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Igor Stravinsky
with Philip Glass and Robert Craft

We focus on the life and works of Igor Stravinksy in this installment of Milestones of the Millennium. Host Lisa Simeone guides us through wide-ranging examples of Stravinsky’s works, which demonstrate his vitality and versatility. We also hear interviews with Stravinsky’s protégé and student, conductor Robert Craft, and the highly acclaimed late 20th century composer, Philip Glass.

Glass says Stravinsky is the most influential composer of the 20th century and a "theater composer par excellence." In 1913, Stravinsky ushered in a new musical era with his earth-shattering "Rite of Spring," which premiered at the Champs-Elysées Theater in Paris with the Ballet Russe. The performance caused a riot in the audience, as the dancers enacted tribal rituals to Stravinsky’s primal rhythms. Stravinsky’s focus on the power of rhythm and his unique orchestration clearly established him as the first 20th century composer. According to Craft, "Rite of Spring" virtually exhausted the potential of the large orchestra—and, with it’s crashing rhythms and deafening volume, it foreshadowed World War I.

Stravinksy’s works called for instrumentation that had not been used in the 19th century. He integrated tam-tam drums and other percussion instruments, and he required violinists to play in a more percussive way. Stravinsky also employed irregular meter, as in his score for "The Firebird", which uses 7 beats per measure to create a fluid and spontaneous effect. We hear the Lullaby and Finale to the "The Firebird" performed by the Bastille Opera Orchestra with Myung-Whun Chung conducting. We also hear excerpts of Stravinsky’s 1918 "The Soldiers Tale," written for a small ensemble. Stravinsky said this work was influenced by American jazz sheet music, though at the time he had never actually heard jazz.

After World War I, Stravinsky moved to Paris and was persuaded to score a new ballet based on an Italian baroque piece. The beautiful "Pulcinella" ballet suite was one of his early neoclassical works. But, once again, Stravinsky’s unique orchestration and instrumentation left his distinctive mark on such works. We hear the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra perform two movements from "Pulcinella," a work that evokes the joy and happiness that were characteristic of Stravinsky’s own philosophy.

Stravinksy relocated again--this time to Hollywood, CA, where he lived during the 1940s. Some suggest that the constant change of scenery might account for the tremendously wide variety in Stravinsky’s works and phases. But his natural tendency to explore new concepts and creative outlets is also unquestioned. The latter might explain his taking a commission from the Barnum and Bailey Circus to compose a "Circus Polka for Young Elephants" in 1942. We listen to an uplifting 1963 recording of this light-hearted piece performed by the CBC Symphony Orchestra with the composer conducting.

Craft recalls encouraging Stravinsky to explore the 12-tone method of composition pioneered by Arnold Schoenberg. Late in life, Stravinsky mastered this complex approach and left his unique imprint in his adaptation. We also listen to Stravinsky’s "Symphony of Psalms" performed by the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Sixten Ehrling conducting.

Listen as Lisa Simeone, Philip Glass and Robert Craft guide us through the life and genius of Igor Stravinsky.

From the Milestones of the Millenium series. Note: music parts have been edited from the commentary due to internet rights issues. (This audio segment requires the free RealPlayer 5.0 or higher. You can also listen with a 14.4 connection)

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