Concert review

“The Rite of Spring” provoked a famous riot at the premiere in 1913 — but 106 years later, Stravinsky’s iconic score drew riotous applause at the Seattle Symphony.

The applause on Thursday evening was not only for the exemplary performance, but also for the extraordinary presentation that preceded it: a revelation of the folk melodies and motifs that Stravinsky incorporated into his groundbreaking work.

Music director Thomas Dausgaard is a conductor who is always driven to look beyond the score to discover what inspired it. In this case, Stravinsky’s influences were Russian folk tunes and motifs, revealed here in a beautiful and effective presentation that was almost like a musical pageant. Juliana & PAVA, performers of traditional vocal and instrumental Russian music, processed in brilliantly colorful folk attire down the Benaroya Hall aisles to the stage, taking up positions with their folk instruments (including hurdy-gurdy, balalaika, horns and pipes, among others).

Juliana & PAVA, an ensemble that performs traditional vocal and instrumental Russian music, helped Seattle Symphony explore the motifs and melodies that inspired Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” (Carlin Ma)
Juliana & PAVA, an ensemble that performs traditional vocal and instrumental Russian music, helped Seattle Symphony explore the motifs and melodies that inspired Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” (Carlin Ma)

They played and sang ancient Russian folk motifs, followed immediately by Dausgaard and the orchestra performing Stravinsky’s version of the same motifs in excerpts from the “Rite of Spring” score. The transitions were almost seamless, and the original folk tunes were compellingly sung. Suddenly the “Rite” took on another layer of significance: not just amazing and challenging music, but also a work deeply connected to the music of historic Russia. Not surprisingly, this presentation got an enthusiastic standing ovation.

After intermission, Dausgaard and the orchestra performed the full “Rite of Spring” score, 32 minutes of swirling tension and drama and virtuoso playing (starting right off with Seth Krimsky’s subtle, sinuous bassoon solo). Dausgaard announced from the stage that this was the first time the 1920 version of the score was performed in Seattle. It was a high-intensity event, driven by Dausgaard’s precise, dramatic and communicative conducting. And for this audience, the performance took on more power as the listeners heard again those folk motifs woven into Stravinsky’s score.

Thomas Dausgaard conducts Seattle Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night. (Carlin Ma)
Thomas Dausgaard conducts Seattle Symphony Orchestra on Thursday night. (Carlin Ma)

Seldom does a work offer so many opportunities to hear important solos from principal players, particularly the woodwinds, who rose admirably to the occasion.

The program’s opener, Scriabin’s colorful “The Poem of Ecstasy,” would have been the centerpiece of most concerts, were it not upstaged here by the “Rite of Spring.” Dausgaard led a questing, searching performance of the kaleidoscopic Scriabin score, bringing to life its twists and turns with the grand finale underscored by the mighty Watjen Concert Organ (played by Joseph Adam). David Gordon’s trumpet solos were particularly commendable.

_____

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra presents works of Stravinsky and Scriabin; Thursday evening (repeats 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23); Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $42-$134; 206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org