Thursday, May 30, 2013

100 YEARS OF SPRING

It's hard to imagine that THE RITE OF SPRING is 100 years old today. No matter how many times I hear it, I am still moved by its modernity. I know it's a bit of a cliché to say this, but I don't think there has been a lot done in tonal music that wasn't done by Stravinsky in this 1913 work. 

The piece was performed Saturday night at the Colorado Symphony, where Andrew Litton conducted Stravinsky's masterpiece. I have remarked many times at how happy I am with the CSO, but this particular piece is quite a challenge, with its peculiar and huge orchestration. My own standards are pretty high, as this was one of the first pieces I heard the Boston Symphony play live, and I had to learn it for one of my undergraduate conducting classes. I was not  let down Saturday, the CSO played it impeccably. 

By the way, the stories of riots at the premiere are probably grossly exaggerated. There are no contemporaneous reports of riots, the only articles mentioning riots are from decades later. There were walkouts, and there were people talking, but that wasn't that atypical for the era and locale. And Nijinsky's choreography might have accounted for the walkouts as much as the music. 

The concert Saturday opened with a piece by Kodály, the Dances of Galánta, which ends with a nice orchestral climax, beautifully played by the orcheatra. The second piece was a welcome performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto #22; not my favorite of Mozart, but it is clear that guest soloist (and returning conductor) Jeffrey Kahane loves him some Mozart.  When Kahane left, I was very worried for the future of the orchestra, but they are in fine hands with Litton, and it was a pleasure to see the two of them work together. 

I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the house for the concert, and assumed that it was because of Kahane's return, and that it was the last concert of the season. I expected people to leave at intermission with the notoriously difficult Stravinsky to follow, it is not a huge fan favorite even today, but I was gratified to see that Colorado audiences can enjoy modern music. 

That is 100 years old. 

Not only did they stay, but after a world-class performance of the piece, the audience gave a five-minute standing ovation. Aside from one (tiny) missed trumpet note (sorry Justin) I think the performance was spotless. It's a long, difficult piece for huge orchestra, with strange instruments, playing in weird manners and ranges, odd meters and polyrhythms and polytonality. It's a recipe for disaster for most orchestras to even think of programming it. But I consider myself lucky to have been in the audience. They played it extraordinarily well. 

And it was a fitting homage to Stravinsky  that 100 years later, his music is still being played with freshness. And still moving audiences. 
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