Stravinsky, Verdi anniversaries marked with musical performances at IU
April 14, 2013
A pair of significant concerts this week honor significant anniversaries.
This afternoon at 3 in the Musical Arts Center, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Krzysztof Urbanski, pay us a visit to perform Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” which had its premiere, a much-written-and-argued-about one, in Paris 100 years ago.
On Wednesday evening at 8, also in the Musical Arts Center, the William Jon Gray-trained IU Oratorio Chorus, Concert Orchestra, and four soloists, all led by David Effron, present Giuseppe Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem” (Requiem Mass), in honor of the composer’s 200th birthday.
Both events are free. What more can you ask?
ISO and Stravinsky
The Indianapolis Symphony’s visit is a double celebration. Six or seven months ago, who would have thought it? Orchestra management and musicians were at a stalemate in contract negotiations. The season was in doubt. So was the future of the orchestra as an artistic ensemble of quality, what with calls for severe reductions in size, pay, and schedule.
But a new contract came to be. A campaign to find funds from new supporters succeeded. Conductor Urbanski made no effort to flee the chaos, praiseworthily determined to remain loyal to his orchestra. A new CEO, Gary Ginstling from the Cleveland Orchestra, came on board. The season was saved. The future gained at least a foothold. And here we are with two reasons to celebrate: (1) The ISO is in the spring of a solid season at home in the Hilbert Circle Theater, and (2) Today, it is making time and effort to visit us, thereby reviving a welcome tradition of stopping by once a year.
Says the ISO’s Ginstling: “IU pride runs deep within our organization, as 20 of our very own musicians hold degrees from the Jacobs School . We see the concert as an opportunity to reconnect.”
Says Jacobs School Dean Gwyn Richards: “It is always an event when the ISO comes to IU, giving the community, our students, and our faculty the opportunity to hear it in person and to interact with the musicians. It is so generous of them to fit such a concert into their crowded schedule and to share so freely of their gifts.”
Most unlikely this afternoon is a repeat of what happened at the first performance of the ballet a century ago, a historic scandal. Stravinsky recalls: “Mild protests against the music could be heard from the beginning. Then, when the curtain opened . the storm broke . I left the hall in a rage . The music was so familiar to me. I loved it, and I could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. I arrived backstage in a fury. There I saw Diaghilev switching the houselights on and off in the hope that this might quiet the hall. For the rest of the performance, I stood in the wings behind Nijinsky holding the tails of his frac, while he stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.”
We’ll see no dancing, of course, but what we’ll hear the ISO play has long come to be an accepted musical masterpiece. Applause and cheers are a more likely response than the above.
Some have called the Requiem Verdi’s opera without scenery. He himself referred to it as a concert piece, not one designed specifically to be performed in church, even though it’s been offered in churches and all sorts of venues, sacred and otherwise.
David Effron says that, for him, the work is a “loved one,” a “favorite,” a “masterpiece” by “my favorite composer, who had an enormous talent to combine words and music so that they fit like hand in glove. More than any composer, Verdi consistently came up with the right music for the text. He had such a special affinity for putting music and words together. In the Requiem, he had the drama of life and death, and he made the most of it, leaving us vocally, musically, with an opera on the grandest of themes.
“It is incredibly draining to rehearse and perform,” Effron continues. “It takes physical and emotional energy. As we’ve worked during the past few weeks to prepare, I’ve seen tears in the eyes of our soloists and some of the choristers. They seem to be so deeply moved. Think of it. Verdi was an agnostic but could express feelings of faith so profoundly that we are moved, whether Catholic or not, religious or not. I’m so grateful to be conducting it.”
What stirred Verdi was the death of the Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni, whom he admired as a national literary hero. “If men worshipped men,” the composer declared when he received the news, “I would have knelt before him.” He told his publisher: “I have not the heart to be present at his funeral. I shall come later to find the grave, alone and unseen, and perhaps . I may have a proposal to make to you as to how his memory should be honored.”
Verdi is said to have made his way to the grave. As for the proposal, it was to compose a Requiem Mass for the first anniversary of Manzoni’s death. “It is a heartfelt impulse, or rather a necessity,” he told the Mayor of Milan, “to do all in my power to honor this great spirit whom I valued so highly as a writer and venerated as a man.” The score came to be, as did the performance in May of 1874, with a chorus of 140, an orchestra of 100, and four of his favorite singers as soloists. Verdi conducted.
Says Maestro Effron about Wednesdays’ performance (to be repeated two days later at the Palladium in Carmel: “We’re excited. I hope we do it justice.”