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"The Firebird" & "The Rite of Spring" Brought to Life by the Orchestre de Paris at Carnegie Hall

Klaus Mäkelä conducts the Orchestre de Paris. Photo by Fadi Kheir.
At Stern Auditorium on the evening of Saturday, March 16th, I had the almost unsurpassable pleasure of attending a magnificent concert—presentedas a part of Carnegie Hall’s current festival, “Fall of the Weimar Republic: Dancing on the Precipice”—featuring the superb musicians of the Orchestre de Paris, amazingly led by its energetic, almost impossibly dashing Music Director and Conductor, Klaus Mäkelä.
The program began marvelously with an outstanding performance of the complete score of Igor Stravinsky’s fabulous ballet, The Firebird, informatively described by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as follows:
The ballet is based on the Russian legend of the Firebird, a powerful good spirit whose feathers supposedly convey beauty and protection upon the earth. Other characters from Russian lore are also included: the heroic Prince Ivan Tsarevich and the evil sorcerer Kashchei, from whom Ivan must rescue the princess he loves. It is only through the intervention of the Firebird, whose life he spares early in the ballet, that Ivan is able to destroy Kashchei and his followers and marry the princess. The folk origins of the story inspired Stravinsky to borrow a few folk melodies in his score. Yet most of the ballet, especially the fluttering dance of the Firebird and the memorable wedding march at the ballet’s conclusion, was his own creation.
The brilliant Introduction and the opening episode, “Kashchei’s Enchanted Garden,” are hushed, unsettling and enigmatic, not unlike the “night music” in the scores of Béla Bartók. The entrance of the Firebird has a highly animated—even whirling—and unearthly, if playful, quality; the music becomes more hurried as the Prince proceeds to capture the Firebird, and more plaintive and fraught as it begs to be released. The “Emergence of the Thirteen Enchanted Princesses” is especially beguiling but the score becomes almost frantic as they play their game with the golden apples. As Prince Ivan appears, the music becomes serious and then exquisite in the more Impressionistic “The Princesses’ Khorovod.” At “Daybreak,” the score becomes turbulent, as Kashchei’s Monster-Guardians attack and capture the Prince, and then uncanny and suspenseful with “The Entrance of Kashchei the Immortal.” After the Firebird reappears, one of the most exciting sections is the dazzling “Infernal Dance of Kashchei and His Subjects under the Firebird’s Magic Spell”—which seems to be a precursor to the soundscape ofThe Rite of Spring—immediately preceding the magnificent “Lullaby,” which is probably the most astonishingly lovely episode in the entire ballet and was used as the score for Lewis Klahr’s incomparable film, Altair from 1995. The music becomes quieter as Kashchei awakens and then dies, which ushers in the enchanting Second Tableau that concludes the work triumphantly.
The second half of the event was equally exhilarating: a superlative rendition of the complete score of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which Britannica says “is considered one of the first examples of Modernism in music and is noted for its brutality, its barbaric rhythms, and its dissonance.” It notes that:
The piece was commissioned by the noted impresario of the Ballets Russes, Serge Diaghilev, who earlier had produced the young composer’sThe Firebird(1910) andPetrushka(1911). Stravinsky developed the story of The Rite of Spring, originally to be called The Great Sacrifice, with the aid of artist and mystic Nicholas Roerich, whose name appears with the composer’s on the title page of the earliest publications of the score. The production was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, and its sets and costumes were designed by Roerich.
Like Stravinsky’s earlier works for the Ballet Russes, The Rite of Spring was inspired by Russian culture, but, unlike them, it challenged the audience with its chaotic percussive momentum.
And adds:
In the mid-20th century, Stravinsky revised the orchestration for concert performance, and that version of the score remains the version that is most commonly performed. In 1987, however, the ballet as it was first conceived and performed, with original set and costumes and Nijinsky’s choreography (which had been seen for only seven performances before it was superseded by new choreography from Léonide Massine), was painstakingly reconstructed and re-created by the Joffrey Ballet. The centenary of the ballet’s premiere prompted other ballet companies, notably the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg, to also revive the work in its original form.
The eccentric “Introduction” to the First Part: Adoration of the Earth is haunting but the score quickly becomes rhythmically spellbinding with the ensuing “The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls.” More turbulent is “The Ritual of Abduction” which leads to the solemn, portentous “Spring Rounds” and the tumultuous “Ritual of the Rival Tribes.” The intensity builds with the “Procession of the Sage” through the “Dance of the Earth” that closes the First Part.
After the mysterious “Introduction” to the Second Part: The Sacrifice, the episode that follows, “The Mystic Circles of the Young Girls,” has a more meditative character. The “Glorification of the Chosen One” is impassioned while the sense of foreboding increases especially in the propulsive “Ritual Action of the Ancestors,” climaxing with the stunning “Sacrificial Dance” that concludes the work.
The artists, who have commercially recorded both scores, were enthusiastically applauded.

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