When composer Igor Stravinsky’s angular, dissonant ballet The Rite of Spring premiered at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1913, its combination of jarring music, uncomfortable choreography, scandalous costumes, and story of pagan sacrifice worked the audience into such a fervor that the producers feared a riot. Yet today it towers as a 20th-century masterpiece—Leonard Bernstein went so far as to describe one passage: “That page is 60 years old, but it’s never been topped for sophisticated handling of primitive rhythms.” You might also recognize it as the score for the animated history of the Earth (at least up to the dinosaurs) in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (see the video below). Pagan ritual, billions of years in the geologic time scale…same thing, right?
Rite is but the final note in the beautifully dark closing program to the Oregon Symphony season on Sunday and Monday. There is also Liszt’s haunting “Black Gondola,” Dvorák’s pensive Nocturne, and the Portland premiere of John Adams’s 30-minute symphony City Noir—a moody piece inspired by Kevin Starr’s evocative writing on the gritty LA of the 1940s and ’50s—which the New York Times described as “riveting.” Watch Adam talk about his influences for the piece below.
Walt Disney’s take on The Rite of Spring:
John Adam’s (and a number of Dutch musicians) talking about City Noir: