The world premiere 100 years ago of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has become the stuff of music history legend. Written for the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the premiere caused a sensation (just what Diaghilev wanted) when it was first performed on May 29, 1913 at the Champs Élysées Theatre in Paris. While Stravinsky had enjoyed considerable success with two earlier scores for the Ballets Russes (The Firebird and Petrouchka), European society had never heard anything like The Rite of Spring before. Stravinsky himself described it as “a musical-choreographic work representing pagan Russia, unified by a single idea: the mystery and great surge of the creative power of Spring.” True enough, but in the process of writing the 35 minute work he forced everyone to rethink the basic elements of music. This was a new way of writing melody, harmony and rhythm. The aesthetics of music were changed forever. The door to 20th century music was now wide open.
The Maestro will open the concert and the season with music from another masterpiece written for the Ballets Russes and premiered a year earlier than The Rite, Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis & Chloé. The 2nd Suite from this great score contains some of the composer’s most passionate and sensuous music. In between the Ravel and the Stravinsky, the HSO will welcome back the soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme to sing the glorious Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. It is amazing to think that Strauss wrote these songs 35 years after Stravinsky created The Rite of Spring. By the late 1940s Strauss was the “grand old man” of German music and had lived long enough to witness the catastrophe of World War II. With these songs he remained true to his 19th century roots, in the process creating some of the greatest music ever written for the soprano voice.
Janice Chandler-Eteme performing with the HSO in 2011