Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Getting ready for The Rite

Stravinsky's grave on San Michele
I’m pretty jazzed about the week of May 13 when, thanks to the Minnesota Orchestra and The Bad Plus, I’ll get to hear Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring performed live twice.

On May 13-14, the Orchestra will give an “Inside the Classics” performance of the Rite. Billed as “not your typical night at the orchestra,” an “Inside” event starts by exploring the music with discussion and examples, followed by an intermission, after which the orchestra plays the whole thing. 

Violist Sam Bergman hosts, and Sarah Hicks conducts. I love the idea of learning more about a piece before I hear it—better than reading program notes, which are often unbearably dry or (worse) cursory.

Lately I’ve been listening to the Rite quite a lot, and reading a bit about that piece and Stravinsky, ahead of The Bad Plus performance at the Loring Theater on May 20-21. TBP was co-commissioned by Duke Performances and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts to transform Stravinsky’s work for orchestra into a work for jazz trio. The world premiere took place at Duke University on March 26 and earned mostly glowing reviews. If you don’t feel it will spoil the surprise (I didn’t), you can hear the whole thing at The Checkout, Josh Jackson’s website.

I also listened to a recording of Stravinsky conducting the Rite (recorded in 1960 with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra), and a new recording by the young Ukrainian pianist Serhiy Salov, who arranged Stravinsky’s orchestral score for solo piano. (I learned about the Salov recording from Jason Rabin’s interview with TBP pianist Ethan Iverson, in which Iverson calls Salov a “super-virtuoso.”) Stravinsky himself wrote a piano four-hands score (two pianists, two pianos) and performed it with Debussy. I’m tempted to click the “Buy” button on amazon.com right now for the Amsterdam Quartet version.

Along the way, I listened to Liane Hansen’s interview with The Bad Plus at NPR, read a review at the Duke Performances’ blog, The Thread, and another at CVNC: The Classical Voice of North Carolina.  I checked Iverson’s blog, Do the Math, and found a post-premiere post titled “Victory Lap,” in which he noted succinctly, “TBP expects to be playing On Sacred Ground frequently in upcoming seasons.” Sounds like he was pleased.

In the NPR jazz blog, A Blog Supreme, Josh Jackson pointed out that E.S.T. had included part of the Rite in a hidden track on its U.S. debut CD, Somewhere Else Before (the track isn’t named on the CD—it’s hidden, duh—but when you copy it to iTunes, it’s called “Dark Water”). In a comment to that piece, Glenn Wood named a Red Snapper track, “Shellback,” that draws from the same source, so I had to hear that, too. (Thanks, Jonah.)

Why all of these peregrinations? Part curiosity, part preparation. I interviewed Ethan Iverson yesterday and wanted to have at least a few ducks in a row. (Over the past several years, many artists I’ve interviewed have expressed real surprise that I know something about them and their work. People, please.) Last week, I mentioned the upcoming interview to my music theory/piano teacher, Stephen Dewey, and instead of spending the hour on the Cycle of Fifths, we talked about Stravinsky. He loaned me his copy of the Norton Anthology of Western Music: Volume II, which includes the orchestral score for Part 2: “The Adoration of the Earth, Dances of the Young Girls.” 

Having never seen an orchestral score, I was able to follow along while listening to the Stravinsky recording only by counting very fast and running my finger across the page. So many staves, so many notes, so many instruments! This is the score Sarah Hicks will use when she conducts the Minnesota Orchestra.

Earlier today, I stumbled through Iverson’s Stravinsky essay, “Mixed Meter Mysterium,” in which it’s obvious he has steeped himself in Stravinsky, listening to every recording and reading every book, biography, and critical essay he could find. I imagined his personal Stravinsky library when he wrote “I opened up the score of Ode while listening to Stravinsky’s recording….”

Then I followed a link on Iverson’s blog in his post, “Read, Rite, and Blew,” to another review of the Duke premiere, this one by a roundtable of composers and Ph.D. candidates in music. My eyebrows flew into my hairline when I read these words by Aaron Johnson from Columbia University: “Honestly, projects like this always run the risk of the most pandering aspects of ‘jazzin’ the classics.’ We know jazz musicians have musical interests beyond jazz, but what do they bring to a project like this?”

While I don’t want to get into a pissing contest with Mr. Johnson—a Ph.D. candidate in music would wipe the floor with me—he might have done a little preparing of his own before making that careless comment about jazz musicians. Every jazz musician I know has musical interests way beyond jazz. For starters, it’s a survival skill. However, I do thank Mr. Johnson for later pointing out the connection between Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score and Stravinsky’s Rite. Now I’m hearing Stravinsky everywhere.


Photo taken May 21, 2006, on Isola di San Michele in the Venetian lagoon.

1 comment:

  1. This was a really great post. I caught Josh Jackson's post from The Checkout with the streaming audio. Quite a piece.

    I hope that you enjoy the performance.


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