Stravinsky’s work is not a ‘cherry bud of May’ • St Pete Catalyst
Behind every great work of art there is always a story.
As Florida Orchestra Music Director Michael Francis explains, the facts and legends of Igor Stravinsky The Rite of Spring – the orchestra is performing the piece this weekend – adding to a whale of a tale.
The Russian composer was commissioned to write The Rite of Spring (its original French translation) for the company Ballet Russes. It was created, with choreography, in Paris in 1913.
“No one had ever heard of anything like that,” Francis reports. “It’s not ‘spring’ as we know it. Spring in Russia is a violent cracking of the ice. And it’s loud and it’s shocking. May He tears off winter, crushes it with his fist and advances.
The Parisians did not immediately adhere to the music, nor to the avant-garde choreographies of Vaslav Nijinsky.
“If you were there in May 1913 at that premiere, you didn’t know what to expect,” says Francis. “And then to hear this angular, dark pagan music, with this most extraordinary rhythmic vitality… it’s so physical that it had a profound effect on the audience.
“He’s famous for this…this riot.” Sure, the fish got bigger with every story, but there were boos, there were hisses, there were screams. Apparently punches were thrown, but we’re not sure.
Today, The Rite of Spring is a well-known and much-loved part of the classical concert repertoire. “This combination of this powerful and all-new rhythmic harmonic language, the shocking history of pagan sacrifice and the most incredible technical demands placed on musicians, still gives this piece of music the power to shock us today.” Frances. “It’s one of the most visceral experiences you could ever want to hear.”
The Orchestra of Florida concerts (Friday at the Straz Center, Saturday at the Mahaffey Theatre, Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall) will combine a concert by The Rite of Spring with Tchaikovsky’s more traditional ballet score for Swan Lakeand Delights & Dances by contemporary composer Michael Abels, written for the 10e anniversary of the Sphinx Organization. The string-heavy track includes elements of jazz, hip hop, and even bluegrass.
“I think dancing, unfortunately, is something we lost today,” Francis said. “Even in my childhood, in the late 80s, early 90s, we still had discotheques at school. And if you wanted to go out at night, you always ended up dancing.
“And that’s not really the case anymore. This is the first time in history that we no longer use dance as one of the main forms of mating. A party. There’s a lot less dancing, and I think that’s sad.
So yes, this concert has a theme. “Swan Lake is of course the ultimate ballet, the ultimate beautiful story, all famous dances, romance, tragedy, exotic dances from different countries. And so it’s the perfect summary of what ballet was until Stravinsky blew up the world with The Rite of Spring.”
Special Event: At 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Mahaffey Theater, Francis will discuss the construction and controversial history of Stravinsky’s work The Rite of Spring, with live demos. It ends with a complete performance of the work.
Full details and tickets can be found here.