By Jonathan Odden, Daily Arts Writer
Published October 26, 2012
On a crisp spring night in 1913, a packed and expectant audience watched Hill Auditorium’s inaugural performance by the Chicago Symphony. Little did they know, only two weeks later and halfway around the world, a ballet as infamous as it is famous would premier and change the landscape of the 20th century.
Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg
Saturday at 8 p.m.
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That piece was Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre Du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) and now, as The University Musical Society remembers 100 years of Hill Auditorium, Stravinsky’s masterpiece will be celebrated in concert on Oct. 27.
“When it became clear we wanted to showcase the Stravinsky piece as part of the anniversary calendar, there was really only one orchestra to turn to — The Mariinsky Orchestra,” said Michael Kondziolka, UMS programming director.
The orchestra, known during the Soviet era as the Kirov Orchestra, is the in-house orchestra for the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. The theater, which is iconic in Russia as well as internationally, is also an opera house and hosts a ballet company. Originally the Imperial Theater of the Tsars, the theater and orchestra have a colorful and expansive history.
“This is the orchestra that Tchaikovsky wrote all his symphonies for and the ballet company to which he wrote all his ballets for as well,” Kondziolka said. “There is not an orchestra more important to the Russian classical tradition.”
As famous as the orchestra has become, the work of conductor Valery Gergiev stands out as influencial and prolific, explained Kondziolka.
“Valery Gergiev is more than a conductor. He is a real cultural leader. Obviously, he’s trained as a musician, conductor; he leads the orchestra deftly, but he also leads the cultural conversation in St. Petersburg.”
To get a sense of how famous and respected Gergiev is in the classical world, Kondiolka explained that Gergiev is additionally the principle conductor of the London Philharmonic and was asked to be the associate music director of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
“Here is a man as internationally recognizable for his presence in classical music and the Russian tradition as the orchestra he conducts,” Kondziolka said. “And he is the chief advocate for its continuation and valuation into the future.”
In addition to the Mariinky Orchestra, Russian pianist Denis Matsuev will make a return to Hill Auditorium to perform alongside the Orchestra during Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor, Op. 35.
“Denis Matsuev, who is in every way a protégé of Gergiev, is a gargantuan Russia piano virtuoso,” Kondziolka said. “He has a technical facility on the keyboard that is in the tradition of the great Russian pianists, like Rachmaninov, Prokofiev or Horowitz. He can play anything and make it look easy — it’s staggering.”
When Matsuev premiered for the first time in 1913, it was an instantaneous and total standing ovation by every person in Hill, even though it was in the middle of the concert, explained Kondziolka.
In the concert companion for the show, the Shostakovich is about clashing musical styles. It describes how the opening, after flourish and fanfare, is melodic and lyrical. This is followed by a quick-tempoed second theme, which crashes into a second movement that sways like a “melancholic waltz.” From here the piece moves to an unaccompanied piano prelude before quickly descending into a furious Allegro con brio.
Before the complex journey of the concerto, the concert opens with Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), an 1898 piece by Richard Strauss. Strauss, who bridged the end of the 19th century into the first 40 years of the 20th century, was famous for composing Opera’s and tone poems, explained Kondziolka.
“What the tone poem Ein Heldenleben is, is essentially the name given to a large piece of orchestral music that is telling a story though or conveying a concept through music.