Madison Symphony Orchestra
Friday (7:30 pm), Saturday (8 pm) & Sunday (2:30 pm), March 16-18, Overture Center's Overture Hall
When the Madison Symphony Orchestra performs Igor Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring' on March 16-18, it will be a first for the orchestra. And MSO conductor John DeMain says the players are up to the task. This is no small claim since 'The Rite' is a web of rhythm-crunching complexity that has raised the blood pressure of musicians for decades.
Stravinsky composed 'The Rite of Spring' (a.k.a. 'Pictures From Pagan Russia') for Ballets Russes, the dance company of famed impresario Sergei Diaghilev. Today it is usually performed without the ballet, but Vaclav Nijinsky's original choreography called for jagged lines with angles at the knees and elbows. Stravinsky was 30 when it premiered in 1913 at the ThÃÃtre des Champs-ElysÃes in Paris and, whether it was his hot-blooded rhythms or Nijinsky's break with classical ballet, it rattled the audience to riot.
Its theme of ritual sacrifice is brutal, but 'The Rite' begins innocently with a bassoon in high register. A call-and-response pattern follows between bassoons and clarinets, and from there Stravinsky shapes folk-song fragments of varying lengths into massive sound sculptures. The polyphonic nature of the music makes accents fall in surprising places, and Stravinsky often highlights them with the slap of a kettledrum or cymbal. Putting bar lines in the right places was challenging even for Stravinsky (time signatures change 400 times in the 35-minute duration). Lightning-quick tempos make it a carnival ride gone wild, while slow, sultry passages seduce you.
'The Rite of Spring' was an explosion on the horizon of 20th-century music, and it bristles with verve and attitude that make it as fresh today as it was nearly a hundred years ago.
The MSO will pair 'The Rite' with another work pungent with earthy fragrance ' Antonio Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons,' an open door to Baroque gentility.
Dubbed by 18th-century Venetians as the 'red priest' because of his fiery red hair, Vivaldi was a sought-after virtuoso violinist, but spent much of his life teaching music to orphaned girls at the Opedale della PietÃ in Venice. He died far from home in Vienna in 1741, forgotten until 1936 when a catalogue of his compositions was published in Siena and the Vivaldi revival began.
'The Four Seasons,' consisting of four violin concertos ' 'Spring,' 'Summer,' 'Fall' and 'Winter' ' is a magnificent tone painting set to sonnets probably written by Vivaldi himself. Guest violinist Robert McDuffie will bring its colors to life on Paganini's legendary Guarneri del GesÃ violin. McDuffie is a thoughtful player with a crystalline tone and radiant virtuosity. From the sunny E major opening of 'Spring' to the chattering teeth of 'Winter,' McDuffie and the MSO will transport us to the rippling meadows, frozen landscapes and azure skies of Vivaldi's Venice.