Last updated: June 16, 2022
ANNA THORVALDSDÓTTIR Aeriality
NICOLE LIZÉE Blurr is the Colour of My True Love’s Eyes
STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring
In his 1936 autobiography, Igor Stravinsky recalled having a “fleeting vision” in 1910 as he was completing his ballet score The Firebird for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes: “I saw in my imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watched a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring.” He proposed it to Diaghilev as the subject for another ballet, then turned to Russian painter Nikolai Roerich to help him flesh it out. Also an archaeologist with a deep fascination for early Slavic history and ancient religion, Roerich was instrumental in the shaping and creation of the ballet’s narrative, and designed the sets and costumes for the original production.
On May 29, 1913, The Rite of Spring premiered at Paris’s Théâtre de Champs-Elysées. It provoked strong reactions from the audience, though, as music scholars have proved, not to the extent of a violent riot—a much-exaggerated claim by critics and concert promoters that has been perpetuated as a myth, even to this day. While accounts conflict on various details, what’s clear is that much of the performance was obscured by the audience’s noisy protestations—laughter, yelling, whistling, booing, and the like—to Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography. Featuring jerky gestures, stamping, and bizarrely complex group movements, it went against the aesthetics of traditional ballet. Stravinsky’s score was deemed brutal and incomprehensible, even though his command of the orchestra and his gifts for rhythm and melody were undeniable. More troubling and problematic was the racist commentary the dancing and the music elicited, with connections drawn to “primitive” and “savage” non-European cultures.
Since its premiere, The Rite of Spring has been performed primarily in the concert hall and is regarded as an icon of 20th century musical modernism. It bears noting what aspects make it a landmark work for its time. For one, it uses an expanded orchestral palette, with autonomous instrumental groups—including an enlarged woodwind section—juxtaposed and layered to create a vast variety of textures and sonorities. Players are also sometimes required to play at the limits of their instruments—for example, the opening melody is set in the bassoon’s high register, giving it an unusually strained timbre. The insistent repetition and development of melodic cells (fragments of Slavic folk song or approximations of it) alongside constantly driving rhythms, often with irregularly placed accents cutting across regular beat patterns, create a hypnotic atmosphere. Chords are combined and recombined to form complex, jarring dissonances that are applied with memorable effect—listen for the “stomping chord”, repeated no less than 32 times in succession, in “The Augurs of Spring”. In sum, the orchestra isn’t merely a backdrop for the ritualistic events occurring on stage, but an active participant.
Tonight, you’ll experience The Rite of Spring afresh in the Canadian premiere of a new critical edition of the score, completed in 2021 by Clinton F. Nieweg and James Chang. To help guide your listening and stimulate imagination, an outline of the ballet’s episodes is provided below, with Stravinsky’s descriptions taken from his notes to conductor Serge Koussevitsky for the 1914 Russian premiere of the work as a concert piece.
Quoted in an interview published the day after the premiere, Stravinsky described the Introduction as “the fear of nature before the arising of beauty, a sacred terror at the midday sun, a sort of pagan cry…And the whole orchestra, all this massing of instruments, should have the significance of The Birth of Spring.”
The Augurs of Spring: Dances of the Young Girls
“Some adolescent boys appear with a very old woman, whose age and even whose century is unknown, who knows the secret of nature, and who teachers her sons Prediction. She runs, bent over the earth, half-woman, half-beast. The adolescents at her side are Augurs of Spring, who mark in their steps the rhythm of spring, the pulse beat of spring.”
Ritual of Abduction
“Young girls arrive from the river in single file. They begin the Dance of the Abduction.”
Groups of young men and women confront each other, with the girls “forming a circle which mingles with the boys’ circle.”
Ritual of the Rival Tribes
“The groups separate and compete; messengers come from one to the other and they quarrel. It is the defining of forces through struggle, that is, through games.”
Procession of the Sage
“A holy procession leads to the entry of the wise elders, headed by the Sage, who brings the games to a pause and blesses the earth”
“The games stop and the people wait, trembling, for the blessing of the earth. The Sage makes a sign to kiss the earth.”
Dance of the Earth
“The people break into a passionate dance, sanctifying and becoming one with the earth.”
