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 …

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

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 …

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

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 …

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

Bernstein at 100: “Fancy Free”

From the moment the action begins, with the sound of a juke box wailing behind the curtain, the ballet is strictly wartime America, 1944. The curtain rises on a street corner with a lamp post, a side-street bar, and New York skyscrapers pricked out with a crazy pattern of lights, making a dizzying backdrop. Three sailors explode onto the stage. They are on twenty-four-hour shore leave in the city and on the …

Read moreBernstein at 100: “Fancy Free”

A Sublime Moment from Khachaturian’s “Spartacus”

Today marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Soviet Armenian composer, Aram Khachaturian (1903–1978). In celebration, let’s listen to a lushly beautiful excerpt from the second act of Khachaturian’s 1954 ballet, Spartacus. This soaring adagio occurs at the moment when the Thracian king, Spartacus, and his wife, Phrygia, celebrate their newfound freedom from captivity. This music is filled with the “exotic” modal scales of Armenian folk music. For example, listen to the clarinet’s statement around …

Read moreA Sublime Moment from Khachaturian’s “Spartacus”

An Obscure Corner of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”

O Appalachian Spring! I gained the ledge; Steep, inaccessible smile that eastward bends And northward reaches in that violet wedge Of Adirondacks! – Hart Crane, The Bridge: The Dance Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring is usually heard in its concert suite form for full orchestra. (Leonard Bernstein’s 1982 recording with the Los Angeles Philharmonic remains one of my favorite performances of the suite). But the 1944 ballet, written for Martha Graham, was originally a more intimate chamber …

Read moreAn Obscure Corner of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring”

Excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”

I spent last weekend in the orchestra pit playing Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty for Richmond Ballet. Even as I’ve moved on to new programs this week, fragments of Tchaikovsky’s haunting score have continued to play in my mind, inspiring me to investigate a few recordings, old and new. Premiered in January, 1890 at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre, The Sleeping Beauty is often overshadowed by Tchaikovsky’s two other ballet scores, Swan Lake (1876) and The Nutcracker (1892). This is a shame, because it …

Read moreExcerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Sleeping Beauty”

Send this to a friend