Monday, February 28, 2011

The Stravinsky Project is Open! What Did You Think?

We had a wonderful opening weekend performance for The Stravinsky Project, along with a glowing review from Martha Ullman West at The Oregonian. Here's an excerpt:

Stravinsky rocks, and so does Oregon Ballet Theatre. That was abundantly clear on Saturday night when the company opened its spring concerts at the Keller with an all-Stravinsky program that included reprises of Yuri Possokhov's charming "Firebird" and Christopher Stowell's sophisticated neo-classical "Rite of Spring," with the thoroughly risky " Stravinsky Project" as the centerpiece. Read the full review.
The Willamette Week was also a big fan of the performance, saying:

Artistic Director Christopher Stowell’s version of The Rite of Spring concludes the program... It’s a mesmerizing piece, propelled by sharp angles, sudden directional shifts and the ferocity of lead dancer Anne Mueller’s attack. Mueller retires after this program and her performance alone is worth the trip, although the entire project has much to recommend, artistic departures included. Perhaps Stravinsky would approve. Read the full review.

Did you see the performance this weekend? What did you think? Share your thoughts about the show in the comments below.

Daily Dance Break: Congratulations to Natalie Portman

In honor of Natalie Portman's best actress Oscar win, here is that beautiful/terrifying moment when she turns into, well, a Black Swan...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Daily Dance Break: Kinetic Sculpture

Do you need the human body for it to be dance? Or could these mesmerizing, shifting steel forms be considered to be "dancing?"

Kinetic Art - Dynamic Structure 29117 from Willem van Weeghel on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Own First Firebird

by OBT Historian Linda Besant

(This is an excerpt from Béjart's Firebird, performed by the National Ballet of China for its 50th anniversary in 2009)

I was twenty-five and all by myself in Budapest when I saw my first ballet performance. I had worked as a music teacher in the Beaverton schools for four years after college, pinching every penny, living on Ramen noodles and sharing an old house in Tigard with four other young people (rent and utilities--$32 a month), saving for a fifteen-month grand adventure. In June of 1972, I set out solo around the world, with my bicycle, $3,000 in traveler's checks, and a Pan Am air mileage plane ticket.

By January, having sold my bike in Switzerland when it got too snowy to keep riding, I was in Hungary. I stayed in the old castle above the Danube that had been pressed into service as a hostel, with hundreds of Hungarians who were living there, waiting years for apartments of their own, their possessions in boxes under the beds. We communicated in sentences patched together with whatever English, German and French we had in common. Gradually, they led me to understand that the thing to do in Budapest if you could scrape together the money was go to the rush ticket box office in the afternoon and wait in line for the ticket drawing. Who knew what unsold seat in a theater somewhere in town might be yours for what, to me, was about 35 cents?

So I found myself one afternoon in a line quite like the morning lines for bread. When my turn came, my luck landed me a back-row-of-the-highest-tier ticket to see Maurice Béjart's Ballet of the 20th Century perform an iconic double bill: Stravinsky's Firebird and The Rite of Spring. What a wild introduction to ballet!

Here's an excerpt from Béjart's 1959 Rite of Spring, filmed in 1970.

Tell me: What was your first Firebird?

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Today's Daily Dance Break is inspired by the snow on the ground in Portland.

It's the "snow dance" from Memoirs of a Geisha. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: Trey McIntyre's Stylishly Sexy Rite of Spring

Check out choreographer Trey McIntyre's interpretation of The Rite of Spring.

You might remember Trey from the Snoop Dogg inspired "Speak" which is returning as part of our upcoming Song and Dance program.


The Rite of Spring (The Engagement) - excerpt from Trey McIntyre Project on Vimeo.

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The Rite Riot: The Ballets Russes and The Rite of Spring

By Linda Besant

On May 9, 1909, dancers who would come to be known as Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes gave their first performance at the Théatre du Chatelet in Paris. By the time the company dissolved upon Diaghilev’s death in 1929, the “Russian Ballet” had given work to Europe’s best dancers, choreographers, composers and artists, revitalized ballet throughout the Western world, and amassed an astonishing avant garde repertoire.

