Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS), honored this summer by President Obama with the National Medal of Arts for “bringing world-class performances to our nation’s capital,” did just that on Monday as they presented the Mariinsky Orchestra in the launch of their 2013-14 season Orchestra Series. Under the baton of Music Director Valery Gergiev, the orchestra performed a glorious concert of Russian ballet music in an all-Stravinsky program that included a performance of the original score of The Firebird, as it was performed in its 1910 Paris premiere, the original 1911 score of Petrushka, and a celebratory centenary performance of The Rite of Spring.
Music Director Valery Gerigiev walked on stage to warm and welcoming applause, and sans baton or fanfare, took the downbeat almost immediately. I enjoyed watching his fluttering fingers and communication with the musicians of this wonderful orchestra. His vision for the performance was very clear to see and hear. In a way, I kept feeling as if I were listening to gypsy jazz, meaning that while every musician in the orchestra was perfectly capable and trained, that each was tuned in to an understanding that the music they were creating was much bigger than the notes that even Stravinsky said did not and could not fully represent the music as he envisioned it and in fact played it. I applaud the musicians for this, and I applaud their conductor, whose well-earned reputation as a world class musician perhaps gives him the confidence to choose this refreshing approach to Stravinsky’s masterworks.
Although I am very familiar with Stravinsky and these well known and much loved works, I have never experienced Stravinsky’s music in the way I heard and saw it performed in this concert. The concert appeared to be sold out. Both in the lobby and in the hall, everywhere I turned I could hear people speaking Russian, and they all seemed happy and proud to be welcoming the Mariinsky Orchestra (also known as the Kirov Orchestra during the Soviet era) and its Music Director Valery Gergiev to The Kennedy Center. Part of what interested me was hearing Russian music performed and conducted by Russians who not only have a unique understanding of the music and the stories and tales on which the music is based, but who are in fact one with the Mariinsky Theatre and its world renowned opera and ballet. What I saw and heard on Monday were musicians playing the music that was composed by Stravinsky, but also artists who clearly knew how to bring the stories behind the music to life by in fact becoming one with the characters that their instruments and musical parts signify in these stories.
As I was driving home after the concert, I found myself thinking how wonderful it was to walk in to The Kennedy Center on a Monday evening and to be surrounded by so many people who love and support great music, and to have the opportunity to witness live performances of this caliber. Congratulations to WPAS on a wonderful launch to their season!
Washington Performing Arts Society: The Mariinsky Orchestra played for one night only at The Kennedy Center on October 14. 2013. To find a future performance of WPAS, please visit their calendar.