Monday, July 29, 2013

Centennial of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" at the Tel Aviv Opera House

The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion and the Israel Ballet collaborated in a gala concert celebrating the centennial of the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet music “The Rite of Spring”. The event took place to a packed hall of the Opera House at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on July 28th 2013 in the presence of Ms. Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture and Sport. The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion, founded in 1988, also serving as the resident orchestra of the New Israeli Opera, has established itself as one of Israel’s finest orchestras, performing the gamut of orchestral music. It was the first Israeli orchestra to perform works by Richard Strauss, Alexander Zemlinsky and other composers, has issued CDs of live performances, including those of Israeli works, and has made concert tours in Europe and South America. Born in Israel in 1971, Dan Ettinger, the ISO’s musical director, began his musical career as a baritone singer, performing with the Israeli Opera and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He is an accomplished pianist, accompanist and coach and was a faculty member of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and Tel Aviv University. Today Ettinger also serves as the general music director of the Mannheim Opera and of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. With the orchestra on stage, the event opened with Alexander Borodin’s (1833-1887) “Polovtsian Dances” from his opera “Prince Igor”. In 1869, Borodin began working on “Prince Igor”, an opera based on a Russian epic from the 12th century. It tells of the heroic Russian warrior, Prince Igor, who goes to war with the Polovtsi, a Tatar warrior tribe. When a sudden eclipse of the sun portends the defeat of his army, the prince is captured by the Polovtsi leader who tries to seduce Igor by means of the sensuous dancing of the Polovtsian slave maidens. Igor, however, manages to escape. Borodin and his colleagues were intrigued by all aspects of music from the regions of the vast Russian steppe. Borodin, himself, conducted his own research into the music of the Polovtsian tribes; this, however, does not mean that this work bears direct correlation with the authentic, ethnic, musical style of the Polovtsi tribes. The original version of the Polovtsian Dances was for chorus and orchestra. The version we heard – for orchestra – is that most commonly performed today. (In addition to its role as ballet music, themes from the dances are familiar to many of us from the 1953 Broadway musical “Kismet”.) Ettinger and his large number of players conjured up the work’s modal evocation of exotic “orientalism”. This is a work calling for fine wind- and percussion playing and the ISO did not disappoint, from the opening whirling melody on clarinet and oboe, to the famous “Stranger in Paradise” tune on oboe and English horn, to such percussion instruments as tambourines and finger cymbals. This is a wonderful concert piece; Ettinger, contrasting its nostalgic moments with its hedonistic aspects, retains an orchestral sound that is well blended and balanced. For the second work – and the centre piece of the program - the orchestra remained seated on stage. Presenting Igor Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) “Rite of Spring”, members of the Israel Ballet would perform Jerusalem-born dancer and choreographer Ido Tadmor’s dance version of the work at the front of the stage. Composed on the eve of World War I and the Russian Revolution, its notorious premiere, with Nijinsky’s groundbreaking and provocative choreography, elicited so much resistance that the music itself was frequently inaudible. But its musical style, too, where gestures interact and superimpose with each other with daring, challenged the musical perspective and logic present for centuries in Europe, exalting a new and explosive sense of movement. Ido Tadmor’s choreography took a very different approach to that of Nijinsky. He creates beautiful patterns with his dancers, who are essentially classical ballet dancers. With women on points, the dancers are elegant, coordinated, pleasing to the eye and certainly energetic. Here is a “Rite of Spring” less libidinous, less dramatic in its development, less jagged, less urgent and less based on tribal intensity. Tadmor (b. 1964, Jerusalem, artistic director of the Israel Ballet since 2013, head of the
dance department of the Ironi H High School in Haifa and artistic advisor to the Haifa Municipality and Haifa Theatre) is not out to recreate atavistic primitivism; neither is he interested in reenacting a scandalous scenario as of 100 years ago. What was most effective was the visual experience of watching both orchestra and dancers creating the work on the same stage. The ISO presented the complex score, unfolding before the audience’s eyes, beginning with that unforgettable eerie, high unaccompanied bassoon solo and, in the course of the piece, punctuated by the unique, threatening and spine-chilling sword motif. And, as we hear and watch it all happening, we are reminded that, from small, simple melodic patterns, Stravinsky has fashioned a canvas that is harsh, sensual, savage and haunting, but also lyrical, from dissonances peppered with pulsating cross-rhythms, crunching harmonies and the multi-layering of rhythmic motifs. Ettinger juggles all of these with amazing eloquence and intelligible clarity, not advocating opaque textures in the name of pagan ritual music. For the third work on the program, with the orchestra now placed in orchestra pit, we moved back n style to the world of classical white ballet with Michel Fokine’s choreography of “Les Sylphides”. Premiered in 1907 as a ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, this is a ballet with no story line; the music consists of Glazunov’s orchestration of Frédéric Chopin piano pieces in a ballet titled “Chopiniana” – well-loved waltzes, mazurkas, a nocturne and a prelude. When the curtain rose at the Tel Aviv Opera House performance, a lush, tranquil backdrop suggesting a moonlit park set the work’s Romantic, dreamy mood. In the ballet, a young man (sometimes referred to as a poet) walking at night encounters a group of white sylphs dancing in the moonlight. The man joins in and dances with the sylphs. The Israel Ballet gave a performance that was visually very charming, authentic in style and dress and elegant. The solos were pleasing. Once again, Dan Ettinger and the ISO Rishon LeZion gave a well-shaped and detailed reading of the score. The impressive Opera House hall constituted a suitable venue for this festive event.

No comments: