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Monday, July 29, 2013


Some of the finest serious music ever written came out of the Romantic period in pre-Bolshevik Russia. Tchaikovsky is one that comes to mind with his famous and beloved 1812 Overture.

But another was Rimsky Korsakov, who in the late 1800s wrote an enduring symphony titled, "Scheherazade." The composer himself was the first to conduct this work in St. Petersburg, and the audience loved it. Audiences around the world still do.

I had heard this work before, but one of the pleasures of living in this present era is YouTube. Someone has managed to capture the entirety of Korsakov's lovely and striking piece, in all four movements.

And fortunately for me, it so happens that this work is preserved on video and audio on YouTube for posterity, as performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and its late, great conductor, Eugene Ormandy.

I have made no secret of the fact that my favorite orchestra and conductor of all time is the Philadelphia Orchestra with Eugene Ormandy at the helm. Ormandy's 44-year tenure as musical director and conductor in Philly stands as the longest tenure of any conductor in history. He also sold more records in the "classical" genre than any other conductor or orchestra in history.

This made him an easy target, however. Now, understandably, all musicians and music lovers have their personal preferences. This is to be expected. But much of what has been said about Ormandy is simply untrue -- blatantly untrue and frankly, uncalled for and unbecoming of serious musicians.

He was criticized for lacking imagination and creativity. Yet he is known for perfecting the lush, full, and velvety orchestrations emphasizing strings for which the Philadelphia Orchestra became known. He was criticized for lacking passion. Yet when one watches a video of Ormandy directing the orchestra it immediately becomes clear that he was an impassioned conductor who was able to get into the emotion of the music and draw out the musicians to communicate that emotion in an effective fashion. And all of this was done without the overly dramatic antics of someone like Leonard Bernstein, who often acted as if he did not know anyone else was on the stage but him.

Korsakov's music was a perfect fit for Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in that it allowed them to showcase the style for which they had become well-known all over the world.

I have embedded part of the piece below so you can enjoy it. If you have never delved into the pleasures of Korsakov, this will give you an opportunity to do so in a brief fashion. And if you like it, I have posted the links to the other portions of the piece below.

Here I start with the fourth and final movement of "Scheherazade" because it allows you to see and hear the perfection of the Philadelphia Orchestra at its peak. You also see the great "little maestro" at work. As he did on most of the works he conducted, Ormandy did so from memory. Only on occasion did he have the musical score in front of him when he conducted. He didn't need it.

And as for "passion," pay close attention to Ormandy at 4:04 or so and beyond. He is obviously deeply moved by the sound he was getting from the orchestra on this, which moved him to smiles and even tears...later you can see the tears on his cheeks if you look closely. Believe me, a musician knows when his group, ensemble, band, or orchestra "nails it" head on and emits to perfection the sound it is supposed to create.

I know that not all of you are into this kind of music. But give it a try. You might be surprised. This is good stuff. Good music takes you to places you never imagined.

Remember, this is the ending of the piece. If you like it, try out the rest of it at the links I provide below the embedded video.

Movement 1

Movement 2, Part 1

Movement 2, Part 2

Movement 3

Movement 4, Part 1

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