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Saturday Art: Edward Snowden’s New Gig in Russia?

10:27 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Ed Snowden? - trumpeter closeup

This news item from The Voice of Russia late this week may be misleading:

Former CIA contractor Edward Snowden is planning to take a job in Russia in the near future, lawyer and head of a Public Chamber commission Anatoly Kucherena said on Thursday.

He did not specify the field Snowden had chosen to enter. “No comments, but as soon as he makes a decision, we will say it at once,” Kucherena promised.

Watching a recent performance of the excellent St. Peterburg-based Mariinsky Orchestra Friday, I was sort of blown away, looking at the trumpet section.  It seemed as if the soloist was a look-alike of Edward Snowden:

Edward Snowden's new gig?

Actually, the player who looks more than a little like Snowden, is chief soloist for the Mariinsky Orchestra, Sergei Kryuchkov, one of the finer orchestral trumpeters alive today.

Last week, Kryuchkov and his fellow players in the Mariinsky gave a set of New York concerts in Carnegie Hall.  The ensemble, and particularly its music director and conductor, Valery Gergiev, were greeted with protests from LBGTQ activists:

New York, NY (October 10, 2013) — Tonight, four members of the LGBT rights group Queer Nation disrupted the performance of the Mariinsky Orchestra, led by world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, demanding that Gergiev oppose the Russian government’s attacks on LGBT Russians and that Russia end its war on LGBT Russians.

Queer Nation members chanted, “Gergiev, Your Silence is Killing Russian Gays!” before the Carnegie Hall performance began. The protesters, who were met mostly with applause but also with some boos, were led away by security guards. There were no arrests.

Gergiev, the artistic and general director at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, is a longtime Putin friend and supporter. Gergiev has been honored by the Russian government and by the Russian Orthodox Church, both of which championed Russia’s anti-gay laws. Gergiev campaigned for Putin in 2012. The Mariinsky Theatre has received hundreds of millions of rubles from the Russian government.

“Valery Gergiev should not be able to perform without being called out for his vocal support of Russia’s anti-gay president,” said John Weir, one of the protesters. “Gergiev’s silence about Putin’s anti-gay laws is killing lesbian and gay Russians. We’re here to break that silence.”
Earlier in the evening, Queer Nation protested in front of Carnegie Hall. Demonstrators, including several Russian gay men and women, carried a 60-foot rainbow flag that read “Support Russian Gays” and held placards. Protestors also handed out informational flyers to arriving audience members and passersby.

On October 4, Queer Nation wrote to Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director, asking that Carnegie Hall condemn the Russian government’s attacks on LGBT Russians. He declined, adding that “musical events are not the appropriate setting for political statements.”

I’m in strong disagreement with the notion that “musical events are not the appropriate setting for political statements.”  Cultural institutions such as the Mariinsky Orchestra, by receiving State funding, are reflections, however indirect, of State policy.  The Israel Philharmonic, which is State supported, has been disrupted occasionally by audience members protesting inhumane treatment of Palestinians: Read the rest of this entry →

Saturday Art: Le Sacre du Printemps Turns 100

8:51 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

L'élue (Sacre du printemps, ballets russes)

What may be the single most influential musical composition of all time, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s le Sacre du Printemps, premiered in Paris on May 29th, 1913.  The music, and its starkly iconoclastic ballet choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky so jarred many audience members, it produced an unprecedented demonstration, considered by many to have been “a riot.”

[T]here is general agreement among eyewitnesses and commentators that the disturbances in the audience began during the Introduction, and grew into a crescendo when the curtain rose on the stamping dancers in “Augurs of Spring”. Marie Rambert, who was working as an assistant to Nijinsky, recalled later that it was soon impossible to hear the music on the stage. In his autobiography, Stravinsky writes that the derisive laughter that greeted the first bars of the Introduction disgusted him, and that he left the auditorium to watch the rest of the performance from the stage wings. The demonstrations, he says, grew into “a terrific uproar” which, along with the on-stage noises, drowned out the voice of Nijinsky who was shouting the step numbers to the dancers. The journalist and photographer Carl Van Vechten recorded that the person behind him got carried away with excitement, and “began to beat rhythmically on top of my head”, though Van Vechten failed to notice this at first, his own emotion being so great.

{The premiere’s conductor, Pierre] Monteux believed that the trouble began when the two factions in the audience began attacking each other, but their mutual anger was soon diverted towards the orchestra: “Everything available was tossed in our direction, but we continued to play on”. Around forty of the worst offenders were ejected—possibly with the intervention of the police, although this is uncorroborated. Through all the disturbances the performance continued without interruption. Things grew noticeably quieter during Part II, and by some accounts Maria Piltz’s rendering of the final “Sacrificial Dance” was watched in reasonable silence. At the end there were several curtain calls for the dancers, for Monteux and the orchestra, and for Stravinsky and Nijinsky before the evening’s programme continued.

Although the ballet went on to become accepted by audiences as both dance and as a concert work, Nijinsky’s unique choreography disappeared after the 1913 Ballets Russes season, until it was reconstructed for the Joffrey Ballet in the 1980s, by a team led by Millicent Hodson.  There have been several other choreographic interpretations of Stravinsky’s music and scenario, and the publisher estimates the ballet has undergone 150 productions worldwide since its composition.

Le Sacre‘s influence on composers during nine decades of the 20th century, and into this one, has been substantial.  What Stravinsky did in the music, was to combine new harmonic ideas, bordering on atonality, with a rhythmic freedom which was unprecedented, all portrayed symphonically by a very large orchestra of 110 players, with a huge rhythm section.  In terms of composers’ approach to rhythmic units, there is BLS and ALS (Before Le Sacre and After Le Sacre).  American composers as diverse Aaron Copland and Frank Zappa described encountering the work’s jagged sonic and metric vistas as having changed their lives.

In a brief period of time, less than a decade, when the shock of new music was represented by Richard Strauss’ sensually depraved Salome (1905) and Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal Pierrot Luniere (1912), Le Sacre stood out.  Because it led so many composers and other musicians in so many searches for freedom of expression, in so many different ways, I regard it as the most influential composition, not just of the 20th century, but of all modern history.

Happy 100th Birthday, Le Sacre du Printemps.

Here is the definitive performance of this masterpiece in the original (reconstructed) choreography.  The orchestra and dancers of the Kirov Ballet are directed by Valery Gergiev:

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