23 May 2013, on Thursday, at the Romanian Athenaeum
GIOACHINO ROSSINI: Overture of the opera La scala di seta
CARMEN PETRA BASACOPOL: Concert for flute and orchestra
GEORGES BIZET/ FRANCOIS BORNE: Carmen Fantasy
IGOR STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring
Conductor: Jin Wang, George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra, flute: Ion Bogdan Ștefănescu
This is a fact, the day chosen for celebrating 100 years since the premiere of Stravinsky’s masterpiece was premonitory. A tempest coming from nowhere shook Bucharest a few hours before the concert at the Athenaeum, like an overture. Which meant that I missed the real overture, Rossini`s one, because of the terrible jams provoked by the evil forces of nature. But I got there just in time for hearing almost completely Mrs Carmen Petra Basacopol`s Concert for flute and orchestra. A concert of modern, contemporary music, aiming mostly at producing unusual sonorities from the solo instrument. At a certain moment, I thought of Jethro Tull, but only for a few seconds. What Ion Bogdan Ștefănescu was doing on stage was much more complex. Three classical movements, but with dance music rhythms, suggested more by solos of extreme virtuosity. I would like to listen to this again, maybe in a program that includes the evolution of this instrument from Bach till nowadays. A moving moment at the end of this piece, when the composer came on scene, to receive the sincere applauses of the audience.
The flute was again the main character, in the Fantasy inspired of Bizet`s Carmen, in the variations imagined by François Borne. The Habanera and the Seguidilla produced all sorts of surprising sounds from Ion Ștefănescu`s instrument, and the main stream audience was absolutely delighted. The audience that had probably come especially for this piece as, after the interval, there were some more empty seats in the hall. I think Stravinsky is still too modern for Romania, despite all these 100 years.
In my opinion, The Rite of Spring is Stravinsky`s best composition. Paradoxically, even though this piece is a landmark in classical music, which simply annihilates Mozart or Beethoven`s glorious past, as if it has never existed, at the same time it can be a gateway to symphonic music for those who are just discovering this art. It is not the first experiment I am doing, by taking a young rocker with me to the Athenaeum, in order to show him the wonders of another world. And a successful experiment, of course. Stravinsky explained the nature and the justification of his composition by the appeal he made to primordial, pagan myths, after which he named the parts of his work. For the premiere in 1913, Diaghilev imagined a choreography where the Russian traditional costumes kind of slowed down the brute sound explosion created by the orchestra. In a way that demonstrates nothing else but the fact that each person`s conception has an important dose of subjectivity, I could never associate Diaghilev`s set, costumes and movements with the signification of Stravinsky`s music. Even the choreography imagined 50 years later by Maurice Béjart does not seem to be, for me at least, more than an approximation of the orchestral unleashing. And precisely the image that seems to match the music the least, which is the animation in the movie Fantasia (1940) by Disney, with prehistoric dinosaurs, encourages me to get rid of any attempt of finding a programmatic character for this musical piece.
The Rite of Spring is a rock concert. Compared to Mozart, this piece is at the same distance as Elvis Presley compared to Sepultura. This is the birth certificate of all rock movements because it is inspired by ancestral rituals, the same as rock music. Stravinsky violently sodomises the orchestra, and this violence has the same features as the image of The Who destroying their instruments at the end of a show.
Yesterday, Jin Wang succeeded in two directions. First of all, he managed to surprise this primitive violence of the music, in all its brutality. The second one was that he did it with suppleness. For instance, as loud as the orchestra played in the Glorification of the Chosen One, I never felt like being crushed by the sound. The enormous orchestral mass stayed in bearable acoustic limits. But the tension, that produced by the almost chaotic rhythms in the Ritual of the Rival Tribes (another example chosen at random), simply stuck me to the chair, as if I was in a car race, at 350 km/h. And it is not simple at all to master the decibels but, at the same time, to unleash the music and the rhythm. This is why The Rite of Spring is considered to be a difficult part for the orchestra. Once, around 50 years ago, they said that only Igor Markevich or Rafael Frühbeck could master Stravinsky`s fury. Today, symphonic orchestras have evolved so much, that this piece has slowly become a symphonic hit. Nevertheless, George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra had its share of difficult moments. Nothing obvious, just a few imperceptible de-synchronisations between percussion and brass, and the general impression of high quality stayed intact. Most probably today (as it happens on Fridays) the orchestra will reach the impeccable.
The Rite of Spring is not just violence, but also rape. Spring Rounds are nothing else but raw sexuality, stripped of all feelings, a brutal, mating ritual, with no haste. A moment Jin Wang stressed, as he chose a tempo even slower than the usual one, with a rhythm at the limit of stumbling. In order to avoid all confusions.
But, as I said, everything was played naturally, with a certain grace too, betrayed only by a long pause, like a meditation, that the Chinese conductor offered himself between the two parts of the musical piece.
The Rite at the Athenaeum… it rocked. In a modern interpretation, like a David Lynch movie that reinvents the fairy tale in a Palme d’or movie, as Wild at Heart. To the opposite side of the political Romanian reality, that I suddenly remembered, with a smile on my face, with an episode from that hugely hilarious series Yes, Prime Minister. The fictional, but so plausible, prime minister intends to talk to the nation, and the media consultant tells him that if the speech is going to be an innovating one, the musical background will be Mozart. If, on the contrary, the message expresses intentions of continuity, of conservation of the present, as much as this is hated by the nation, then the background will be provided by Stravinsky…
Go and see The Rite of Spring. There is another performance today. Because, „Learning music by reading about it is like making love by mail.„ (Luciano Pavarotti).
Update: I heard that today (i.e. friday), for the second performance, the Athenaeum’s auditorium was sold-out and the orchestra played perfectly, as I anticipated. One of the dances from the second part of Stravinsky’s masterpiece had an encore. This confirms the right path that the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra choose to go in the last years.
P.S. The pictures from the concert are, as usual, graciously offered by Romeo Zaharia