By Peter Jacobi
When you come to the Musical Arts Center on Wednesday evening for the IU Symphony Orchestra concert, the printed program will tell you that you’ve come to an out-of-the-ordinary event. It comes with a title, “Behind the Score.”
And that is meant to tell you the orchestra has undergone a somewhat altered path from preparation to performance. There has been the usual series of rehearsals, of course, these under guest conductor Grzegorz Nowak. But the training has also included talks and discussions, designed to give the musicians enhanced understanding of what the work they’re playing is all about historically and musically.
Courtesy photoGrzegorz Nowak will be guest conductor at Wedneday’s “Behind the Score” concert.
The piece they will play and you will hear is Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which last year marked the 100th birthday of its premiere. And according to a gentleman named Richard Taruskin, it is considered by quite a few scholars and others to be the 20th century equivalent of Beethoven’s 19th century Ninth Symphony, an important landmark that heralded change in the future of music.
The eminent Richard Taruskin, Professor Taruskin, headquarters at the University of California, Berkeley, and happens to be a highly regarded musicologist, music historian, and critic with a special interest in Russian music. It is he who lectured the members of the Symphony Orchestra last Monday afternoon, enlightening them on “Rite of Spring’s” 100-year course as ballet score and as concert piece, from a hissed and booed dance premiere in Paris by Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes all the way to current recordings, sans dance, that show how conductors have continually redefined musical interpretation of the score.
Earlier, the musicians were treated to a panel discussion involving IU musicologist Gretchen Horlacher and ballet department Chairman Michael Vernon, each treating aspects of the score’s past, Horlacher on what Stravinsky contributed to musical language and Vernon on how updates from the original choreography by Nijinsky have altered perceptions of “Rite” as a ballet.
So, the musicians you’ll be hearing have explored “Behind the Score” aspects of this groundbreaking masterpiece, as planned by the “curator” behind this event. That’s what Jorja Fleezanis calls herself. She thought up the idea and planned it and peopled it, just like a museum curator puts together an exhibit. Fleezanis holds two faculty titles: professor of music (violin) and Henry J. Upper Chair in Orchestral Studies. These cover the artistic skills that she brought with her, mastery of the violin and 20 years as concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra. She can teach the instrument, and she can tell students how orchestras function.
“Rite of Spring” is the second composition put under the “Behind the Score” microscope. Last year, it was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, chosen by Curator Fleezanis; Cliff Colnot, principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony’s Civic Orchestra and frequent guest conductor/coach in the Jacobs School, and Thomas Wieligman, administrator of the school’s orchestral ensembles.
That trio chose this year’s candidate, too. Colnot had to bow out because of illness, causing Fleezanis to seek a substitute (He is now on the mend!). A choice proved available: Grzegorz Nowak, artist-in-residence at Florida International University and principal associate conductor of the Royal Philharmonic in London.
“I was here recently to do a master class,” says Nowak, “and was delighted to return when asked to fill this emergency, especially for the Stravinsky. It is a fantastic work that’s had a huge success after the initial scandal. The music is thrilling and shows definite progress from his earlier ballet scores, ‘Firebird’ and ‘Petroushka.’ Just in the way he uses folk music sources and builds this to such a dramatic force: that proves how great a composer Stravinsky was. For me to have the opportunity of taking a new look at an old work is always exciting. I do this with opera and oratorio, and I’m challenged to do it here with ‘Rite of Spring.’”
Jorja Fleezanis expresses love for the “Behind the Score” concept. Her wish is that more such projects could be done. “But for now,” she says, “one a year is probably all we can manage. Think, though, how much background has been given to these musicians. Normally, conductors only have time to instill what the score requires. That’s what the usual rehearsals are about. Here, Michael Vernon first told them how the dance was invented. Gretchen Horlacher talked about rhythm and meter, so central to Stravinsky and his music. And then Richard Taruskin came in to introduce the people who were behind the score and to trace ‘Rite’s’ passage through the century.
“Consequently, the players are armed with more and significant information,” Fleezanis continues. “The conductor has all this other ammunition as he seeks to help the players interpret the music through their own minds and then to work with Maestro Nowak on how the music should sound on Wednesday night. I’m truly invested in this approach to performance.”
Fleezanis plans to introduce the “Behind the Score” concept to the audience and, then, to show “a seven- or eight-minute video, a collage of what went into this event, so you can sense the spirit and color of what this sort of learning is about. Maestro Nowak may also have something to say. The performance follows. I hope you and the rest of the audience will be happy with the results.”
I hope to be.
© Herald Times 2014