On Tuesday night I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra perform one of the all-time greatest symphonies ever composed — Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
It’a hard to blog about something that has to be heard to be appreciated. Anyway, we’ve all heard bits and pieces of it, as it’s been used in countless soundtracks, and anticipated countless others. The shower stabbing music in Psycho, the theme song from Jaws, and other similarly imitative music — all finds origin in the Rite of Spring.
At the time (1913) it caused quite a shock, even rioting broke out. I guess the blatant Paganism (“The pagans on-stage made pagans of the audience“) and Nijinsky’s manic dancing must have been something for a largely monarchical world still steeped in stodgy traditions.
Philadelphia’s conductor Christoph Eschenbach did a splendid job. I sat in row three, so I could watch the interaction between him and the musicians in ways I normally can’t. Conductors are supposed to stay ahead of the actual music you hear, and being up close like that really gives the full sense of that lag. It would not be easy to stay ahead of what you’re hearing, and I can’t imagine how much time it must take to learn how to do that for every instrument in the orchestra.
Of course, the Rite of Spring seemed to anticipate World War I, which came a year later, when the tension between the old and the modern finally exploded.
Whether this tension was settled, though, is debatable. The Rite of Spring is “traditional” now, but I think it’s still ahead of its time.