Diaghilev himself was an impresario. He created through others, bringing together artists of all disciplines to produce integrated, revolutionary works of art. “A list of his collaborators,” wrote Arnold Haskell, “reads like an index to the cultural history of the first three decades of the century.” The list encompasses composers such as Debussy, Prokofiev and Ravel; choreographers from Fokine to Nijinsky and Balanchine; and artists like Picasso, Matisse and Dali.

Le Sacre du Printemps
, known in English as The Rite of Spring, was the landmark work of the Ballets Russes season in 1913. Composer Igor Stravinsky and Nicholas Roerich, the painter and amateur archeologist who designed the scenery, set forth an ancient tale of the ritual sacrifice of a chosen maiden to the spring gods of fertility.
Stravinsky had composed Firebird for Diaghilev in 1910, and Petrushka in 1911, but he broke all bounds with Le Sacre du Printemps. “I tried,” he said, to evoke “the mystery and surge of the creative power of spring . . . like the whole earth cracking.” Lydia Sokolova, who danced in the first production, wrote, “To express the dread, hope and frenzy of these brutish folk, Stravinsky made a music whose rhythms, trembling, pulsing, flickering, thudding and crashing with a maniac piston beat, registered their animal emotions.”

Diaghilev assigned Le Sacre du Printemps to his favored choreographer for the 1913 season, Vaslav Nijinsky, the 24-year-old classical dancer worshipped across the continent for his magnetic presence and sensational jumps. Nijinsky had created L’Apres-midi d’un faune, the scandalous success of the Ballets Russes 1912 season, a dreamlike and erotic meditation that bore no resemblance to classical ballet. With Sacre, Nijinsky ran even further from ballet’s balance and symmetry. “Really,” he said, “I begin to have horror of the very word ‘grace’; ‘grace’ and ‘charm’ make me feel seasick . . . my own inclinations are ‘Primitive’.

Here's a clip from The Joffrey Ballet's recreation of the original 1913 choreography:

As the video above shows, Nijinsky’s choreography was raw and weighted to the earth. “The dancers trembled, shook, shivered, stamped; jumped crudely and ferociously, circled the stage in wild khorovods,” wrote Lynn Garafola. It took 120 rehearsals for the dancers to encompass the utterly foreign demands of Nijinsky’s movement and Stravinsky’s polyrhythms. “The girls used to be running round with little bits of paper in their hands, in a panic, quarrelling with each other about whose count was right and whose wrong,” Sokolova remembered.

The public response to Le Sacre du Printemps “was exactly what I wanted,” Diaghilev told Stravinsky after the premiere on May 29, 1913—the audience at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées rioted. Valentine Gross, who was present that night, described the melee: “The theatre seemed to be shaken by an earthquake. It seemed to shudder. People shouted insults, howled and whistled, drowning the music. There was slapping and even punching.” Stravinsky escaped backstage, where Nijinsky was screaming counts wildly from the wings. Conductor Pierre Monteux continued the performance as if nothing were happening. Years later, Stravinsky wrote about Sacre, “A method is replaced; a tradition is carried forward to produce something new.”

Critical response at the time ranged from “epileptic fits, absurd dancing,” to “oddly impressive.” One paper defended the artists’ right to experiment. Looking back, historian Lynn Garafola wrote that in Sacre, Nijinsky showed “that ballet could generate styles of expression as powerfully imagined, deeply personal, and vitally contemporary as those of the other arts.” For the rest of its existence, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes continued to generate forward-thinking ballets, circling back to its roots in 1928 with George Balanchine’s newly classical Apollo.
Nijinsky’s choreography for Le Sacre du printemps was reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer in the 1980s for the Joffrey Ballet. Since 1913, choreographers across the spectrum of dance have created more than 60 interpretations of Stravinsky’s score, serving as a potent symbol of Diaghilev’s legacy.