Mystic Circles of the Young Girls
“Night. The young girls engage in mysterious games, walking in circles. One of the maidens is chose for the Sacrifice. Fate points to her twice: twice she is caught in one of the circles without an exit.”
Glorification of the Chosen One
“The girls dance a martial dance honouring the Chosen One.”
Evocation of the Ancestors
“In a brief dance, the young girls evoke the ancestors.”
Ritual Action of the Ancestors
“The Chosen One is entrusted to the care of the wise old men.”
Sacrificial Dance (The Chosen One)
“The Chosen One dances to death in the presence of the Ancestors. When she is on the point of falling exhausted, the Ancestors recognize it, and glide towards her like ravenous monsters, so that she may not touch the ground in falling; they raise her and hold her towards the sky.”
Program notes by Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley
Since its debut in 1969, the National Arts Centre Orchestra has been praised for the passion and clarity of its performances, its visionary educational programs, and its prominent role in nurturing Canadian creativity. Under the leadership of Music Director Alexander Shelley, the Orchestra performs a full series of subscription concerts at the National Arts Centre each season, featuring world-class artists such as James Ehnes, Angela Hewitt, Joshua Bell, Xian Zhang, Gabriela Montero, Stewart Goodyear, Jan Lisiecki, and Principal Guest Conductor John Storgårds.
Alexander Shelley began his tenure as Music Director in 2015, following Pinchas Zukerman’s 16 seasons at the helm. Principal Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and former Chief Conductor of the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (2009 - 2017), he has been in demand around the world, conducting the Rotterdam Philharmonic, DSO Berlin, Leipzig Gewandhaus, and Stockholm Philharmonic, among others, and maintains a regular relationship with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie and the German National Youth Orchestra.
National and international tours have been a hallmark of the National Arts Centre Orchestra from the very beginning. The Orchestra has toured 95 times since its inauguration in 1969, visiting 120 cities in Canada, as well as 20 countries and 138 cities internationally. In recent years, the orchestra has undertaken performance and education tours across Canada, as well as the U.K. and China. In 2019, the Orchestra marked its 50th anniversary with a seven-city European tour that included performances and education events in England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, and that showcased the work of six Canadian composers.
The NAC Orchestra has recorded many of the more than 80 new works commissioned since its inception, for radio and on over 40 commercial recordings. These include Angela Hewitt’s 2015 JUNO Award-winning album of Mozart Piano Concertos; the groundbreaking Life Reflected, which includes My Name is Amanda Todd by Jocelyn Morlock, winner of the 2018 JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year; and from the 2019 JUNO nominated New Worlds, Ana Sokolović’s Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes, 2019 JUNO Winner for Classical Composition of the Year.
The NAC Orchestra reaches a national and international audience through touring, recordings, and extensive educational outreach. The Orchestra performed on Parliament Hill for the 2019 Canada Day noon concert in a live broadcast for CBC Television.
Yosuke Kawasaki (concertmaster)
Jessica Linnebach (associate concertmaster)
Noémi Racine Gaudreault (assistant concertmaster)
◊Marianne Di Tomaso
◊Yu Kai Sun
Mintje van Lier (principal)
Winston Webber (assistant solo)
*Andéa Armijo Fortin
Jethro Marks (principal / solo)
David Marks (associate principal / solo associé)
David Goldblatt (assistant principal / assistant solo)
◊Emily Rekrut Pressey
Rachel Mercer (principal)
Julia MacLaine (assistant principal)
◊Tsung Yu Tsai
*Joel Quarrington (guest principal)
Hilda Cowie (acting assistant principal)
Joanna G'froerer (principal / solo)
Charles Hamann (principal)
Kimball Sykes (principal)
Christopher Millard (principal)
◊Chia Yu Hsu
Lawrence Vine (principal)
Julie Fauteux (associate principal)
◊Corine Chartré Lefebvre
◊Shin Yu Wang
Karen Donnelly (principal)
Steven van Gulik
◊Jose Juan Hernandez Torres
Donald Renshaw (principal)
◊Wing Kwong Tang
Chris Lee (principal)
Feza Zweifel (principal)
Non-titled members of the Orchestra are listed alphabetically
◊ Mentorship Program Participants