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.
A U.S. tour by one of the great European orchestras is a a costly endeavor—for everyone concerned—and, even if it is a biennial occurrence, it should be nothing less than an important event, especially in New York. I find it a severe disappointment when an orchestra offers routine programming on tour, no matter how well it shows off their glories. These are missed opportunities. The Berlin Philharmonic and their Director, Sir Simon Rattle, therefore deserve our thanks for sticking with the “curated” programming which made their last visit to Carnegie Hall such a memorable esperience. Back then, they combined a cycle of Brahms symphonies with works by Arnold Schoenberg. This year they have taken a step forward and a step back, narrowing their range, to explore the origins of the modern in music in the 1890s. On the way, they have also managed to include some of Sir Simon's signature repertoire in Elgar's "Enigma" Variations and Mahler's Second Symphony, both among the works with which he made his reputation early in his career.
Leleux had put together a program of classics, well known but in playing he brought them a freshness and bright enthusiasm as if encountering them for the first time. He played, in both senses of the word, in an unlabored way even in the more difficult sections, even while his technique proved his mastery of the instrument and all the work and practice that entailed. His honest and lively playing was infectious. The musicians seemed not like performers set up on stage and weighted by everyone's eyes and ears and expectations set on them, but they gave the impression of artists playing music for its own sake in private, the listeners seemed not exactly an audience but more invitees to share in the experience, the exploration of the music anew.
If Paris is a city shaped like an onion, formed of concentric rings as fortifications have been demolished and extended, then the site of the new îlot expérimental on Rue Rebière in the 17th arrondissement is the thin membrane just beneath the outer skin. The site is 620 meters long and only 12.6 meters wide, wedged between the Cimetière des Batignolles and the rue itself, which is what one might call a quiet street, or perhaps one too shy or cranky to admit cross-streets. Beyond the cemetery the Périphérique roars along a viaduct while on the other side of the street stands the rather impassive Lycée Balzac, not awful, not particularly inviting. It’s exactly the sort of unlovely site a young architect ought to love, particularly for housing, particularly for the social housing which has now been built here.
Si Paris est une ville qui, grâce à ses fortifications successives, imite la forme d’un oignon, le site du nouveau îlot expérimental dans la rue Rebière au dix-septième arrondissement de Paris serait la dernière membrane avant la peau. Le site est 620 mètres de long sur 12.6 mètres de large, coincé entre la Cimetière des Batignolles et la rue Rebière, une rue peut-être trop timide ou même grincheuse à admettre les rues transversales. Au nord du cimetière gronde la Périphérique sur un viaduc et sur l’autre côté de la rue est le lycée Balzac, un bâtiment pas terrible, mais pas terriblement accueillant. C’est, en bref, exactement le genre de site à séduire un jeune architecte, particulièrement pour les logements et surtout les logements sociaux.
In a happy coincidence this delightful evening of French orientalist music occurred just as I was coming to the end of Ralph P. Locke’s stimulating book, Musical Exoticism, Images and Reflections (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Without repeating much that I’ll say in my review, I think I should say here that reading it most definitely added to my enjoyment of the concert, and that is serious praise for a book about music. Professor Locke goaded me into looking at the rhetoric of exoticism as a multifaceted historical phenomenon, which carried as many different connotations for the members of Bizet’s or Ravel’s own audiences as they do for us. This is not by any means the thesis of the book, but it is a salutary corollary lesson. Ultimately, however, neither that, nor Leon Botstein’s witty, balanced, and impressively perceptive pre-concert lecture, nor his and Jann Pasler’s excellent essays can quite put us back into those audiences’ top hat, tails, and spats. Perhaps champagne is in order. What was most palpably present in Carnegie Hall that night was some supremely imaginative and enjoyable music, much of it more substantial than one might have expected.
The concert pulled us away from a particularly beautiful sunset over Sydney with Cray-Pas pink-crimson streaks and squiggles and a new moon following closely behind the sun, sparing us the feeling of mono no aware of a finished sunset. Zarathustra gave us maybe a more conventional sunset's "riot of color", or rather sunrise, to complete Vladimir Ashkenazy's three concert series of Germanic music which opened the Sydney Symphony's 2012 season. This small selection of major Strauss symphonies if not totally satisfying and complete in itself, gives one an urge to seek out more Strauss in order to seek out more in Strauss. Then again symphonic music can be enjoyed as a riot of marvelous sounds. Ashkenazy's pairings in the three concerts of a tightly formed Beethoven piece — The Ninth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Coriolan Overture, respectively — with a more spread-out Strauss piece (with the exception of Metamorphosen), perhaps more fun to conduct than to listen to at times, and the music with Vladimir Ashkenazy's enthusiasm for it, speaks for itself and justifies itself. Anyway, it is hard to speak generally about Strauss since he is quite varied even within one piece.