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Dancing for Diaghilev: The memoirs of Lydia Sokolova, ed. Richard Buckle. John
Murray Publishers, 1960. p. 42

Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, Lynn Garafola. Oxford University Press, 1989. pgs. 68-75
International Dictionary of Ballet, Le Sacre du Printemps, Jody Leader. St. James Press, 1993. pgs 1231-1233

Nijinsky, Richard Buckle. Simon and Schuster, 1971. p. 300

Nijinsky: God of the Dance, Derek Parker. Equation, 1988. pgs 143-147


Monday, February 21, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: Paul DeStrooper interprets Firebird

Paul Destrooper, who is quoted in our post about the creation of OBT's Firebird and was Prince Ivan in the premiere of OBT's version, retired from OBT at the end of the 2006-07 season to become artistic director of Ballet Victoria in Canada. He has choreographed his own Firebird. See what he's been up to in this excerpt:

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"It's Exhilarating to be Someone's Creative Instrument" : The Creation of OBT's Firebird

From the very beginning of his time with OBT, Artistic Director Christopher Stowell intended that the company would develop a repertoire of works “to scores written specifically for ballet. For the initial effort in that direction,” he says, “I asked Yuri Possokhov to choreograph Stravinsky’s Firebird in 2004. He felt a bit confined at first. He had never thought of attempting it, and didn’t even like the music much at that point.”

“Yes,” Yuri elaborates, “I want to say I never liked the music before. Now I love it. When you listen to music and say immediately you don’t like it, it doesn’t mean anything. When you know it well, you have the right to say you love it or hate it.” As Yuri’s Firebird developed, he enjoyed having the foundation of the narrative for his choreography.

Says Christopher, “External restrictions can provide helpful parameters.”

During the 2003-04 season, Yuri was still a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet. He had to choreograph Firebird in December of 2003, when he wasn’t performing. Rather than being able to choose his own schedule, he had to work with the dancers he could get on any given day, structured around OBT’s Nutcracker performances. Like many ballet situations, they had to work when they had small windows of opportunity. (As the great choreographer George Balanchine said, “…inspiration, it’s not anything that’s all of a sudden, like a stomach ache. There’s no such thing as inspiration. You have to work.”)

Yuri didn’t have the luxury of being able to show up unprepared; he created the entire Firebird in three weeks. He had gone over and over the music before coming to the studio.

Historian Lynn Garafola has observed that, “Between choreographer and dancers exists a special kind of intimacy. Each gives to the other; each reveals the other; each needs the other to complete himself as an artist.” That special intimacy developed as Firebird evolved.

Susan Gladstone, who was ballet master at the time, described “Yuri’s larger-than-life personality and infectious enthusiasm. He certainly cultivated an environment in which the dancers wanted to push beyond their limits. In turn, inspired by OBT’s dancers, Yuri came up with seemingly impossible steps that, after a few days’ work, became not only possible, but beautiful.”

Paul DeStrooper, who was Ivan in one of the 2004 casts, said “Yuri demands a lot—he’s a dancer and he knows what’s possible. He would say, ‘I want you to do something like this,’ then demonstrate loosely and let you work it out. He gave you time to get it in a comfort zone that’s in the aesthetic he wanted. He’s attuned to the musicality, so you can go with the melody and phrasing of the piece, not only the counts.”

Said Alison Roper, who danced the Firebird in one cast in 2004, “It’s exhilarating to be someone’s creative instrument. Some of Yuri’s movement is narrative of what’s happening in the story, without being mime. In the pas de deux between the Firebird and Ivan, there are ‘toss-lifts,’ like she’s trying to fly away. Yuri would give us something like that and say, ‘Just do, enjoy yourself. Oh, I love that.’”

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's a bird, it's a plane...

