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Keeping Score - Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring

Stravinsky / Sfs / Thomas
Release Date: 11/14/2006 
Label:  San Francisco Symphony   Catalog #: 14  
Composer:  Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



KEEPING SCORE: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring & Michael Tilson Thomas (narr), cond; San Francisco SO SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY 60014 (DVD: 109:44)


& STRAVINSKY The Rite of Spring. The Firebird: Excerpts


Keeping Score is a series of DVD productions by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in which its conductor explains and plays Read more musical works; two others are Beethoven’s Eroica and Copland and the American Sound . This one has two major components, each just over 50 minutes in length.


Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is an exploration of the background and the music of the 20th century’s most influential work. Tilson Thomas begins in St. Petersburg: the Hermitage, the Imperial (now Mariinsky) Theater; and all of the city’s most beautiful domes. We examine a costume that Stravinsky’s father wore in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada. MTT leads us into Rimsky’s apartment, where weekly soirees (everything in St. Petersburg society was French) featured the latest in new music; we also see photos of the young Stravinsky in that room (the wallpaper has been refreshed but not changed), watching and listening to his elders. We visit the country dacha (or one like it) where the Stravinsky family summered, and we hear two Russian folk singers there. Finally, we follow Diaghilev to Paris, where everything in high society was Russian. In the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, light from on high shines down onto seat 20, row M, where Stravinsky sat—briefly—during the 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring . We follow Michael (and Igor) backstage, where the conductor gets up on a chair, as choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky did, and shouts cue numbers in Russian to dancers who could no longer hear Pierre Monteux’s orchestra over the din of the rioting audience. This is a dazzling recreation of history, beautifully conceived and presented.


MTT now tells us about the music: how it works, what it means, how a performance is created. He sits at the piano, playing, talking, and singing; he stands at the podium, explaining to us and to a Family Concert audience. He is assisted by members of the orchestra, who—in rehearsal rooms and on stage—tell us their views of the music and their parts in performing it. We watch not only the orchestra but also sections of the famous Joffrey Ballet recreation of the original choreography, sets, and costumes. All this transpires without resorting to any technical musical jargon; we do get explanations from the players as to why the high opening bassoon part and its answers from English horn and other winds sound so exotic even today. We also learn of and hear Stravinsky’s double-octave duets by E? and bass clarinets, both alone in rehearsal and with full orchestra in performance. MTT tells us of playing for Stravinsky as a youth. He concludes that The Rite may not shock any more, but it remains as exciting and exotic as ever.


The bonus, Stravinsky in Concert consists of performances of the final 12 minutes of The Firebird (Katshchei’s Infernal Dance, Lullaby, and Finale) and the complete Rite of Spring , given before an audience in San Francisco’s Davies Hall. Careful and accurate, specializing in clarity rather than imagination, they suit the whole concept of learning about the music. The camera jumps around, but only as needed for this music; on the whole, the presentation is well organized and smoothly presented. There are a few extras: trailers for the other two DVDs plus printed information about the series, the conductor, and the orchestra. The high-definition video comes in a 16:9 format, with a choice of stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish, two versions of Chinese, or none. Audio and video quality are extraordinary, providing amazing detail of sight and sound, even on an analog 32-inch television set with a few small speakers. Five-channel surround sound adds a terrific wallop to the music without sacrificing clarity, but it does blur the narrative voices. A ff bass-drum thwack is ever so much more satisfying when one sees as well as hears it. Wonderful stuff, this!


FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

1. Le sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911-1913 
2. Firebird: Excerpt(s) by Igor Stravinsky
Conductor:  Michael Tilson Thomas
Orchestra/Ensemble:  San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909-1910; Russia 

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