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Mariinsky maestro Gergiev illuminates Stravinsky path from Romantic to revolutionary
Mariinsky is a Russian synonym for excellence. Whenever the Mariinsky Orchestra performs its magnificent repertoire led by the world-class conductor Valery Gergiev, the audience marvels. So it will on Monday when the Washington Performing Arts Society welcomes them to the Kennedy Center for an evening of three major works by composer Igor Stravinsky.
“The Firebird,” “Petrouchka” and “The Rite of Spring” are all ballet scores first performed in Paris by the Ballets Russes. Mr. Gergiev has chosen to present them in chronological order to illustrate Stravinsky’s creative development from purveyor of Romanticism to the musical revolutionary whose innovations heralded the 21st century.
“This program is a celebration of Stravinsky,” Mr. Gergiev told The Washington Times on Wednesday. He was speaking from New York, where the orchestra presented the same program at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, followed by two other concerts featuring Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, respectively.
“A composer like Stravinsky gives us vast choices and opportunities to share his music with the world,” Mr. Gergiev said. “He wrote these works for the Russian ballet and with them made huge progress in new directions. I hope for the same festive mood they bring each time they are performed.
“He admired Debussy and was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov, so their influences of melody and harmony are heard in the music based on the fairy tale ‘The Firebird.’ When we play ‘Petrouchka,’ I make sure the audience sees his continuing development through the theatrical way he expresses the funny and sacred moments of the story about a puppet. Stravinsky is a man of the theater who orchestrates with color. His compositions are like a tree, a wonderful tree with many leaves. It makes a beautiful view.”
For “The Rite of Spring,” which he based on tribal rituals of pagan times that climaxed with a human sacrifice, Stravinsky composed unusual rhythms, meter changes and chords so dissonant that even the musicians at first thought the notes they played were wrong. The premiere in April 1913 caused a tremendous furor; a century later, the work is hailed for its importance in establishing new musical boundaries.
The name Mariinsky goes back to 1860, when the Mariinsky Theatre was opened in St. Petersburg and named for its patron, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, wife of Czar Alexander II. The city was regarded as a major center for the arts well before that time. In 1783, Catherine the Great established the Imperial opera and ballet theater, the forerunner of the Bolshoi Theatre. The ballet company, theater, and orchestra retained the name Mariinsky until the Bolshevik Revolution, when it was renamed Kirov for the mayor of the city rechristened as Leningrad. After Leningrad became St. Petersburg once again, the name Mariinsky was restored.
Since 1988, Mr. Gergiev has been the artistic director of both the Mariinsky Ballet and Opera companies. In addition to leading them to even greater international heights, he is in charge of the chorus and Academy of Young Singers that feeds into the professional groups. Not only does he conduct major orchestras worldwide — including the London Symphony Orchestra, for which he has been principal conductor since 2007 — but he also has received dozens of awards for his musicianship and involvement in social and political causes.
Perhaps the most lasting of his accomplishments will be the Mariinsky Theatre. He supervised the reconstruction of the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall to completion in 2006. Since then, it has been one of the highlights of the city, attracting visitors from throughout the world.
“My room in the building is 12 meters from the place where Stravinsky met Tchaikovsky, and the home where he lived with his parents is only a few steps away,” Mr. Gergiev said. “There are many memories in the theater and concert hall of the great musicians whose compositions were performed here. To make certain that the audiences will continue to come in the future, I spend a great deal of time programming concerts for children.
“In St. Petersburg, there are about 500 schools, each with 100 to 200 students who never went to the Mariinsky Opera House with their families. Now we do our best to organize groups from the age of 5 or 6 to start coming to the theater to see ‘Petrouchka,’ ‘The Nutcracker’ and other ballets, both those choreographed by Nijinsky and some newer productions, as well. All are visual and take the children on a glorious historical journey and give them a fresh look at sets and costumes by great Russian designers. Under my watch, they will stay and not disappear.”
WHERE: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW
WHEN: Monday at 7:30 p.m.
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