‘The Rite of Spring’ is Igor Stravinsky’s lasting challenge


Although a complete picture of Igor Stravinsky’s personal and creative life is likely to remain a mystery, one thing is certain. The composer’s achievement with “The Rite of Spring” in 1913 challenged the musical establishment no less than Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony did more than a century earlier.

“There’s something unbelievable about how this man who wrote the early, extremely boring Symphony in E flat, and the terrible Piano Sonata could have gone from those to the ‘Firebird,’ and then compose the ‘Rite,’ a piece so utterly different and new,” said Robert Craft, a conductor and Stravinsky’s longtime associate.

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In his new book, “Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories,” Craft writes that the score was still being greeted with derision in 1940. The composer’s second wife, Vera, complained that during recording sessions the New York Philharmonic insulted Stravinsky, mocking “the dissonances and the difficulties of the changing meters.”

According to Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the “Rite” at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday, the piece still challenges modern orchestras.

“I remember the first time I conducted the ‘Rite’ more than half a century ago,” Frühbeck said. “I needed two weeks to prepare it. This piece, no matter how many times you have performed it, is a monster who can eat you in one moment. There are so many places that are dangerous. This will never be a normal piece.”

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Stravinsky, who died in 1971, never surpassed the revolutionary success of his “Rite.” In fact, he was often asked to conduct his three great early ballets, “The Firebird,” “Petrushka” and the “Rite,” at the expense of showcasing newer works.

“The late music will catch on, is catching on,” said Craft, who champions the largely 12-tone “Introitus: T.S. Eliot in memoriam” and “Requiem Canticles.”

“That’s the greatness of Stravinsky,” Craft said. “Right down to the last years of his life, he was doing wonderful things.”


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