Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ending the Season the Rite Way

Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, any Mahler symphony, Orff’s Carmina Burana, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring represent works that push the boundaries of the orchestra experience to new highs. Knoxville is fortunate to be on the verge of experiencing the Rite of Spring this Thursday and Friday at 7:30 at the Tennessee Theatre.

I love that we are performing the Rite almost a century to the day after that infamous evening in 1913, when Stravinsky turned staid Paris on its ear with a full ballet production choreographed by Nijinski. It is said that in one of the quieter moments, the audience was so vocal in their disapproval that the dancers could not hear the music. The police arrived and things calmed down a little, but the “damage” had been done. Just as Beethoven deep-sixed rigid compositional structures and templates a century earlier, (right around his opus 95), Stravinsky redefined the concept of tonal beauty by abandoning standard functional harmony and making rhythm an end in itself rather than just a means to an end. The audience reaction was not solely a result of the music, but the very “outside-the-box” choreography surely had a hand in it.

The Rite of Spring orchestra is huge; quintuples of woodwinds, 8 horns, 6 percussionists, 2 tubas, etc. etc. Wagner's Tannhauser Overture orchestra is not normally so large, but the most recent KSO performance of the work (May, 1993) involved 20-something trombones, a truly spine-tingling sound. When the Tennessee Theatre was being rebuilt in 2004, workers near the zenith of the house ceiling could still hear strains of the final E-Major chord. This week we will performing the work with a normal complement of trombones, which is, sadly, only 3. But it should be known that this is a work that trombonists live to play, so there will be a lot of inspiration.

No comments: