Preview: Seattle Symphony Presents Two Nights of Stravinsky

Seattle Symphony presents twos glorious nights of Igor Stravinsky. The pièce de résistance is Perséphone, co-commissioned with the Oregon Symphony.  

On April 26 and 28 at Benaroya Hall, Ludovic Morlot leads the Seattle Symphony in a creative multi-disciplinary production of Stravinsky’s Perséphone, featuring life-sized puppetry and vibrant set design by renowned designer Michael Curry.  

The all-Stravinsky program also includes Song of the Volga Boatmen, Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, and Les noces (The Wedding). Hearing any of these Stravinsky rarities live is a special treat. To experience them together with star soloists, dancers, puppeteers, three choirs, four grand pianos and the Seattle Symphony, all led by Ludovic Morlot promises to be spectacular.  

The program opens with Song of the Volga Boatman followed by Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments with pianist Marc-André Hamelin. He most recently performed on the Distinguished Artists series in September 2017 and was a soloist with the orchestra in April 2015. 

Inspired by Russian folk music, Stravinsky’s Les noces (The Wedding) precedes intermission and includes lyrics set from traditional Russian wedding songs. The historic Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble will perform the original Les noces version scored for choir, four pianos and percussion. Founded in 1973, the Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble was the first group of professional musicians devoted to the performance and preservation of traditional Russian music. Les noces also features pianists Hamelin, Cristina Valdés, Jessica Choe and Li-Tan Hsu. 

Seattle Symphony presents a night of Stravinsky including PersephoneWith music by Stravinsky and a libretto by André Gide, Perséphone (1933) is a musical work for speaker, solo singers, chorus, dancers and orchestra. It celebrates Stravinsky’s exploration and fascination of themes from ancient mythology. Gide, a noted French author, was winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1947.  

Perséphone is a retelling of an ancient Greek myth about sacrifice and renewal. The legend begins when Hades, god of the underworld, kidnaps Perséphone, the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. Hades imprisons Perséphone in the underworld, leaving Earth frozen in perpetual winter. In classical mythology, the abduction of Perséphone and her subsequent rescue explain the rotation of winter into spring. 

Perséphone is narrated by Pauline Cheviller and features tenor Kenneth Tarver, dancers Anna Marra and Henry Cotton, the Northwest Boychoir, and the Seattle Symphony Chorale.  

Based in Portland, Oregon, Michael Curry’s works have been featured in productions for Disney, the Olympics and the Super Bowl. Curry’s production of Perséphone interchanges life-size puppets and humans in a way that plays with the illusion of two worlds. Included in the production are multiple puppets and puppeteers, in addition to the Seattle Symphony Chorale and the Northwest Boychoir. 

To play up the duality of Perséphone, who is played by both a dancer and a puppet, Curry built the puppet to be an exact likeness of the dancer, who will also wear a mask of the puppet’s face. “Perséphone was the ultimate puppet because she was so manipulated by the gods,” says Curry. “But one thing we decided is that we wanted to empower Perséphone in our version. She wasn’t going to be a victim.” 

Perséphone was first performed under the direction of the composer in Paris on April 30, 1934.  The premiere was staged by the ballet company of Ida Rubinstein, a Russian dancer, actress, art patron and Belle Époque figure, with Rubinstein herself dancing and speaking the part of Perséphone.  

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky (June 17, 1882 – April 6. 1971), a Russian-born (and later, a naturalized French and American) composer, pianist, and conductor, is considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century, most notable for his stylistic diversity.  

He led a peripatetic life, living in Russia, Switzerland, France, and finally in the United States. Escaping the outbreak of World War II, on September 1, 1939, Stravinsky sailed for America, arriving in New York City at the end of the month, then on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where delivered a series of lectures at Harvard University. At age 63, he became a naturalized United States. 

Leonard Bernstein wrote:  Stravinsky’s variety is a treasure, and a conductor’s boon. In an audience, I am a fan; as a composer, a humble admirer; as a worker in the theatre, an observing student. But as a conductor, I am eternally grateful.” 

Stravinsky was honored in 1982 by the United States Postal Service with a 2¢ postage stamp in the Great Americans series. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 1987 he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.   

