Stravinsky’s Ballet & Theater Music on Parlance Chamber Concerts

by Michael Parloff, Artistic Director, Parlance Chamber Concerts

On Sunday afternoon, December 15 at 3 PM, Parlance Chamber Concerts will present music from three of Igor Stravinsky’s iconic, early 20th-century ballet and theater scores: the dazzling Piano Suite from his 1911 ballet, Petrushka; the witty Suite Italienne from the neoclassical score to his 1920 ballet Pulcinella; and a fully narrated and choreographed performance of his seminal 1918 chamber theater work, The Soldier’s Tale, the Faustian story of a young soldier who makes a deal with the Devil.

These pioneering works will be performed by ten virtuoso artists, including British actor-narrator Benjamin Luxon, award-winning violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Andrew Tyson, and dancer Anni Crofut. The ensemble will feature leading members of the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society.

About the Program

Stravinsky’s groundbreaking 1911 ballet, Petrushka, was premiered in Paris at Serge Diaghilev’s artistic crucible, the Ballets Russes. The legendary impresario was so taken with Stravinsky’s incandescent score that he wrote, “Petrushka is such a work of genius that I cannot contemplate anything beyond it.” The ballet recounts the haunting story of love and jealousy among three puppets endowed with life by an evil sorcerer at the 1830 Shrovetide Fair in Saint Petersburg. Stravinsky’s kinetic score evokes the full swirl of life and human emotion, ranging from the heights of merriment to the depths of despair.

A decade after the ballet’s premiere, Stravinsky transformed over half of the music into a blazing piano suite of which he later wrote, “My intention was to give virtuoso pianists a piece of a certain breadth that would permit them to enhance their modern repertory and demonstrate a brilliant technique.” On Sunday afternoon, Andrew Tyson’s own brilliant technique will be richly on display in his performance of Three Movements from Petrushka.

Nine years after the Paris premiere of Petrushka, Stravinsky and Diaghilev collaborated on the charming ballet Pulcinella. In the intervening years, their Russian homeland had been decimated by revolution, their adopted European homeland ravaged by war, and Stravinsky had undergone a succession of radical aesthetic transformations. Rather than basing his new ballet on Russian folkloric elements, as he had in The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky drew fresh inspiration from Italian commedia dell’Arte characters, basing Pulcinella on the music of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and his 18th-century Italian compatriots. The sparkling, neoclassical score presents the gemlike Baroque melodies in piquantly modernist settings, marking an important artistic turning point for the chameleonic composer. He later wrote, “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late works became possible.”

In the succeeding decade, Stravinsky created many different settings of the popular music from Pulcinella, including the delightful five-movement Suite Italienne that will be performed on Sunday afternoon by violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Andrew Tyson. Suite Italienne fully captures the original ballet’s wit, elegance, and joie de vivre.

The concert will culminate with Stravinsky’s chamber theater masterpiece, The Soldier’s Tale. Despite the great successes of his early ballet scores for Diaghilev, World War I and the Russian Revolution left Stravinsky’s financial situation in shambles as he and his family took refuge in Switzerland. Casting about for creative ways to make a living, he joined forces with his novelist friend, Charles-Ferdnand Ramuz,  with whom he organized a small traveling theater troupe made up of a handful of actors and musicians. Together they created several chamber theater works that they hoped would be easily portable, enabling them to travel around to Swiss villages.

The Soldier’s Tale was inspired by an old Russian folk legend about a solider on leave. As he marches down the road toward his home village, he encounters the Devil in disguise. They strike a bargain in which the soldier trades his beloved fiddle for a magical book that will reveal the secret of acquiring unlimited wealth. He soon finds himself prosperous but lonely and realizes that riches alone do not lead to personal or spiritual fulfillment.

Stravinsky’s ingenious music draws on Russian folk idioms and cubist parodies of early 20th-century popular dances, including waltz, tango, and ragtime music, all brilliantly scored for a stripped down jazz septet. Stravinsky and Ramuz’s original staging involved three actors performing the parts of the Narrator, Soldier and Devil, but this Sunday afternoon the versatile actor-narrator Benjamin Luxon will play all three roles. He will employ various regional British accents to evoke the voices of each character, employing his own native Cornish accent to represent the rural peasant voice of the Soldier.

Artistic Director Michael Parloff will introduce the program and the performers.

The performance will take place this Sunday, December 15, from 3:00 PM to approximately 5:00 PM.

The event will take place at West Side Presbyterian Church, 6 South Monroe Street, Ridgewood. Free parking. Tickets at the door: Adults $40; Seniors (65+): $30; Young Adults (21 – 39): $20; Students (under 21): $10

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