No, it's Stravinsky superheroes!

Yesterday we had a rehearsal in costume for The Stravinsky Project. Much work still needs to be done in all areas, but it is definitely starting to come together.

We had the pianists in the studio for Rite of Spring yesterday which was a lot of fun. I've have worked with both Susan and Carol (aka The Good Doctor, who has incidentally written a book titled "Untethered" available on the Amazon Kindle store) many times in the past and always enjoy their skill and artistry. It's mind-boggling to me that any individual(s) can make such intentionally chaotic sounds come out of any instrument. If you haven't heard the double-piano score I highly recommend you listen to it; It somehow feels even more complex than the orchestral version.

That's all the news from me today. I've got to go be a tall couple in Rite.

- Steven

*Photo Credit: Thyra Hartshorn.

Location:SE Morrison St,Portland,United States

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by OBT Historian Linda Besant

The original Firebird premiered in 1910 for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris. For nearly twenty years, from 1909 to 1929, Diaghilev’s company of primarily Russian-trained dancers performed radical new ballets that gave equal expression to all the arts involved.

Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes were among the greatest fruits of an extraordinary era. Historian Nina Lederman described “a great diaspora of intellectuals” to Paris in the early 1900s. A “generous portion of the world’s great artists” swirled through, and Diaghilev showered them with opportunities to collaborate in creating exciting dance, productions called ballets that actually had more in common with what we now term “modern dance.”

(For example, the original Firebird princesses danced in bare feet and Ivan walked naturally, not like a danseur noble; the Firebird herself did not use turnout, and Kachei’s monsters cavorted with grotesque jumps and squats.)

Firebird was among the first creations of the Ballets Russes. Michel Fokine was Diaghilev’s chosen choreographer during this period, but Stravinsky was Diaghilev’s second choice to compose Firebird. (First choice Liadov did not deliver in time.) Stravinsky was paid 100 rubles for the score, about the price of a Diet Coke in St. Petersburg these days.

Stravinsky and Fokine worked closely together on the ballet, weaving together elements from several Russian folk tales into a story with old symbols but a new outcome—total liberation from evil. Fokine described their process, improvising and refining toward the finished score and choreography:

“Stravinsky visited me with his first sketches and basic ideas, he played them for me, I demonstrated the scenes to him . . . When Ivan appears at the garden wall . . .
Stravinsky played, and I interpreted the role . . . substituting the piano for the wall.
I climbed over it, jumped down from it, and crawled, fear-struck, looking around my living room . . . Stravinsky, watching, accompanied me with patches of the melodies . . .
playing mysterious tremolos as background.”

For his part, in the autobiography Chronicles of My Life, Stravinsky wrote how his musical ideas “worked themselves loose” by improvisation at the piano. He likened improvising composers to a restless animals—“they feel the desire to seek for something.”

Of his choreography for Firebird, Fokine wrote,

“I completely excluded the stereotyped hand pantomime and ballet gesticulations for the development of the plot on the stage and expressed the story with actions and dance.”

Monsters crawled and rolled rather than advancing in symmetrical lines; the Firebird twisted and fluttered to escape from Ivan. (Fokine said her “arms would now open up like wings, now hug the torso and head, in complete contradiction of all ballet arm positions.")

Firebird was told non-stop—not once did the story pause for displays of virtuoso dancing.

Tamara Karsavina danced the first Firebird. Anna Pavlova was slated for the role, but found the music incomprehensible and refused to dance it. The great Vaslav Nijinsky wanted to premiere the Firebird role en pointe, but Diaghilev did not permit it. Fokine himself was the first Ivan.

Critic John Martin wrote that the original Firebird “ . . . was a magical work in its day, unlike anything we had ever seen.”

The Ballets Russes premiered Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring in almost yearly succession between 1910 and 1913, all composed by Stravinsky. As Lederman wrote,
“They established the one-act ballet as an important new form in music theater. Stravinsky… is the age … a force of utmost immediacy that has pierced our ears, extended their range, re-formed our appetites.”

