The Stanford Symphony Orchestra performs a stimulating rendition of “The Rite of Spring”


On Friday, music enthusiasts gathered under the roof of the Bing Concert Hall for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra (SSO) Winter Concert. The show included the “Walton Viola Concerto”, performed by Addison Jadwin ’23, and Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring”. As always, this year’s SSO Winter Concert moved listeners with its masterful and compelling performance – a feast not only for the ears but also for the eyes.

SSO is one of the premier collegiate orchestras in the United States, and performing as an ensemble has become one of the most sought-after opportunities for music students. SSO concerts have also become an opportunity for faculty members and parents to experience world-class live music.

After a brief intermission, we arrived at perhaps the most anticipated part of the program, the six movements of the orchestral work by 20th-century Russian composer Igor Stravinsky for the ballet “The Rite of Spring”, whose revolutionary nature caused a riot when it premiered. The piece pioneered the use of polymeter (multiple time signatures in one phrase) and innovative harmonies, depicting a pagan ritual in which dancers performed mystical rituals of nature worship, including the sacrifice of ‘a virgin. SSO’s performance captivated the audience with its kaleidoscopic sounds and striking physical delivery. With surprising phrases from different sections of the orchestra played by instruments rarely incorporated into compositions, such as the English horn or the alto flute, I found those around me searching for the origin of certain sounds. . As the string players took over, we were again impressed by the uniformity of movement of their bows, which were dance moves in themselves.

The piece was a dialogue between winds and strings; the former introducing light, multi-layered melodies reminiscent of the chirping of birds in the forest and the latter responding with heavy beats that depict mysterious human activities. I was stunned when the orchestra launched into the “Augurs of Spring” section, with all instruments pumping out a menacing one-note rhythm that sent every corner of the concert hall buzzing. It was produced solely from stringed instruments unleashing their wild potential, virtually without the aid of bass or drums – a testament to the power of nature which was precisely the theme of “The Rite of Spring”. . To say the sound was majestic would be an understatement. The beat seemed to seep into your skin and beat your heart even after you left the performance. Although there were no ballet dancers at the concert, you almost wanted to get up from your seat and stomp the beat yourself to mimic the force and passion with which the string players wielded their bows.

In an age of climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and countless other humanitarian crises, the connection to nature that underlies “The Rite of Spring” is as relevant, if not more, to us than it is. was for its original 20th-century audience. SSO’s technically masterful rendition reminded us of both the destructive power of nature and our unbreakable bond with it. In the midst of a worldwide cultural embargo against Russian art in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I particularly appreciated director Paul Philips for delivering this great piece of music to the Stanford community, as the piece should not be defined by its Russian origins alone. . Instead, it is a treasure of humanity that must be kept alive to inspire generations to come. As I walked out of the Bing concert hall into the cold night, I was left in deep thought, completely satisfied, except for the desire to see “The Rite of Spring” performed live again as a ballet production. complete.

SSO also impressed listeners with precision and storytelling in the first half of the program. The opening piece of the three-part programme, George Walker’s “Icarus in Orbit”, told the Greek myth of Icarus ignoring his father’s warning, leading him to melt his wings in the sun and drown. The whole thing impressed me with its wide range of dynamics, as evidenced by the stark contrast between the piece’s peaceful initial opening and the dissonant fortissimo at the climax – a section of “controlled chaos”, embodying the tension between the father and son. Hearing the colorful tone created by the melodic percussion that mimicked water drops or upward spiraling melodies, I could imagine a movie scene in my head – Icarus hovering arrogantly in the sky, until he falls through levels of cloud to its demise – all against the backdrop of thundering discord.

(Photo: ULA LUCAS/The Stanford Daily).

The ensemble quickly moved from “Icarus in Orbit” to its second piece, the three-movement viola concerto composed by William Walton, with the 2020 winner of the annual concerto competition, Jadwin, as soloist. After slumping in my seat, I sat up in anticipation of the show. After a soothing introduction from the orchestra, Jadwin entered his middle register with a warm tone, drawing the audience in. Unlike the flashy solo violin concertos, the viola melody was soothing and narrative, containing heartfelt introspection to unveil to the audience through low whispers. The solo viola sometimes mingled with the orchestra and the audience had to concentrate fully to discern his voice. Jadwin often took our breath away with his curious and precise rising chords, making us wonder where the music would take us.

The second movement, ‘Vivo con molto preciso’, engaged the orchestra in what looked like a frantic dance. I was surprised by Jadwin’s power and passion in his series of “offensive” notes, which disturbed the listener with their aggressive shredding quality and the unabashed burst of expectation created by the preceding movement. The concerto ended with the solo viola and orchestra holding a single chord and fading into nothingness. The soloist controlled his bow with the precision of a painter’s brush until the very end, letting us catch the reverberation of the last sound in the air.

From providing an opportunity for musicians like Jadwin to showcase their talents to sparking reflections in listeners, SSO has inspired community members to celebrate their cultural heritage in light of current realities.

Editor’s note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, reflections and criticisms.

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