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Christmas Eve concert features ‘Scheherazade’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Scheherazade saved her own life by spinning fantasies for 1,001 nights.

Performance Santa Fe wants to transport its audience into those Arabian tales by playing the Rimsky-Korsakov classic at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Christmas Eve. Pianist Claire Huangci will double the dose of Russian music by playing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2.

“Part of it is the storytelling and the opportunity to tell people about the mysteries of Arabia and 1,001 nights,” Performance Santa Fe artistic director Joseph Illick said. “And part of it is it is one of the most luminous and brilliant orchestral pieces that has a lot of breathtaking colors.”

The composer penned “Scheherazade” in 1888, when Imperial Russian interest in the East and orientalism in general was at its peak.

In “The Arabian Nights,” the Sultan, convinced that all women are false and faithless, vowed to put to death each of his wives after the first nuptial night. Scheherazade transfixed him by spinning tale after tale. Consumed with curiosity, he kept postponing her death as her stories unspooled.

The Prokofiev concerto is notorious as one of the toughest in the piano repertoire, Illick said.

Huangci “can play it with great mastery,” he said. “She’s a brilliant interpreter and a beautiful player.”

The pianist won first prize in the 2009 Europäischer Chopin Klavierwettbewerb in Darmstadt and the Orpheum Music Prize in Zurich; the First and Special Prize at the 2010 National Chopin Competition in Miami and the Second Prize at the 2011 ARD International Music Competition as its youngest participant.

She has appeared as a soloist performing with well-known orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, the Vancouver Symphony, the Munich Chamber Orchestra, the China Philharmonic, the Cannes Orchestre, the St. Petersburg Symphony, the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Deutsche Streicherphilharmonie, the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt, and the Santa Fe Symphony, as well as the Istanbul State Symphony.

The concert will mark the keyboard sprinter’s third date in Santa Fe.

Recognized as a child prodigy, the American pianist won a gold medal at the World Piano Competition in Cincinnati at 8 and took first prize at the 2006 International Chopin Piano Competition.