All involved in ‘Behind the Score’ enterprise deserve kudos
By Peter Jacobi
Quite a crowd came to the Musical Arts Center Wednesday evening, and after the music ended, it erupted with cheers and a long standing ovation.
How different from 101 years ago at a theater in Paris where, during and after the performance of the same music, some in the gathered audience applauded but many hissed and booed. Some laughed, thinking they’d been made butts of a joke. Fistfights also broke out in the theater on that May evening, now remembered as the when of a scandal in the history of music, one of the most notorious.
The music on both occasions was Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” In Paris, it served as ballet score. In Bloomington, it was meat just for an orchestra, more specifically the Indiana University Symphony Orchestra.
Now considered one of the most significant works of the 20th century, a piece that propelled the art form of music dramatically forward, it was chosen as this year’s candidate for a “Behind the Score” treatment. The instigator of the concept, which last year used another important masterwork, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, as the music so investigated, is violinist Jorja Fleezanis, part of whose responsibilities on the Jacobs School faculty is to enhance orchestral studies by teaching instrumental students how to be successful as symphony orchestra musicians. “Behind the Score” is meant, in one way, to do that: fill the musician’s mind with background on the music being played, to improve performance through clearer understanding.
The musicians of the Symphony Orchestra, in addition to going through the usual round of rehearsals for Wednesday’s concert, were taken “Behind the Score.” Musicologist Gretchen Horlacher spoke to them about Stravinsky’s musical language and rhythms. Ballet Department chairman Michael Vernon treated them to critical background on “Rite” as a ballet. Russian music and Stravinsky scholar Richard Taruskin came from the University of California, Berkeley, to address them more broadly on the history of the piece as both ballet and concert favorite.
On Wednesday, the audience saw a 10-minute video by Jon Stante highlighting those pre-concert events. Then, they heard the result: a dazzling performance led by guest conductor Grzegorz Nowak, who was called in after project co-instigator Cliff Colnot fell ill. The Polish-born Nowak is principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and artist-in-residence at Florida International University in Miami. He came with an extensive professional background, and it showed.
The combination of Maestro Nowak’s conducting skills and briefings for students resulted in a riveting performance. Not many long-established professional orchestras could have improved upon what one heard. The hundred or more musicians on stage — from Nowak to violinist Fleezanis (seated inconspicuously at the rear of the first violin section) and to the percussionists in the rear — were in the zone. The wild and shifting rhythms, the severe dissonances, the mounting energy and explosive thrusts, the sudden nervous quiets, the bursts of drum-delivered, brass-supported salvos, the individual and mysterious solos, and the grand sweeps of an orchestra in artistic heat: all the elements above, fully mastered and thrillingly exhibited, were part of this extraordinary performance.
In introducing Wednesday’s program Fleezanis had voiced her belief that “Knowledge is power.” Well, a stage-filling host of knowledge-sharpened musicians with an experienced and knowing veteran conductor proved the point. This was an exhilarating “Rite of Spring.”
During the ovation, conductor Nowak gently pushed Jorja Fleezanis to center stage with him, so for her to get a share of the audience tribute. The gesture brought another volley of cheers. All involved in this admirable “Behind the Score” enterprise deserve kudos.
© Herald Times 2014