The Philharmonia’s 2016 series Myths and Rituals seeks to uncover the whole depth of Stravinsky’s oeuvre over five themed concerts, all conducted by their artistic director Esa-Pekka Salonen. A formidable composer himself, Salonen’s admiration for Stravinsky has bordered on obsession, to the point that he almost bought his idol’s house. Each concert centres on a particular topic in Stravinsky’s work, often drawing together music of similar idea from across his career.
The season begins on May 15th with ‘Rituals’, which promises a crash course in the composer’s diversity. It will open with the trilling Symphonies of wind instruments (1920), a piece that had to be paused and resumed at its premiere after the audience broke into confused laughter. The serialist ballad Agon (1957) follows, before the inevitable airing of the era-defining Rite (1913).
The second concert, on 26 May, is subtitled ‘Tales’, and takes in some of the composer’s finest narrative works. Renard (1916) is a one-act drama that follows the folkloric figure Reynard the Fox, while the neo-classical Marva (1922) is a miniature opera based on a Pushkin story. Finally, the ballet cantata Les Noces (1923) takes a look at the wedding ceremony from the perspective of the bride’s duty. It has long been considered a proto-feminist piece, and has a sombre, percussion-heavy sound.
‘Faith’, on the June 2nd, sees the orchestra decamp to St John’s Smith Square for a more intimate evening of choral masterworks. There will be the late Introitus (1965), an avant-garde song dedicated to the memory of T. S. Eliot. There will be the austere Mass (1944-48), which rejects the bombast of much post-romantic choral settings for a hushed, sacred feel. And there will be the tremendous Requiem Canticles (1966), a powerful summation of the composer’s work that was performed at his own funeral. Other works are yet to be programmed.
The final two concerts both take place in September. On the 25th, ‘Myths’ will explore Stravinsky’s Grecian ballets, including Apollon musagete (1928), Persephone (1934) and Orpheus (1948). ‘Tragedy’ continues this theme with the gigantic ‘opera-oratorio’ Oedipus rex (1927), which follows Jean Cocteau’s tense retelling of the myth, before the season closes with the magisterial Symphony of Psalms (1930), a part-choral, part-instrumental delight that has long been regarded one of the composer’s peaks.
For anyone with even a passing interest in 20th century music, this represents a rare chance to discover a true titan in all his facets. And in the hands of Salonen and the Philharmonia, it’s likely to be a run of sterling performances.
|What||Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals, Royal Festival Hall|
|Where||Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
On 15 May 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
On 26 May 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
On 02 Jun 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
On 25 Sep 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
On 29 Sep 16, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Philharmonia website|