Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fifths and Sacred Dances

The only thing missing was the rioting.

On this glorious spring afternoon, I was at CenterStage for the Richmond Symphony's program of "Musical Revolutionaries."

Our seats were in the nosebleed section, but given the $10 ticket price, neither me nor either of my companions was complaining about the height.

Hell, I've bought $10 seats that landed me in the very last row and this time there were two rows behind us, so it was plenty uptown for me.

Even from so far away, I spotted my favorite bass clarinet player, looking handsome and ready to play.

Likewise, the lanky bass player with whom I love to chat was holding up his large instrument (and no, that's not a metaphor although I feel sure he'd say it was).

The program began with Monteverdi's "Toccata and Ritornelli" from an opera, "Orfeo" he'd written in 1607.

Yea, that didn't mean anything to me, either.

Wait, wasn't that the year the colonists were landing in Jamestown?

The short piece was notable mainly for how the orchestra had to simulate the sounds of instruments no longer in use.

Fast forward 200 years for Beethoven's "Symphony No. 5," or as it was called in the '70s, "A fifth of Beethoven."

From the first distinctive four notes, da da da DA, I could only think of one thing.

Just how many cartoons have used this piece of music.

When the orchestra finished the four-movement piece, the audience rose to its feet for a standing ovation.

After intermission came the reason I was at CenterStage today: Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

This month is the centennial of the first performance of the composer's tradition-smashing work.

My only complaint was that the program, in describing it, referred to "the shear noise of new music."

Two of our group are serious language geeks, and that egregious error left us shaking our heads in disgust.

Perhaps I should volunteer my proofreading skills to the symphony.

But that aside, hearing "The Rite of Spring" performed live was a magical experience.

Just before it began, one of my companions began adjusting stuff on the floor, saying, "I need to clear the decks for toe-tapping."

Let's just say before long my toes, my legs and everything else was pulsating along with the pagan rhythms.

Conductor Steven Smith called the revolutionary piece of music a "sonic extravaganza," trying to prepare us for what we were about to hear.

And that was the music written for a ballet about a pagan rite, namely old men sitting around watching a young girl dance herself to death.

As you can imagine, that didn't go over terribly well in 1913.

Today, however, it was a tour de force beginning with a bassoon and moving through, according to Smith, revolutionary rhythmic patterns that sounded both tribal and primitive, evocations with which we're far more comfortable today than they were 100 years ago.

So instead of throwing catcalls and insults at the musicians, today's audience sat there raptly and when the piece ended, gave a prolonged standing ovation, topping even the one we'd given Beethoven's fifth.

Why riot when it's so much more satisfying to indulge your primal side?

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