One hundred years ago, in May 1913, Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, composer Igor Stravinsky, and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky unleashed an artistic tsunami whose shock waves are still being felt a century later. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was visceral, violent, garish, primitive in its explosion of polyrhythms, dissonances, and shrieking orchestral effects.
Its use of traditional Russian folk material has been described by music critic Alex Ross as "pulverized motivic bits, piled up in layers, and reassembled in cubistic collages and montages." At the premiere in Paris, conducted by Pierre Monteux, there was literally a riot.
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from the unfinished opera Prince Igor, as orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakoff, and performed on that same ballet program, must have seemed tame by contrast. These orchestral showpieces have long been audience favorites and, of course, music from the dances was repurposed in the musical Kismet and, most notably, in the popular song, Stranger in Paradise.
Hugh Wolff, Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Director of Orchestras, and the NEC Philharmonia recall the notorious Parisian premiere of the Rite and its program partner, the Polovtsian Dances, in tonight’s performance. Carrying the theme of spring forward, they also perform Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 “Spring” with its more tranquil and domestic nature. The composer, who wrote the work within a few months of marrying his beloved Clara, attributed the nickname to his "spring of love."
NEC faculty composer, conductor and flutist John Heiss will present a fascinating pre-concert lecture, "Singing the Rite," tonight at 6:45 pm in Jordan Hall. Through musical examples—recorded, played on the piano, and sung by the audience, he will offer a vivid demonstration of the revolutionary compositional techniques that made the Rite a landmark in music history of the 20th century. The lecture is free and open to the public.