Fractured fairy tales


“We’ll begin far, far away and long, long ago,” intoned Barbara Schubert, conductor of Saturday’s University Symphony Orchestra performance, Fairy Tales, which featured Scheherazade, opus 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Jack and the Beanstalk, Jon Deak’s Concerto for Contrabass and Orchestra. Starting with Scheherazade, Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1888 adaptation of Arabian Nights, the musicians sounded the story of a sultan who beheads his young brides one after another until his last wife, Scheherazade, tells him nightly stories so fascinating that he stays her execution 1,001 times, eventually renouncing his murderous habits.

For the second piece soloist Andy Cowan, a biology graduate student, took center stage with his contrabass, playing Jack in Deak’s Pulitzer Prize–nominated work. A whimsical and unconventional piece, including a kazoo, a barking percussionist, and intermittent subtitles, Jack and the Beanstalk personified the instruments—the bean-selling oboe, the cruel-giant low brass—and used eclectic sound effects—slide whistle, doorbell—to undercut the characters’ musical dialogue.


February 2, 2004