A creative revolutionary, the iconic Stravinsky pushed the boundaries of musical design, On hearing the news of his death in 1971, French composer/conductor Pierre Boulez said: “Something radically new, even foreign to Western tradition, had to be found for music to survive, and to enter our contemporary era. The glory of Stravinsky was to have belonged to this extremely gifted generation and to be one of the most creative of them all.” 

As part of the Masterworks season, Stravinsky Perséphone will be performed at Benaroya Hall on Thursday, April 26, at 7:30 pm and Saturday, April 28, at 8pm. For tickets and information, call206.215.4747, or toll-free at 866-833-4747. A pre-concert talkis presented one hour prior to each performance, free with ticket purchase.  

The Program
Song of the Volga Boatmen                                                                
Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
Les noces(The Wedding)

The Creative Team 
Ludovic Morlot, conductor
Michael Curry, designer & staging director
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Kenneth Tarver, tenor
Pauline Cheviller, narrator
Cristina Valdés, piano
Jessica Choe, piano
Li-Tan Hsu, piano
Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble
Anna Marra, dancer
Henry Cotton, dancer
Northwest Boychoir
Brandon Woolley, assistant stage director & stage manager
Seattle Symphony Chorale
Seattle Symphony 

MICHAEL CURRY - Director and Stage Designer
In 30 years, Michael Curry has achieved an international reputation as a production designer specializing in transformational scenery, large-scale puppetry, costuming and character design. He collaborates regularly with the world’s foremost entertainment companies, such as The Walt Disney Company, Cirque du Soleil, the Olympic Committee and the Metropolitan Opera, to create exhilarating performance experiences for global audiences. 

To realize his creations, Curry surrounds himself with a core team of 50 artists and technicians at his studio in Portland, Oregon. This specialized team provides a full spectrum of services, from concept development through to the final performance. 

Marc-André Hamelin is ranked among the elite of world pianists for his unrivaled blend of musicianship and virtuosity in the great works of the established repertoire, as well as for his intrepid exploration of the neglected music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Born in Montreal and a resident of Boston, Marc-André Hamelin is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the German Record Critic’s Association. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.

Seattle Symphony Featured Artist Kenneth Tarver has enjoyed an international career for more than a decade as a bel canto specialist. He is a true tenore di grazie, acknowledged for his beauty of tone, impressively even vocal range and elegant stage presence, exhibiting all the signs of a true virtuoso on the operatic stage. Tarver has debuted at the world’s most prestigious opera houses and performed the most demanding repertoire to critical acclaim. 

The Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble was founded by prominent musician, scientist and researcher of Russian national culture Dmitry Pokrovsky (1944–96) in Moscow in 1973 as a “living laboratory” for the study of different Russian folk traditions. The Ensemble performs modern music, works with many modern composers and has classical compositions in its repertoire.

The Northwest Boychoir’s musical sophistication, rich tonal quality, and dedication to exacting performance have established its reputation as one of the nation’s premier boychoirs. For more than 40 years, the Northwest Boychoir, along with Vocalpoint! Seattle, has trained thousands of young singers, and more significantly, shaped the lives of our region’s youth by teaching important lessons in personal commitment and the value of teamwork. 

The choir is led by Joseph Crnko, now in his 32nd year as music director. Its staff of professional musicians and educators teaches a rigorous curriculum that trains young singers, 6-18 years old, to be fully-skilled musicians. The choristers sing at the highest professional level, read music fluently and perform in every musical setting with poise and confidence. 

The Seattle Symphony Chorale serves as the official chorus of the Seattle Symphony. Over its past four decades, the Chorale has grown in artistry and stature, establishing itself as a highly respected ensemble. 

French conductor Ludovic Morlot has been Music Director of the Seattle Symphony since 2011. Among the many highlights of his tenure, the orchestra has won three Grammy Awards and gave an exhilarating performance at Carnegie Hall in 2014, as reported in The New York Times: “The performance Mr. Morlot coaxed from his players was rich with shimmering colors and tremulous energy.” 

Trained as a violinist, Morlot studied conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then at the Royal College of Music as recipient of the Norman del Mar Conducting Fellowship. Morlot was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 2014 in recognition of his significant contribution to music. He is Chair of Orchestral Conducting Studies at the University of Washington School of Music in Seattle. 

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Starla Smith

Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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