Monday, April 23, 2007

when puppets attack, and artists ignite

Above is an 'e-flyer' for the webcast this coming Sunday, which will feature Stravinsky's ballet Petrouchka.

I'm really excited to be playing Petrouchka with MTT and the NWS, and in this kind of innovative forum. It's the story of a puppet coming to life, but to me it's all about discovery, bold gestures, new ideas. Stravinsky had already written the ballet The Firebird, but I imagine him writing Petrouchka as a young, still emerging composer with something to prove - Firebird was like his graduation piece, showing off his mastery of all the orchestrational tricks Rimsky-Korsakov had taught him. It showed a lot more as well, of course - but in Petrouchka, he surpasses his models with this incredible new voice, dispelling any doubt that an utterly original talent is at work. The music invites us into all these new places, funny, tragic, sometimes grotesque, always fantastic.

There is an outer world, full of life and spirit and commotion, which is where the piece begins, and there is also a miraculous inner world - where we find the puppet Petrouchka, imprisoned. He has spent his life getting pulled around and and twisted, and as a result he is coiled with rage. He summons up all his strength and will, to escape his captor and live as himself - and in a burst of violence, the inner world rips open and spills into the outer world, provoking gasps and astonishment, before the sorcerer can try and reassure everyone that it was just a fantasy after all.

It often seems like an artist emerges from nowhere and takes the world by storm, provoking a flurry of reactions, criticism, imitation... That was definitely the case of Stravinsky, and I wonder if he used Petrouchka as his proxy in this score. The misformed, mistreated loner, bound by strings and shut off in his cell, but still striving mightily for love, beauty, grace - and finally ripping through the curtain, astounding and horrifying everyone around! For me this is one of the amazing things about the New World Symphony too, being around all of these musicians on the cusps of their careers - and everyone seems like they are one breakthrough away from bursting out and making a grand entrance into the musical world. Maybe we're not about to start a riot at the Champs-Elysees, but the force of artistic revelation is no less intense in each individual case.

That's what excites me about organizing and running New World's mock auditions - which I will be doing again tomorrow evening - this discovery of someone taking the initiative, throwing off those puppet strings, and announcing himself or herself as a performing artist. I imagine this same thrill is what people long for in actual auditions, the performer who no longer asks if he is ready, he proclaims it. We're lucky if we experience this once in an audition, or a lifetime - but I have seen it over and over again at New World. I definitely hear it in Stravinsky's Petrouchka!

The two musicians blogging for this week's webcast, Michael Gordon and Yukiko Senino, both have their first posts up today. Check them out, and please visit here too for even more symphonic blogging!

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