The Rite of Spring in Concert

Nicholas Roerich, The Ritual Circle

The latest installment of David Nice’s splendid Russian Music course featured conductor Andrew Litton as the invited guest. After 35 years of conducting orchestral music, Litton has taken up the baton at the New York City Ballet, a staple of which is music of Stravinsky, choreographed by George Balanchine.

The New York City Ballet, with Balanchine still at the helm, constituted my introduction to live ballet performance. I loved those ballets, precisely for the reason Litton conveyed in class. As he put it, Balanchine’s belief was “Dance to the music; don’t music to the dance.”

While the New York City Ballet repertoire includes numerous ballets that Balanchine choreographed to Stravinsky scores, The Rite of Spring isn’t one of them. We learned that Balanchine said of the Rite that it’s perfect as it is and doesn’t need dance. Apparently Stravinsky said something to the same effect on first hearing a concert performance of the work.

Note: Nicholas Roerich designed the original sets for The Rite of Spring. The image at the head of the post is one of them. Roerich wrote to Diaghilev of his artistic vision for the Rite:

I have been studying Russian (and Slavic) antiquity for twenty years now, and I find beautiful traits in it, wonderful scenes which the pubic must be reminded of. In the whirlwind of contemporary life the public often forgets about the distant life when people know how to rejoice, when they understood the beautiful cosmogony of Earth and Sky. In the ballet Sacre du Printemps, conceived by Stravinsky and myself, I wanted to present scenes of the joy of Earth and the exultation of Sky in a Slavic context. [cite]

Listening List

The Rite of Spring, Part 2, The Sacrifice, with Andrew Litton conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

The whole performance is available on Spotify, together with a concert performance of Petrushka, here.

Bonus Track (with thanks to David Nice for locating this video)

More Bonus Tracks

Andrew Litton walks us through Gershwin’s Concerto in F

Andrew Litton conducts and performs Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm

8 thoughts on “The Rite of Spring in Concert

  1. David Nice

    Thanks for unearthing more Littoniana. He is such an energy – I’m still buzzing from last Thursday, but that’s Stravinsky too. Today I listened to AL’s Prokofiev Symphonies 1, 2 and 3 for the BBC Music Magazine. Not bad that it starts with the best ‘Classical’ Symphony I’ve ever heard. And I’m not saying that because of the new chumocracy… Can’t wait for more from him in two days’ time.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Well, I can only state, once again, that your course is the gift that keeps on giving and giving. Litton is a delight, and I very much look forward to the next class!

  2. Curt Barnes

    Funny, I was just listening to Martinu’s La Revue de Cuisine and enjoying his “Charleston” section. Maybe the long arm of Gershwin influence? Thanks for all three of these compelling excerpts, Sue. You always find remarkable ones! Now I have to run off and hear Concerto in F with new ears…

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      OK, first off, kudos for starting a sentence with “Funny, I was just listening to Martinu’s La Revue de Cuisine.” Truly, how many people worldwide can say that?? Yes, I was very taken with Litton’s demonstrations of the Charleston in Concerto in F & also look forward to listening with new ears.

  3. David Nice

    Having watched Andrew’s marvellous (if too brief) observations on the glorious Gershwin Piano Concerto, I wanted to hear him play it all. I didn’t find that on YouTube, but by serendipity I’d finished watching a not-bad performance by Yuja Wang with Michael Tilson Thomas and the LSO when the next one started automatically. And this is extraordinary: Seiji Ozawa conducting the Berlin Phiiharmonic alongside the revelatory Marcus Roberts Trio in a performance which, with added improvisations and transitions, extends to about 45 minutes. Not all of it works, but I’m so grateful for the chance to have seen it: As with Neeme Järvi’s Waldbühne Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, I was moved to tears by seeing all those people of all ages packed together. Maybe next summer it will be possible again.

    Anyway, I’d be interested in your thoughts once you’ve watched it.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: Can’t thank you enough for the introduction to Andrew Litton–among all else that you’ve offered in these brilliant classes. Thanks, too, for the link–I too, would love to hear Litton at the piano in this piece. Maybe one day!


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