In the past we have chosen the five minutes we would play to allow our friends to immerse themselves in classical music, piano, opera, cello, Mozart, composers of the 21st, string quartets, tenors, Brahms, choral music, drums and symphonies.
Now let’s convince these curious friends to love Igor Stravinsky, possibly the most comprehensive and influential composer of the 20th century and an inspiration to some of George Balanchine’s ballet masterpieces. We hope you will find plenty to discover and enjoy here; Leave your favorites in the comments.
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Xian Zhang, conductor
When I think of Stravinsky, the first thing that comes to mind is the beginning of the second part of “The Rite of Spring” – “The Sacrifice”. I remember the video Leonard Bernstein made during his rehearsals and his heavy use in Disney’s “Fantasia” when dinosaurs roam the earth. It’s a quiet, tense moment after all the decibels before and after. Seeing Bernstein rehearsing and hearing how he conducts this passage underscores what is special and lively about this part of the score. To my ears it is the best example of how primitive, intuitive and wild music could be in the early 20th century.
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Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancer
I was 12 years old when I first heard this music in 1960. The ballet scores by Tchaikovsky, Glasunov, Delibes and many others were already in my bones, but that was all I had turned upside down and turned upside down. The rhythms were fresh, exciting and completely foreign. The National Ballet of Cuba was in Riga, Latvia, my hometown, and danced Balanchine’s “Apollon Musagète”, his first collaboration with Stravinsky and the ballet he later called “his artistic growing up”. He was 24, Stravinsky 46. It was from these two Russian modernists and a cast of beautiful Cuban dancers that my first intoxicating taster course came to the West.
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Stephen Walsh, Stravinsky biographer
Stravinsky’s Concerto in E flat major for 15 instruments – always known as “Dumbarton Oaks” after the Washington mansion where it was premiered in 1938 – is wonderfully typical of his so-called neoclassicism, as it is not at all classical: the model is Bach, and in any case, this model will be abandoned after the brilliant opening, an obvious nativity scene from the Third Brandenburg Concert. Stravinsky soon picked up his own small motifs, played around with them, played around with the rhythm and the bar lines and generally stimulated expectations. The first movement is one of the happiest pieces in modern music. The other two sentences are great too, but you can’t have it all.
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Anthony Tommasini, Times Chief Classical Music Critic
Led into decadence and ruin, the young Tom Rakewell, protagonist of Stravinsky’s opera “The Rake’s Progress” from 1951, is sent to an asylum and visited by the always loyal Anne Trulove. She sings him a lullaby “Gently, little boat” with words by WH Auden and Chester Kallman – music that is beguiling in its simplicity, for soprano and only two flutes. Between his stanzas, the other inmates, listening from their cells, sing choruses, wondering what these “heavenly sounds” are, bringing comfort to their “tormented brains”. Finally, Anne’s father joins her in a short, solemn duet, a farewell blessing for Tom that unfolds over steady, baroque bass lines.
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Wendy Whelan, assistant artistic director of the New York City Ballet
The “Scherzo à la Russe” is a treasure trove of great rhythms that, like so much in Stravinsky’s music, make my body want to move. This miniature piece is bursting with color, taste and refreshing juxtaposition. I first heard it as a young dancer at the School of American Ballet, where I learned how Balanchine formed music into three-dimensional shapes. Just like his choreography, this music is built on complementary but opposing forces. Elegant and powerful, funny and lively, the piece is a perfect puzzle of musical ideas. For me it is part music box and part marching band, played with the accuracy of a Swiss watch and the taste of a spicy Russian hors d’oeuvre. A jewel that makes you want more.
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Zachary Woolfe, Classical Music Editor for the Times
The premise of this ballet oratorio could hardly be cozier: everyone is preparing for a provincial Russian wedding. But Stravinsky gave even the sociable village life the mysterious, wild beauty of “The Rite of Spring”, which he had written a few years earlier. Although he was considering a huge “Rite” -size orchestra for “Les Noces”, he eventually reduced the score to parts and drums, including four pianos. The result is rich and simple, primitive and complex. Stravinsky resorted to folklore and showed the timelessness in the heart of modernity.
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Seth Colter Walls, author of the Times
From 1918 onwards, Stravinsky referred to early jazz in works such as “Ragtime” and “L’Histoire du Soldat”. But in his “Ebony Concerto” – which he wrote in 1945 for the group of clarinetist Woody Herman – he brought American elements to the table most effectively. Without pretending to be jazz, it honors the modernity inherent in this genre.