Oregon Ballet Theatre is pleased to have generated its own Firebird and The Rite of Spring with acclaimed choreographers Yuri Possokhov and Christopher Stowell. With the commission of Nicolo Fonte to create a new Petrouchka for OBT’s 2011-12 season, the company will complete an historic trilogy.

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Stravinsky in the Theatre, Ed. Nina Lederman. Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1949.
Lecture: Stravinsky’s Firebird, Joni Steshko. Portland State University, 2003.
Fokine: memoirs of a ballet master, Michel Fokine. Trans. Vitale Fokine. 1969
Stravinsky, Frank Onnen. Continental Books Company, Stockholm, 1958.
Dance Classics: A Viewers Guide to the Best-Loved Ballets and Modern Dances, Nancy
Reynolds and Susan Reimer-Torn, a capella books, 1991.
Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, Boris Kochno. Harper and Row, 1970.

Your Daily Dance Break: A Vintage Firebird

In honor of our upcoming production of Firebird, check out this video of the Royal Ballet's Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes, who was said to have been unsurpassed by any living dancer. This is an excerpt of the end of the ballet. It is based on Fokine's original choreography from 1910.

Our historian, Linda Besant, remarks that you can see from this video "how formal and
patterned Fokine's choreography was, though it was revolutionary at
the time." You can see "how Yuri Possokhov remained faithful to the
Essence in the Firebird he made for OBT, but has so much more choreographic
range and freedom in this day and age."

Got your tickets yet? Opening night is nearly sold out, but there are great seats available for the other performances here.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Nap time in studio 1.

Just kidding, it's Firebird rehearsal.

I bet you all weren't expecting to hear from me again... But lo and behold, here I am.

Much has been going on here at 818 SE 6th. We're deep into rehearsals for our Stravinsky rep, and speaking for myself, it's such a nice change from all the classical ballet we did in the first half of the season.

Two highlights for me this rep are getting to revisit one of my favorite roles, Katschei, and being a part of The Stravinsky Project.

I first learned Firebird as a student in the school when Yuri created it, so coming back to this ballet a 3rd time definitely has a homey feel to it. Although, look for some big changes, most notably the replacement of children spiders with adult male dancers. The inferno is even more action packed this time around.

I feel very fortunate to have been involved with the creation on The Stravinsky Project from the beginning of the choreographic process last June in Caldera. It's been great to see collaboration take shape among the diverse group of choreographers. The piece started out with having each choreographer (or group of choreographers in the case of BodyVox's Jamie and Ashley) create their own section with some space at the beginning and end for blending. But now I have seen people add blending into the mix of their existing sections as choreographic changes, or even adding entire sections of dance that they would have otherwise never made.

Yesterday was our first time with all the choreographers and musicians in the room and one of the choreographers made a suggestion about someone else's section and I was really taken aback because that always seems like a boundary not to be crossed in the normal creation process, so even as a dancer this has been a growing experience in watching artists interact with each other in a new way. Very cool.

On a final note, I know my biggest hurdle to overcome in blogging is deciding what to write about, so if you have ANY questions please send them in. Who knows, it may inspire a great blog.

See you in the theater,

PS - Be sure to come to Dance Talks this Sunday at PNCA, most of the artists involved in The Stravinsky Project will be there and I'm sure it will be very interesting. More info is on the website here.

Location:SE Morrison St,Portland,United States

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Your Daily Dance Break: Christopher Wheeldon Talks with The Guardian

Check out this video interview (with great snippets of his choreographic style) that Christopher Wheeldon did with the Guardian in advance of the premiere of his Morphoses.

Wheeldon's piece, "Liturgy," will be featured as part of our Chromatic Quartet program in the Newmark next spring.

