“Persephone” is just one example of the inventive ways Seattle Symphony and other orchestras are presenting some of their concerts these days.

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Igor Stravinsky famously felt that “music expresses itself” — essentially, that understanding a given piece of music requires little beyond what we hear when it’s played. Which may explain why the Russian composer had such difficulty collaborating with French poet André Gide in the early 1930s to create “Persephone,” a mashup of music, theater, song and dance.

The two fought through the process of matching lyrics to music, leading Stravinsky to snipe at Gide about their “complete absence of rapport, which obviously originated in your attitude.”

But “Persephone,” which the Seattle Symphony is performing at two sold-out shows at Benaroya Hall on April 26 and 28, might be the Stravinsky work that most proves him wrong about music speaking for itself. After a lukewarm reception at its initial performance, the piece and its unusual staging rarely resurfaced over the following decades. Its shifting rhythms are sometimes criticized as inconsistent and hard to follow. And the narrative it depicts — a young woman trapped in the Underworld — almost begs for visuals.

The Seattle and Oregon symphonies’ solution: ask famed theater designer Michael Curry, whose work includes Broadway’s “Frozen” and “The Lion King,” to portray Stravinsky’s mythic tale using life-size puppets.

Expect a crowded stage during this “Persephone,” co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and Oregon Symphony. Puppets, dancers, singers (from Seattle Symphony Chorale and Northwest Boychoir) and the full orchestra will share the space.

“Persephone” is just one example of the inventive ways Seattle Symphony and other orchestras are presenting some of their concerts these days.

The vast majority of Seattle Symphony’s concerts will still feature a black-clad orchestra alone on stage, with sound as the primary sensation, said Elena Dubinets, Seattle Symphony’s vice president of artistic planning and creative projects.

But she said orchestras are looking for ways to entice new audiences and bring new experiences to subscribers who have heard the same music played the same way time and again.

Visual storytelling

Although Curry loves the composer’s work, “I always felt that symphonic music can sometimes benefit from visual storytelling, and that’s really the case with Stravinsky’s ‘Persephone,’” he said in an interview from New York, where he’s busy working on four new shows.

Curry is often in New York, creating sets and puppets for plays, musicals and big-budget productions. But much of the time, he works out of a warehouse-like studio near Portland. His native Northwest, which he calls “the most photogenic, painterly place I’ve ever experienced,” helps inspire him.

A puppet, a human dancer and a narrator will all portray Persephone, daughter of goddess Demeter, as she forges a new identity after the gods conspire to send her to the Underworld.

Curry designed the puppet Persephone with flowing hair and brightly colored clothing, and he built her to move in a magical way. “I wanted her to look like a spirit, to have this ephemeral, ethereal quality so she would look otherworldly,” he said. But he also saw in Persephone’s tale a story of a woman not in control of her own life. “She was manipulated by the gods to the point where the use of puppetry became a very good metaphor for the pure manipulation of this girl.”

Curry wanted to empower this young woman whose fate is outside her control — and whose relationship with Pluto, god of the Underworld, is also nonconsensual. In Gide’s retelling, over time, she adapts into a new role as queen of the Underworld.

“The interplay between the real world and what is more or less a fairy tale is what’s interesting about this story, and it gave Michael Curry a possibility to imagine the characters and to represent the characters in multiple ways,” said Seattle Symphony’s Dubinets.

After its premiere in Portland last year, Oregon ArtsWatch critic Bruce Browne praised Curry’s “Persephone”: “Ghostly kites, tree roots morphing into hairdos, and eerily human puppets were stunning, bringing the mythology to life.”

The all-Stravinsky program would be unusual even if Persephone never took the stage; it outlines the composer’s long and ever-evolving career. Beyond the “Song of the Volga Boatmen” are the composer’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments and his “Les noces.” The latter two feature a perennial Seattle favorite, pianist Marc-André Hamelin, first as a soloist and then as part of a four-piano ensemble for a wedding ballet.

The wedding piece required an unusual combination: the four pianos plus percussion and Russian folk singers. For that last element, the Seattle Symphony is bringing in the highly regarded Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, which has long worked to preserve traditional folklore, dance and music.

The symphony could have based a program on any one of these elements alone, but “we said ‘Let’s go for it,’” Dubinets said. “We decided to let our audience experience the wealth of Stravinsky’s legacy in a way they will remember forever.”

Multimedia programs

“Persephone” is just one of the multimedia programs the symphony has crafted in recent years. Designer Anne Patterson created costumes and flowing video and fabric patterns for a semi-staged rendition of Maurice Ravel’s one-act opera “L’enfant et les sortilèges” last year. The Bearded Ladies, a gender-bending cabaret troupe, performed as part of the symphony’s casual [untitled] series. Acrobats and aerialists have joined the orchestra on stage a few times, and will again for “Cirque Goes Broadway” next season.

Curry says he would like to work with more orchestras, especially given the changing entertainment landscape.

“Today’s audience is a little better at multitasking,” he said, with an “ability, and almost necessity, to see variation.”

Purists might prefer the traditional orchestra setup, with no extra adornment. But “symphony subscribers are thinning and thinning and thinning, and we need a new audience, to a certain extent,” Curry said. “I don’t think that orchestras should change, but I think that they should adapt and do special pieces like this that bring in a different audience than would normally come in.”

Seattle Symphony isn’t the only orchestra mixing things up. “We’re definitely at the forefront, but other orchestras are definitely doing it. We keep seeing examples of what we do all over the place,” Dubinets said.

Given the money, talent and buy-in from artists and audiences this sort of staging requires, it’s not surprising that San Francisco Symphony is among America’s most innovative orchestras. It holds its regular SoundBox series, equivalent to Seattle Symphony’s [untitled] series, in a space decked out with in-house projection systems. It also puts on grand programs like last year’s Music for a Modern Age, which matched classical and jazz music with video, shifting light and dancers who flirted with the featured pianist.

Creative staging seems to work. Dubinets said patrons still go out of their way to tell her how much they loved Ravel’s opera, a year later.

“Persephone” was a hit for younger patrons in Portland, Curry said. “We had tremendous interest from the younger audience, and evidence that they really liked being in those seats, and they came back for the rest of the season.”

Oregon Symphony premiered “Persephone” last year as part of its SoundSights series, which also presented the Bartók opera “Bluebeard’s Castle” amid glass artwork by Seattle’s Dale Chihuly as well as Messiaen’s sprawling “Turangalîla,” with projected animation throughout the hall.

Matthew Andrews, a Portland composer and musician, wrote of “Turangalîla”: “The big trouble with this concert is that now I want every orchestra concert to be like this.”

Curry will be pleased if audiences feel the same way about “Persephone.” His goal is to evoke a reaction that transcends the music: “When you wake up and you’ve just had a fantastic dream, one that carries with you through the rest of the day and potentially enriches and changes your viewpoint of your life, that’s what I want.”