Before the clarinet can shine, Stravinsky shows a feeling for the division of the works between trumpet and reed sections, a riff on swing-era orchestras. Accelerations (and feinting) in the first movement suggest an affinity for the bebop of Charlie Parker, who admired Stravinsky. The mixture of curved melody and exuberant structure is reminiscent of the danceable exuberance of his ballets.
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Greg Tate, writer and musician
Trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes first led us to Stravinsky’s nasty, labyrinthine conglomeration “The Rite of Spring”. But it was the video of the dance theater climber Pina Bausch from 1975, the fever dream adaptation, the stage covered with wet earth, that made us realize that “The Rite” made the violence of nature in bloom and sexual assault analogue.
In 2004, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber asked Butch Morris to adapt six of the most vicious motifs from the first movement of the work and then develop a signature studio “line”. The result, “The Rites,” addresses the blackest aspect of Stravinsky: the inner friction between his mastery of the European form and his alienation in Hollywood as a non-Western exile. George Lewis once told us that jazz musicians love “The Rite” because it has so much “booty” and Stravinsky was booted with the underdog blues in La La Land. Postmodern blacks can identify themselves – and can restart and re-groove with Bruh Igor’s funky symphonic Mutha with guitars, cellos, farfisas and turntables.
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Ethan Iverson, pianist
Stravinsky grumpily wrote of his octet: “In general, I think that music can only solve musical problems and nothing else. Neither the literary nor the picturesque can be of interest to music. ”There is no reason to agree, because the middle movement of his first classicist masterpiece has one of his greatest melodic inspirations, a simple march that is easy due to an unspecified weakness seems offended. As the variations gain momentum, a pair of these Stravinsky instruments, the bassoon, create an irresistible bass line. It’s 1922 baby
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Patricia Kopatchinskaya, violinist
Hey, Petrushka! What works? Have you exchanged the elemental force of the “Spring Rite” for a baroque costume? How did you get your soldier friend’s violin soul back that the devil won in a card game? The bow inexorably saws the strings, like a mad tightrope walker. Delirium! Brass cackle like chickens; Do you remember the Russian Muzhik: your first musical impression in childhood, he sat on a tree trunk and made indecent noises with his hands. Well, now he’s laughing from heaven – dancing with Bach. Fools, find me a balalaika in New York!
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Joshua Barone, editor of the Times
Stravinsky was Russian. But in his 88 years he was also a Parisian, an Angeleno, a New Yorker. And his music has a similarly wide range – even within a certain form like ballet, in which his work includes the explosive “Rite of Spring”, the neoclassical “Apollo” and the serialist “Agon”. He wasn’t just a chameleon, however. Listen to this sentence from the “Symphony of Psalms”: It is firmly neoclassical, an ingeniously designed double fugue with vocal lines that are layered in dense counterpoint and satisfactory resolution. But even if you recall a much earlier period in music history, Stravinsky’s sound is, as always, absolutely distinctive and extremely modern.
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Javier C. Hernández, classical music and dance reporter for the Times
The “Suite Italienne” is a collection of themes from Stravinsky’s ballet “Pulcinella”, which was partly inspired by Italian baroque music. While the “Suite Italienne” may seem deceptively traditional at first glance, the composer’s disrespectful streak shines through. In this recording of the last movement by cellist Gregor Piatigorsky (who worked with Stravinsky on the arrangement) and violinist Jascha Heifetz, the music is stately and reserved before it culminates in euphoric fanfare.
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Beatrice Rana, pianist
The piano transcription of “Petrushka” represents a kind of Everest for a pianist. It not only requires enormous challenges in terms of virtuosity, but also demands a whole world of colorful dances and folklore from the hands of a single musician. When I started learning it I thought the orchestral score would be my main inspiration, but one day I found an excerpt from Nureyev dancing petrushka; Never before had I understood this doll’s musical portrait of the Incarnation so well. These five minutes tell in the most touching way the timeless tragedy of the human spirit.
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David Allen, Times writer
Ascending lyric poetry is perhaps not the most representative aspect of Stravinsky’s music, although it had its moments. But the end of his classical ballet “Apollon Musagète”, which he completed in 1928, has something enchanting about it. For strings, shards of its characteristic edge sparkle in the sound, but this is music that seems to float high in the clouds, troubled but free, up there with the gods. There are days when I can fly it for hours, let alone five minutes.