The best seats for that program will go to our season subscribers. You can subscribe online today right here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: A Puppet Petroushka

The original Petrouchka was a puppet at a carnival who discovered he had a soul and fell in love with a ballerina bimbo. It didn't end well.

Our 2011 production of Petrouchka is a world premiere adaptation from Nicolo Fonte that may or may not involve an actual puppet. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy this creepy puppet interpretation of Stravinsky's Petrouchka.


P.S. 2011/2012 Season Subscriptions are on sale Monday and start at just $71. Call 503.2BALLET for tickets!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Your Daily Dance Break: The Bolshoi Does Giselle

For your enjoyment, and in honor of our just announced 2011/2012 season, here is a grand pas from Giselle, performed by Natalia Besmertnova of the Bolshoi Ballet.

The best seats for Giselle will go to season subscribers. Become one here.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Bad Boys of Classical:

Is 21st-century wunderkind Nico Muhly the rightful heir to Stravinsky’s legacy?

By Claire Willett

Igor Stravinsky

Nico Muhly

The Game-Changer

“One spring evening in 1913 the intelligentsia of pre-war Paris gathered at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées to see & hear a sensational new ballet. The ballet, put on by famed Russian Impresario Serge Diaghilev, was something to see: Diaghilev's idea of how primitive man got ritually excited, come springtime. The accompanying music, a boisterous, tom-tomming, banshee-wailing symphonic hullabaloo by Music's No. 1 Bad Boy, Igor Stravinsky, had even more oomph than the ballet . . . [He] found himself the most influential composer of his generation. To younger composers [The Rite of Spring] became music's Declaration of Independence.”

--TIME Magazine, March 1940

The 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring has gone down in history as one of classical music’s greatest scandals. From the first bassoon notes, the Parisians in attendance were beside themselves; stories abound (some historically verified, some probably urban legend) of celebrity guests storming out of the theatre, hooting and hollering from the galleries, fights breaking out in the audience, Stravinsky escaping through a basement window to dodge the rioting crowds. “One English critic described it as ‘a threat against the foundations of our tonal institutions,’ declaring that it should have been dedicated to Dr. Crippen, a dentist celebrated for murdering his wife, cutting her body in pieces.” (TIME Magazine 1940) But whether the stories are apocryphal or not, there is no denying that posterity has kept Rite of Spring a fresh, relevant, and vital piece of music, even in the 21st century. “If you listen to it, it’s amazing it’s nearly 100 years old,” says Evan Lewis of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. “Other things happening in 1913 include the invention of the crossword puzzle and the modern zipper. It’s funny to think that something from 1913 is still considered ‘modern.’ Woodrow Wilson was president, for goodness sake.”

Yes, there will only ever be one Stravinsky.

But like every other genre-defying artist since the earliest days of Western civilization, the cultural world is constantly champing at the bit to designate an heir-apparent; there’s always some young up-and-comer to be dubbed “the next Chekhov,” “the next Picasso,” or “the next John Lennon.” And because Stravinsky is so quintessentially, well, Stravinsky, we’re hesitant to play that game. So all we’ll say is: if you find Stravinsky interesting and engaging (the man and the music), we recommend you look into 29-year-old Nico Muhly, who might just be the hardest-working young composer you’ve never heard of.

The Genre-Bender

“Talking about genres is [pointless].
Pretend your mom is from India and your dad is from Iceland or wherever, and you move to New York and you’re just a young family trying to make it work and you make dinner, you have kids, and whenever people come over they talk about it being fusion-y. ‘Ohh, this is, like, India meets Iceland,’ and youre all like, ‘No, it’s just what we like making for the kids.’”

