Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” Finale: The Spell is Broken

Tchaikovsky’s 1876 ballet, Swan Lake, tells the fairy tale story of a young prince (Siegfried) who falls in love with a princess (Odette) who has been kidnapped by the evil sorcerer, Rothbart. Through a spell cast by Rothbart, Odette is transformed into a white swan during the day, returning to human form only at night. Later, Rothbart lays a trap for Siegfried, deceiving him with a woman who looks like Odette, but who …

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“The Fairy’s Kiss”: Stravinsky’s Musical Homage to Tchaikovsky

In 1893, while attending a performance at St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, the 11-year-old Igor Stravinsky caught a fleeting glimpse of Tchaikovsky. The occasion was the 50th anniversary production of Glinka’s opera, Ruslan and Ludmila, in which Stravinsky’s father, Fyodor, an acclaimed bass, was singing. Tchaikovsky would die two weeks later. Stravinsky recalled, I looked and saw a man with white hair, large shoulders, a corpulent back, and this image has remained in the retina of …

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“Daphnis and Chloe”: Ravel’s Shimmering “Symphonie Chorégraphique”

Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé was conceived as a ballet score for Sergei Diaghilev’s Paris-based Ballets Russes. It premiered on June 8, 1912, two years after Stravinsky’s The Firebird and a year before the same composer’s riot-inducing Le Sacre du printemps. Yet this radical and monumental work—the closest Ravel ever came to writing a symphony—boldly transcends its original purpose. Scored for a massive orchestra and chorus and unfolding in three parts with four recurring leitmotifs, Ravel referred …

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Eight of Prokofiev’s Quirkiest Ballet Melodies

Last week, the Richmond Symphony returned to the orchestra pit for five performances of Sergei Prokofiev’s shimmering and comic 1944 ballet, Cinderella. Bringing off Prokofiev’s music, both technically and musically, often feels like solving a puzzle. Hovering somewhere between austere twentieth century Neoclassicism and moments of sudden lush Romanticism, this music is always keeping us off guard. We never know exactly how to take it. It is simultaneously humorous and sarcastic, cool and calculating (like …

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Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”: A Shimmering Musical Fairy Tale

Igor Stravinsky almost didn’t compose The Firebird.  In 1909, Sergei Diaghilev, founder and director of the Ballets Russes in Paris, commissioned the 27-year-old Stravinsky to write the ballet score after offering the job unsuccessfully to four established Russian composers (Nikolai Tcherepnin, Anatoly Liadov, Alexander Glazunov and Nikolai Sokolov). The result was one of the twentieth century’s most monumental works- a piece which glances backwards at the colorful Romanticism of Stravinsky’s teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, while moving forward in …

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New Release: Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil

Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker, was received with ambivalence when it premiered at Saint Petersburg’s Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in December, 1892. Now, over a century later, E.T.A Hoffmann’s heroic story of death and rebirth comes alive on ballet stages around the world as a staple of the holiday season. It’s a piece filled with haunting melancholy and dreamy, shimmering magic. All of this can be heard in Tchaikovsky’s music, with its exotic, soaring melodies and lush, colorful orchestration. In …

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Ravel’s “Mother Goose”: Entering the World of the Child

It has been said that Maurice Ravel saw the world through the eyes of a child. Although he had no children of his own, Ravel had a lifelong fascination with elaborate mechanical toys, and frequently read fairy tales aloud to the children of his friends. Two of these children were Jean and Mimi Godebski, the son and daughter of Cipa and Ida Godebski, a Polish couple who frequently brought together some of the greatest …

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