“Stravinsky and His World” at Bard

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) in 1949 (Culver Pictures / The Art Archive at Art Resource, NY)

The concert that kicks off Weekend One of this year’s Bard Music Festival, “Stravinsky and His World,” on Friday evening is grandly titled “The 20th Century’s Most Celebrated Composer,” and it’s tough to argue with that assessment. But any effort to define the life’s work of this questing musical mind seems doomed to fall short of the reality, thanks to Igor Stravinsky’s own lifelong predilection for confounding his public’s expectations.

Even when he built a whole new box himself – as he did in 1913, quite early in his career, with his most famously groundbreaking work, The Rite of Spring – he refused to stay put in it. Adoring critics made Stravinsky’s iconoclasm into an icon, but the composer kept dancing one step ahead of them, dipping back into neoclassicism long after he had irrevocably changed the way in which we talk about and think about rhythm and harmonics. He hung out with the Modernists in Paris in the 1920s and ‘30s and with moviemakers in Hollywood in the 1940s and ‘50s, and his serialist experiments laid the groundwork for the Minimalist school of music. But Stravinsky himself was socially and politically conservative, arguably even reactionary – a monarchist who detested the Bolsheviks, admired Mussolini and drew much inspiration from the Russian Orthodox Church in his later years.

So the folks at Bard have taken on quite a challenge in trying to capture the oft-counterintuitive essence of this elusive genius in the course of two weekends, but it’ll be fun and instructive to watch them try. It is our good fortune that our modern ears have been molded by Stravinsky (and those whom he influenced) to such a degree that we can now experience the dissonance and off-rhythms that often characterize his music with pleasure and delight, rather than with the outrage with which unsuspecting audiences greeted some of his early works.

The all-Stravinsky opening concert, which begins at 8 p.m. on Friday in the Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater, following a 7:30 Pre-Concert Talk by Leon Botstein, presents a good opportunity to experience a brief survey course in the composer’s highly diverse oeuvre. Musicians from the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO), the Bard Festival Chorale and a roster of guest soloists including baritone John Hancock and pianist Anna Polonsky will perform the cantata Les Noces (1914-17), Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920, revised 1947), Symphony of Psalms (1930), Concerto for Two Pianos (1935), Abraham and Isaac (1962-63) and a selection of songs. Tickets for this concert are priced from $25 to $60.

Weekend One: “Becoming Stravinsky: From St. Petersburg to Paris” continues Saturday morning, August 10 at 10 a.m. with a free panel discussion at Olin Hall that will take a stab at the challenging question “Who Was Stravinsky?” Marina Frolova-Walker, Olga Manulkina and Stephen Walsh make up the panel, along with Botstein; Christopher H. Gibbs will moderate. Program Two, titled “The Russian Context,” will follow in Olin Hall, with a Pre-Concert Talk by Frolova-Walker at 1 p.m. and a chamber music and vocal concert beginning at 1:30. It will frame the Stravinsky works Faun and Shepherdess, Op. 2 (1906-07), excerpts from Four Studies for Piano, Op. 7 (1908) and three movements from Petrushka for solo piano (1921) against works by the composer’s Russian predecessors and contemporaries, including Glinka, Glazunov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Medtner and Gnesin. Tickets go for $35.

At 5 p.m. on Saturday R. O. Blechman’s cinematic interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale will be screened at Olin Hall, with live musical accompaniment. Tickets cost $12.

This year is of course the centennial of the riotous Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring, and that once-shocking ballet score will be the centerpiece of Program Three, “1913: Breakthrough to Fame and Notoriety,” in the Sosnoff Theater Saturday evening, beginning at 7 p.m. with a Pre-Concert Talk by Richard Taruskin. At 8 p.m. the full force of the ASO will be brought to bear not only on Le Sacre, but also Stravinsky’s Fireworks (1908) and works from the same period by Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov and Steinberg. Tickets go for $30 to $75.

Sunday, August 11 begins with a second free panel discussion at 10 a.m. in Olin Hall on “The Ballets Russes and Beyond: Stravinsky and Dance,” with Kenneth Archer, Lynn Garafola and Millicent Hodson. A Pre-Concert Talk with Byron Adams in the same venue at 1 p.m. leads into Program Four, “Modernist Conversations,” at 1:30. A chamber ensemble that includes pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung will perform Stravinsky’s Three Japanese Lyrics (1912 and Pribaoutki (1914), along with works by Debussy, Schoenberg, Ravel, Satie, de Falla and Bartók. Tickets cost $35.

Program Five, “Sight and Sound: From Abstraction to Surrealism,” will be presented in the Sosnoff Theater Sunday evening, commencing with a 5 p.m. Pre-Concert Talk with Mary E. Davis. The concert beginning at 5:30 p.m., featuring vocal soloists including tenor Nicholas Phan along with members of the ASO, will include Stravinsky’s Ragtime (1918) and the rarely performed one-act opera buffa Mavra (1921-22). Also on the program are works by Satie, Poulenc, Auric, Honegger, Milhaud, Tailleferre and Souris. Ticket prices range from $25 to $60.

Weekend Two of “Stravinsky and His World,” “Stravinsky Reinvented: From Paris to Los Angeles,” will follow at Bard next weekend, August 16 to 18. For the full Bard Music Festival and SummerScape schedules, additional program and performer details and to order tickets, call the Fisher Center box office at (845) 758-7900 or visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.

Bard Music Festival: Stravinsky and His World, Weekend One, “Becoming Stravinsky: From St. Petersburg to Paris,” Friday-Sunday, August 9-11, free-$75, Sosnoff Theater & Olin Hall, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, www.fishercenter.bard.edu.

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  1. I’ve always loved Stravinsky’s habit for going right when everyone else was thinking left. Brilliant

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