--Nico Muhly

Nico Muhly (profiled here in two hugely entertaining interviews with New York Magazine in 2007 and the New Yorker in 2008 was born in rural Vermont in 1981 to an artist mother and filmmaker father, and grew up traveling the world with his globetrotting parents. Now splitting his time between New York and Iceland, he is one of the classical world’s rising stars, with a trajectory (and a personality) that seems to echo Stravinsky’s. He frequently collaborates or consults with pop stars and indie bands
(“Bad string arrangements in rock music are a blight on all of our ears”), and like Stravinsky before him, bodes well to be a classical music megastar before 30. He is the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera (Two Boys, his collaboration with librettist Craig Lucas, is based on the true story of a British murder case from the late 1990s). Muhly shares Stravinsky’s diversity of musical influences; though his day job involves working in a digital sound studio for composer Phillip Glass, his passion is 400-year-old Anglican liturgical music. In his wry, witty 2007 essay in the U.K. Guardian, “Choral Sex,” he talks about finding himself alienated from the classical music traditions he was taught as a young student, and discovering a more immediate emotional connection to music from centuries earlier . . . a sentiment that echoes Stravinsky’s saying that “It's one of nature's ways that we often feel closer to distant generations than to the generation immediately preceding us.”

“An Unclassifiable Musical Voice”

“Stravinsky never stopped adapting his style,” Lewis says. “He was always striving, always innovating.” The composer’s stylistic diversity is well-known (to the point of accusations from critics that his body of work had no consistency), ranging from his compositions for the Ballets Russe (Firebird, Petrushka, Rite of Spring) to his neo-classical period (shifting away from large ballet orchestras towards piano and chamber works) to the adoption of twelve-tone/atonal music later in life. Muhly, whose career is already similarly varied, has composed everything from film scores (including The Reader, which earned star Kate Winslet a Best Actress Oscar), to settings of 17th-century Anglican choral music, to arrangements for Icelandic pop singer Bjork. One of the tracks on his album Mothertongue blends an English folk ballad with the sounds of a pair of butcher’s knives scraping against each other, a recording of whistling Icelandic wind, and the sound of raw whale flesh slopping around a bowl. Another includes music looped over the voice of his friend singing strings of words, numbers and addresses. Both were surprisingly witty: Stravinsky’s “Greeting Prelude” is a clever reorchestration of “Happy Birthday,” while Muhly made waves with a song cycle based on Strunck & White’s writing manual The Elements of Style, performed at the New York Public Library. “What I really like about both composers,” says Lewis, “is their ability to write self-aware, difficult & intellectually complex music (Muhly’s By All Means, Stravinsky’s Agon), while still being able to compose deeply affecting and beautiful music (Muhly’s Senex puerum poratbat, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms). They prove that a wicked and probing mind can also have an earnest, thoughtful, pious side—both are merely different aspects of a larger and interesting and unclassifiable musical voice.”

Stravinsky tells us how he really feels about film music:



TIME Magazine Profile on Stravinsky Written By Philip Glass

Muhly’s Hilarious and Awesome Blog

Download OBT's favorite Stravinsky and Muhly music


The creative process

“The real composer thinks about his work the whole time; he is not always conscious of this, but he is aware of it later when he suddenly knows what he will do.” – Igor

When asked, “How do you compose?”:I’m a pack rat; I make these little piles of documents, a lot of documents – very little music paper involved, it’s all much later. It’s images, it’s drawings, it’s numbers, it’s schemes, it’s food, it’s almost never music.” – Nico

Film scores

“Film music should have the same relationship to the film drama that somebody's piano playing in my living room has on the book I am reading.” - Igor

People often ask me if it’s some sort of dream to be involved in the movie business, but it’s not really. I’m not an enormous movies fan. I feel like I have something better to do for two hours. [Most film scores are] just explicit manipulation.” – Nico

The music they DON’T like

“Every couple of years someone sues someone else for having ripped off their song, and I always follow those cases very intently. Now, it’s Joe Satriani v Coldplay, which is hilarious. The thing with Coldplay is: the reason their music is so successful is that it sounds like you’ve heard it before anyway. So, it’s almost like a constant intellectual copyright violation.” – Nico

“Harpists spend 90 percent of their lives tuning their harps and 10 percent playing out of tune.” – Igor

