Sunday, May 11, 2008

Stravinsky - oh wow sacred cow!


'The more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives ... It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. No one is sure why, but scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general' This extract from a New York Times article by Janet Rae-Dupree could be the mission statement for the Michael Clark Company's Stravinsky Project.

Last night's double-bill by the company at the Norwich Festival, showed the power of working outside comfort zones with an ultra-modern Rite using nudity in the sacrificial dance as a talisman against dementia. Budgetary comfort zones also took a battering as the forty-minute Rite in the first half used the economical four hand reduction, while for the second half two more Steinways, a supplemented Britten Sinfonia, four soloists, the New London Chamber Choir and conductor Jurjen Hempel were added for a marginally less modern, but still sublime, twenty-five minutes of Les Noces - see header production shot.

Visual comfort zones were also up for grabs, with the second half of Les Noces (except it wasn't - see below) opening with a stunning video of Stravinsky himself conducting the closing pages of The Firebird (how did the players ever follow his beat?), with the maestro's
virtual performance drawing enthusiastic applause from both the live and recorded audiences before the real dancing started. The Stravinsky video filmed at the Royal Festival Hall was courtesy of the BBC, and is a timely reminder of the priceless riches locked away in the BBC archives while their 'culture channel', BBC4, fights Alzheimer’s with challenging programmes such as Val Doonican Rocks.

Aural comfort zones become dead-meat with the Michael Clark Company with the exemplary musical forces 'benefitting' from substantial amplification and remixing via a state-of-the-art sound system. Strange when the words don't actually come from the mouths of the New London Chamber Choir, but if it stops dementia who is complaining? (Apparantely some of the audience did by walking out of the previous evening's performance of a different programme which featured very loud music by the Sex Pistols and Wire).

Pesky box-office comfort zones were also ignored by billing the two works as Mmm.. and I Do rather than The Rite and Les Noces. Thankfully there are some big sponsors behind the Stravinsky Project, but I wonder whether the 40% audience capacity would have been bigger had the publicity talked a little bit more clearly about a good old fashioned Rite of Spring?

But overall one of the most stimulating and dementia defeating evenings we have spent in the theatre for a long time. And the headline is for real, it is back-projected during The Rite, sorry Mmm... .

Now watch a video sample of Mmm.. here, read about the four pianists in Les Noces here and about the piano reduction of the Rite here, while Stravinsky has a topical Tibetan connection here.
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2 comments:

Pliable said...

Alex Ross has a parallel review of a New York Rite -

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/musical/2008/05/19/080519crmu_music_ross?currentPage=all

Pliable said...

Email received:

Speaking of Stravinsky and conducting...‏

Colin Tilney, who was the harpsichordist on Stravinsky's recording of The Rake's Progress told me a story about Stravinsky's first run-through with the recording orchestra.

After a few measures of the opening, Stravinsky stops the orchestra. Everybody was expecting some sort of instruction of some sort. Instead, all Stravinsky said was "Gee this is wonderful music!"

Cheers
David Cavlovic