail Receptions, and After-Parties

  • Saturda, September 30, 2017
  • 7:30pm
  • Elsionore Theatre

The Salem Symphony kicks off their expansive second season at the Historic Elsinore Theatre with an ambitious program, featuring the symphony's own world class musicians. Join them for their Opening Night Gala, including benefit dinners, cocktail receptions, and after parties all over the mid-Willamette Valley. Celebrate the world's newest major symphony orchestra as they continue to turn heads on the international music scene, as well as in our local communities and neighborhoods. Performance features iconic works by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Camille Saint Saens.

  • “Capriccio Espagnol” - Rimsky-Korsakov
  • “Danse Macabre” - Saint Saens
  • “Suite Algerienne” - Saint Saens
  • Intermission
  • “Scheherazade” - Rimsky-Korsakov

Insight into this Performance

salem symphony


(approx. 16 minutes)

Considering the great interest in Spanish music demonstrated by the father of Russian art music, Michael Glinka (Glinka traveled extensively in Spain, collected folk materials, and composed pieces based on them), it is not surprising that such a Glinka disciple as Rimsky-Korsakov would look for similar geographic sources of inspiration. So it is that the very Russian Rimsky-Korsakov conceived a fantasy on Spanish themes; he originally intended it to be for violin and orchestra. As it developed, however, the Capriccio espagnol came to be a virtuoso work not only for violin, but a work that could rightly be subtitled “Fantasy for violin, clarinet, oboe, flute, horn, trumpet (etc., etc.).” Which is to say that while the composition’s accent is Spanish, its emphasis is on solo instrumental virtuosity as well as on the brilliant orchestral effulgence that is so typical of Rimsky. The composer himself was not loath to comment on the dazzling merits of the piece, saying, “It is intended as a brilliant composition for the orchestra. The change of timbres, the felicitous choice of melodic designs and figuration patterns, exactly suiting each kind of instrument, brief virtuoso cadenzas for solo instruments constitute here the very essence of the composition and not its garb or orchestration. The Spanish themes of dance character furnished the rich material for putting in use multiform orchestral effects. All in all, the Capriccio Espagnol is undoubtedly a purely external piece, but vividly brilliant for all that.”

The piece is in five sections.

  1. Alborada. This “morning song” begins with eye-opening, full orchestral thrust, out of which emerge clarinet and violin solos, the latter ending the section quietly.
  2. Variations. A simple Spanish folk melody is given by horns. Five variations – really just elaborations on the theme – exploit various solo voices, the last ending with languorous flute chromatics.
  3. Alborada. A return of the first section; here, violin and clarinet reverse their first-movement solo passages.
  4. Scene and Gypsy Song. A side drum initiates a fanfare for horns and trumpets alone; solo trumpet blazes out the theme. Next, solo violin takes it up; then flute and clarinet, with percussion and strings accumulating. A flute cadenza over a timpani roll, then clarinet over cymbals, after which there is a harp and triangle duet. Finally a ferocious idea in strings interjects; this is the gypsy song, which then alternates with the opening fanfare motif in orchestral splendor. This merges into ...
  5. Fandango of the Asturias. Trombones present the first part of the theme, winds the second. After varying timbral treatment, the Alborada returns to bring the Capriccio to a fiery close.


(approx. 8 minutes)

Camille Saint-Saëns was many things. Also a scholar and writer of wide-ranging interests and an equally wide-ranging traveler, he was a multifaceted musician who excelled as a keyboardist, composer, conductor, teacher, and editor. He lived to scorn the work of Debussy and Stravinsky (among others) and is often regarded as a conservative – if not reactionary – composer. But in the early and middle years of his career Saint-Saëns championed the most progressive wing of contemporary music (including Schumann, Wagner, and Liszt) and his own music was often highly original in form and orchestration.

Danse macabre is a case in point. It is one of four tone poems Saint-Saëns composed in the 1870s, all inspired to some degree by examples from Franz Liszt (whose own Totentanz dates from 1849) and exploring both Liszt’s thematic transformation concept and novel instrumentation. Saint-Saëns set as songs a number of poems by Henri Cazalis (1840-1909), and found the lines for Danse macabre in the poet’s “Égalité, fraternité…”, writing a song version in 1872. The text merges the legend of Death fiddling on Halloween as skeletons dance on their graves with the late Medieval tradition of the Dance of Death (danse macabre, Totentanz), in which all are equal, from king to peasant, and are led dancing to the grave.

Saint-Saëns expanded the song as a tone poem in 1874, giving much of the vocal part to a solo violin, and using xylophone (then almost exclusively a folk instrument) to depict the rattling skeleton bones. (An effect he later echoed in the “Fossils” movement of The Carnival of the Animals.) The obbligato violin makes much use of the tritone, the diminished fifth interval known to earlier musicians as the diabolus in musica, even employing a scordatura tuning with the instrument’s E string lowered to E-flat. Saint-Saëns also introduces, about midway through, the Dies irae, a Gregorian chant theme from the Requiem Mass much referenced by composers summoning scenes of death and judgment.


(approx. 19 minutes)

The Suite "Algérienne" has for its title on the score "Picturesque Impressions of a Voyage to Algeria." As this title suggests, it is a tone picture, and its four movements need only brief description to convey the meaning of their contents. It opens with a prelude, "View of Algiers," in which the characteristic undulatory movement of the music indicates the sea, and other phrases the vessel approaching the harbor and glimpses of novel sights. The second movement, "Moorish Rhapsody," is in three closely connected sections. The first is brilliant in style, and is closely worked out contrapuntally. The second is based upon an Oriental melody and is simple in construction, and the third is marked by fantastic combinations of instruments and bizarre effects. The third movement, "An Evening Dream at Blidah," a fortress near Algiers, is a quiet, romantic nocturne. In the last movement a French military march is worked up in elaborate style. A note to the score indicates that the composer not only emphasizes his joy in viewing the French garrison, but also the security felt under its protection. Judged by the pomposity of the march rhythm, the composer’s joy and sense of security knew no bounds in expression.


(approx. 45 minutes)

It is an ancient and reliable image: a storyteller entrancing an audience gathered around a communal fire, all attention drawn in by “once upon a time” and clinging to every turn of “what happened next.” It is the reason that Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade has been an audience favorite since its completion in 1888. In a musical style that defined the Technicolor Widescreen Movie Epic, before there was Technicolor or even movies, Rimsky-Korsakov seized on that greatest of tall tales, The 1001 Arabian Nights. In the composer’s own words: “The Sultan Shahriar, persuaded of the falseness and the faithlessness of women, has sworn to put to death each one of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana Scheherazade saved her life by interesting him in tales she told him during one thousand and one nights. Pricked by curiosity, the Sultan put off his wife’s execution from day to day, and at last gave up entirely his bloody plan.

“The program I had been guided by in composing Scheherazade consisted of separate, unconnected episodes and pictures from The Arabian Nights, scattered through all four movements of my suite: the sea and Sinbad’s ship, the fantastic narrative of the Prince Kalendar, the Prince and the Princess, the Bagdad festival and the ship dashing against the rock with the bronze rider upon it. “In composing Scheherazade I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had traveled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each. All I had desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that this is beyond doubt an oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other….”

Apart from Scheherazade’s incarnation in the voice of the solo violin which calms the menacing brass fanfares of the Sultan, binds the sections together, and finally embraces the Sultan in peace, we should not try to connect any specific details from the stories with the musical events which ensue. The composer knew that given an exotic environment in which to thrive, the listeners’ imaginations would weave far more fantastical tales than he could possibly contrive from attempts at any singular depictions. Music, in this case, goes beyond the words.

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