The freedom of artistic constraint

“One of the hardest things about writing music now is that structure is politically loaded, thanks in part to everybody's bad attitude in the 60s and 70s . . . I know that there’s this belief that structural knowledge can be creatively limiting, but I think the exact opposite.” – Nico

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.” – Igor

Knowing when to stop

“Too many pieces of music finish too long after the end.” – Igor

“The biggest question for me has always been, always, whatever I’m doing: is this, this thing I’m working on, is it preferable to silence? If someone tells me to write twelve minutes for orchestra, whatever I make had better to be so great that it deserves to exist. If people could spend twelve minutes sitting around in their house and have a better time, then I’ll cut it. You know, a lot of music is not preferable to silence.” – Nico

Inspiration from the past

“My love for Thomas Weelkes was like a childish celebrity infatuation. If the internet had existed, I would have been running the Weelkes fan site and moderating the message boards. There was something about his 400-year-old music that felt so right in the throat and brain; I would have followed him on tour and lit my lighter during When David Heard. I'd have told all my friends that he had written the Ninth Service for me.” – Nico

“It's one of nature's ways that we often feel closer to distant generations than to the generation immediately preceding us.” – Igor

Personal indulgences

“My God, so much I like to drink Scotch that sometimes I think my name is Igor Stra-whiskey.” – Igor

“I only buy expensive food. If you’re paying an exorbitant amount of money for something, chances are it’s good.” – Nico

Don’t overthink it

“The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music they should be taught to love it instead.” – Igor

“Talking about genres is [pointless]. Pretend your mom is from India and your dad is from Iceland or wherever, and you move to New York and you’re just a young family trying to make it work and you make dinner, you have kids, and whenever people come over they talk about it being fusion-y. ‘Ohh, this is, like, India meets Iceland,’ and youre all like, ‘No, it’s just what we like making for the kids.’” - Nico


“One has a nose. The nose scents and it chooses. An artist is simply a kind of pig snouting truffles.” – Igor

“My mother goes to the store not knowing what to cook, she’ll just buy the stuff that looks good and mixes it all together into something amazing. And that’s kind of how you have to be, a mix of instinct and insight. We might be eating this cauliflower anchovy thing; even if it sounds f***ed up you know it’ll be genius by accident.” – Nico

Trends in music

“Anytime you read a sentence about classical music with the formula ‘_______ is dead’ it’s almost always written by some kind of revolutionary or reactionary or crazy person. My response to this — and really to most meta-figurations about music — is to put my fingers in my ears and apply myself to the business of continuing to write good music.” – Nico

“Conformism is so hot on the heels of the mass-produced avant-garde that the 'ins' and the 'outs' change places with the speed of Mach 3.” – Igor

The Stravinsky Project opens February 26th at the Keller Auditorium.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stravinsky Costume Renderings

Last time
we talked about all the amazing collaborators that are coming together to bring
The Stravinsky Project to the stage. Choreographers, composers, designers - when you count them all up we have over a half dozen for this one world premiere.

As promised, we are revealing some of the original costume renderings for
The Stravinsky Project from designer Morgan Walker. Feast your eyes on these beauties...

First of all, I am in love with these drawings. The sketches are so gorgeous it reminds me of my favorite time during each episode of Project Runway when everyone hunkers down for a mere seven minutes and produces amazing sketches like it's nothing. Also, these are the most avant-garde costumes to come out of the OBT costume shop in some time, maybe ever. Second runner up might be these from Julia Adam's Angelo, which featured removable felt panels - but they are still pretty standard compared to these Stravinsky renderings.

Just as fascinating are the references I'm seeing in the drawings: can-can girls, kits, hoop skirts... superheros? What else do you see?

The Stravinsky Project
runs February 26 to March 5 at Portland's Keller Auditorium.

More posts about The Stravinsky Project | Buy Tickets to The Stravinsky Project