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Forte: The YSO’s musical storytelling

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A portion of the YSO 2019-20 season brochure cover, which includes a portion of a Scheherazade-inspired costume designed by Carolyn Schactler.

YAKIMA, Wash. -- The Yakima Symphony Orchestra’s most recent concert, featuring Anton Bruckner’s epic Fourth Symphony, highlighted that composer’s unusual position within the conflict that raged through much of the late 19th century between proponents of “absolute music,” for which there is no explicit reference outside the music; and what is generally termed “program music,” in which the unfolding of a work often relates to a story, poem or other extramusical idea.

The release that same night of YSO’s 2019-20 subscription season, “One Thousand and One Nights,” reflects today’s more pliable perspective on the storytelling capacity of all music, regardless of historical aesthetic dogmas.

The title reference to Scheherazade’s storytelling from “One Thousand and One Nights,” often known as “Arabian Nights,” is not a casual one. In that collection of stories, there are character and plot threads that have been woven throughout, but also smaller collections of stories that relate primarily to one another and “stories within stories” that open a succession of different worlds to the reader, shared from the perspectives of a variety of different narrators.

YSO’s season programming has a lot in common with this structure and strategy.

Though in recent years there has been an overriding “season theme” relating all YSO programs in a season to one another (particularly in the Classical Series), in this case there are threads running through the programs — some throughout the season and some that merely tie selected programs together.

Apropos of the season title, the focal point for one of these threads is the March 2020 program “Scheherazade & Other Remarkable Women.” Each program in the Classical Series features a woman as composer or performer; this program includes two works by women composers and two women as featured performers, including YSO principal clarinetist Angelique Poteat, who plays both roles as soloist in Copland’s Clarinet Concerto and as composer of a work that she will premiere at that performance.

Shorter threads include multiple appearances by certain composers — Tchaikovsky is represented on different programs by his ballet music for “Swan Lake” and by his masterful Serenade for string orchestra — and programs focused on a certain time and place, such as the opening program, “Bolero.”

The latter focuses on some of the most important music of French composers from around the turn of the 20th century through the 1920s, when Paris was a beehive of innovation for composers from all over the world.

This concert has three “narrators”: Claude Debussy, whose revolutionary “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” arguably ushered in the 20th century musical sensibility; Lili Boulanger, the first woman to win the prestigious Prix de Rome; and Maurice Ravel, whose famously perverse study in orchestration gives the program its name.

We look forward to sharing all of the threads and stories that comprise YSO’s 49th season in the year to come.

• David Rogers is executive director of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at

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