Tag Archive: Igor Stravinsky

Bard Music Festival, 2013: Igor Stravinsky and his World, Part I

Albert Gleizes (1881–1953), Portrait of Igor Stravinsky (1914). Oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Every year, the Bard Summer Music Festival enjoys excellent attendance, including some, like Saint-Saëns, in 2012, that even surprised the organizers. I think it also came a something of a surprise that this year’s Stravinsky Festival was a sell-out for most events, to the point that the lobby of Olin Hall was filled with long lines of nervous visitors, hoping to get their hands on a return. Why did Stravinsky, the forbidding dandy, who had no interest whatsoever in providing comfort for his audiences, turn out to be such a draw? Was it the popular film about his love life? Robert Craft’s recent, highly dubious “outing” of him, which created a flurry in the newspapers? The hit play, Nikolai and the Others, at Lincoln Center? Or is it simply hip to like Stravinsky these days?

The English National Ballet On Tour Spreads The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Festivities

They dance with a keen sense of drama with a very fine feeling for the gestures on which a ballet turns. They have a special sense for the overarching form and thrust of the choreographer’s idea for each piece they danced, so the build-up of dramatic tension could be gradual, the feelings brought to each movement fitting and those important gestures could fit in in a restrained, even understated way. The dancers tend to give as much attention to their port à bras, which was very plastic, very tactile, as if pushing against the thickness of the atmosphere around them, as their leg- and foot-work, also with a careful attention to line, especially in the groupings at the cadence of a scene. They are extremely absorbing, giving something much more than the display of a Gala performance, despite the over-excited opening night audience.

Matthias Pintscher, Guest Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Play Stravinsky, Ravel and Pintscher

Aleksandr Yakovlevich Golovin Kashchei's stuffy kingdom. Sketch of scenery for the ballet by I.F.Stravinsky "Firebird" 1910 Paper, gouache, water-colour, bronze paint 82,5 х 102

Before Diaghilev decided to bring Russian art to the west, starting with his exhibition of Russian art in Paris in 1906, in 1908 bringing Chaliapin to Paris to sing Boris Godinov, and then his formation of the Ballets Russes, first performing in Paris in 1909, unadulterated, purely Russian art was little known or appreciated outside asia. Vast Russia, except for its toe in Europe was perhaps considered something of a cultural backwater in Europe. Diaghilev didn’t hold back in bringing this unadulterated Russian art, also discovering and hiring young or little known artists — like Stravinsky — and this was part of his art’s huge appeal in west to this day. So when Stravinsky visited the far, far East — Australia — in 1961, it was perhaps not so far from his roots nor so incongruous. Traditional indigenous Russian or central asian art was often an influence in the set designs and style of Bakst, Benois, Golovin, Roerich and the others, costumes sometimes used original traditional textiles (like the ikat fabrics bought from nomadic traders at St Petersburg markets for the costumes for the Polostvian dances from Borodin’s Prince Igor), the choreography was sometimes classical in the best Petipan Franco-russian tradition preserved in the imperial Maryinksy school, but was often entirely new in style, especially Vaslav Nijinsky’s for the Rite of Spring, though often borrowing from traditional, indigenous Russian dance, as in Firebird and Petroushka. Western audiences seemed unconsciously to understand this bizarre new art and went crazy for it, famously starting riots and booing, also becoming most fashionable tickets to have.

The French Orchestra at the Proms: Myung-Whun Chung Conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Whee! Paree. A general moaning arose from music reviewers, starting around forty years ago, about French orchestras. They no longer sounded French. No more pinched oboes being played through the nose. No more horns sounding as if they were warbling underwater or inbred with the saxophone clan. No more lean, on-the-dot precision in the strings. As they lamented this loss, the same bemoaners forgot that they once carped about the very sound that was fading away. Uncharacteristically, the French were listening.

Gergiev’s Russian Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements, Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, Le Sacre du Printemps

Igor Stravinsky in 1930

In recent years, I’ve had the feeling that Stravinsky, with the exception of his Sacre du Printemps and the vastly overplayed Pulcinella, has fallen somewhat into neglect. We rarely hear the great choral and dramatic works like Agon and Oedipus Rex, Mass, or even the Symphony of Psalms, not to mention the ballet, Les Noces. James Levine has a predilection for Stravinsky, and he has conducted fine performances of the Sacre and some others, but his effort has been tepid in comparison to his obsessive combing over Mahler, season after season, in preparation for the centenary of the composer’s death year in 2011. Hence Gergiev’s Stravinsky Festival with the New York Philharmonic is especially welcome, and I very much regret that I was not able to attend more than one of the concerts.

The One and Only Igor: Gergiev conducts Les Noces and Oedipus Rex

In a recent interview the conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, remarked that Igor Stravinsky pulled off the greatest camouflage in the history of music. He was referring to the composer’s lifelong stand that music expresses no emotions, indeed, expresses nothing except sound. Behind this mask, Salonen said, lies a man of deep feeling whose music is often as moving as any ever written. I began to think about Stravinsky and his camouflage, which has always baffled me. How could such glittering creations, each commanding your attention, whether as a shout across the primordial steppes or a murmur like the tick-tock of a mantel clock in the Princesse de Polignac’s salon, be about nothing?

Orchestre de Paris: Blomstedt and Mustonen in Stravinsky and Bruckner

I am always delighted to attend any concert under Herbert Blomstedt, who fortunately conducts the Boston Symphony quite often, both in Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, where he is especially valued, not only as a conductor, but as a teacher at the Tanglewood Music Center. At 82, after an impressive career as music director of several great orchestras, including the Dresdener Staatskapelle, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the San Francisco Symphony (all of which have been received a good deal of attention on the Review of late…look soon for a review of the partially great Dresden Ring). After Steven Kruger most perceptively reviewed his Bruckner Sixth with the San Francisco Symphony, I was lucky enough to catch up with Maestro Blomstedt in Paris, where he conducted Bruckner’s pivotal Fifth Symphony. I was also fortunate to have a brief, informal chat with him after the performance, as well as with the brilliant soloist, Olli Mustonen, who is less well known than he should be, because, like Sibelius, he spends a good deal of his time in rural Finland, enjoying family life and composing. After this concert, he was looking forward to going home to his wife and his week-old son.

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