Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 5, 2013

Unexpected Sounds: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
May 30 – June 2, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan jokingly introduced the first piece on her season finale program as likely to make some audience members "want to riot" against the "unexpected sounds" it produces, just as the audience at the world premiere of Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" rioted a century ago this week in Paris.

Wu Wei
That piece was selections from "The Color Yellow" Concerto for Sheng and Chamber Orchestra by 37-year-old Chinese born composer Huang Ruo. The sheng is a mouth-blown traditional Chinese reed instrument with a series of vertical pipes. Chinese sheng virtuoso Wu Wei played the unwieldy-looking instrument with amazing dexterity, as he coaxed sounds from piercing squeaks to soothing drones out of it. Also featuring an expanded percussion section that included whistles and conch shells, the piece drew a riot of delighted applause from an audience which had probably been exposed to far more challenging sounds over the years.

The concert continued with seven numbers from Tchaikovsky’s ballet "Swan Lake," which captured a range of dramatic moments in exuberant, committed performances by the orchestra. They were joined in the Couples Dance scene by two members of a revolving cast of four dancers from the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts. The graceful motions of Phoebe Magna and Jack Sprance brought a welcome new dimension to the beauty of the music.

The account of the "Rite of Spring" that followed intermission made its roots in the romanticism of Tchaikovsky sound clearer than usual, while also throwing the novelty of its primitive and harsh energy into sharper relief. The HSO played the score with discipline and abandon, and dancers Jane Cracovaner and Christopher LaFleche from the Hartt School Dance Division wrenchingly portrayed the sacrifice of the "Chosen One" in the closing moments.

With dancers performing on stage with the orchestra, this concert could also have been titled "Unexpected Sights and Sounds." But perhaps the least "unexpected" outcome of this memorable season closer was that the Rite of Spring still sounded as radical and new as ever.