Yale Philharmonia principal conductor Peter Oundjian on “The Rite of Spring”

Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

On Friday, September 15, the Yale Philharmonia will perform Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring, which was written for the Ballets Russes and whose 1913 premiere in Paris sparked protests. We spoke to principal conductor Peter Oundjian about the piece, its place in history, and what the audience can expect to experience.

Q: How have stories and reports of the audience’s reaction to the premiere of The Rite of Spring framed the work’s place in the repertoire? And what should today’s audiences understand and take away from that reaction?

A: The “riot” which occurred is one of the reasons the piece achieved such prominence. If anything, it had more to do with Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography than the music, as far as we can tell. Just imagine this first audience witnessing dancers stomping their feet for long durations, strange costumes … it was just bizarre! Stravinsky was unhappy about it; however, the events of that night stimulated him to promote the piece and make sure its excellence was appreciated.

Q: In what ways, musically, does The Rite of Spring represent a watershed moment in music history?

A: The piece is the antithesis of 300 years of development of Western art music. Everything that had come before was relatively uniform. Style and musical forms had been created. What Stravinsky did with this symphonic arch was annihilated by his new concepts. We should also remember that Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s music was radical, as well, and he was Stravinsky’s contemporary. The Rite of Spring was completely fresh and new. Harmonically, is it polytonal … it was all quite dissonant. Rhythmically, it was quite a departure from the musical norms of the day.

Q: What are your reasons for programming The Rite of Spring as part of the Yale Philharmonia’s season? In what ways and to what degree is the piece a unique teaching tool?

A: I am sure some of our students have played it before. It is, after all, one of the most important pieces in the repertoire. It is not only for the students in the orchestra, but also for our audience, who are bound to be curious to hear and witness a live performance of such a masterpiece.

Q: How do you approach the work each time you conduct the piece?

A: I think I approach it as though the pagan ritual were occurring before my eyes, and the sacrificial virgin is about to dance herself to death. It’s a new girl each time.

Q: What if anything is lost (or gained) by performing The Rite of Spring as a concert work as opposed to a fully produced ballet?

A: There is not a performance of this piece that is not ballet, in some aspects. If you come, you’ll see some sense of spectacle. The omission of the visual aspect allows people to focus on the inventiveness of the music and the power and drama behind it.

Q: Besides the obvious, what can audiences experience through a live performance of the piece that they can’t by listening to a recording?

A: To see all these musicians playing off the beat of the conductor, from an audience perspective, it’s alarming to see this being reproduced in front of your eyes. It is an extraordinary experience!

The September 15 Yale Philharmonia program includes Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as well as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and Tallis’ “Why Fum’th in Fight,” performed by the Yale Voxtet. Learn more and purchase tickets.

Published September 8, 2017
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Carolyn Kuan conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Mahler and Berg Jan. 29

Carolyn Kuan

Carolyn Kuan

The Yale School of Music presents the Yale Philharmonia with guest conductor Carolyn Kuan and violin soloist Mélanie Clapiès on Friday, January 29. Kuan, the music director of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, will lead the orchestra in works by Alban Berg and Gustav Mahler.

Violinist Mélanie Clapiès, a recent YSM graduate and a winner of the 2015 Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, will be the featured soloist in Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. Perhaps his most frequently performed work, Berg’s Violin Concerto is marked as “to the memory of an angel”: he was driven to write it after the death of Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius.

The second half of the concert feature Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, named the “Titan” after the novel by Jean Paul. “Mahler’s story took shape as a sequence of experiences,” writes Steven Johnson: “the first two movements progress from youthful springtime to confident adulthood; the last two progress from death to a battle against sorrow.”
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Published December 22, 2015
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Bach Collegium Japan performance March 26 to benefit earthquake relief in Japan

Yale Institute of Sacred Music presents Bach Collegium Japan and music director Masaaki Suzuki in Bach’s Mass in B minor

Masaaki Suzuki (photo by Marco Borggreve)

The renowned Bach Collegium Japan, conducted by its founder Masaaki Suzuki, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B minor at Woolsey Hall (500 College Street at Grove Street, New Haven) on Saturday, March 26 at 8pm. The Yale Institute of Sacred Music presents this concert to benefit Yale’s relief efforts for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. All proceeds from ticket sales and donations received at the performance will be forwarded by Yale to the Red Cross for its relief work in Japan.

Bach Collegium Japan was founded in 1990 by Masaaki Suzuki with the aim of introducing Japanese audiences to period instrument performances of great works from the baroque period. Since 1995 it has acquired a formidable reputation as one of the world’s most exceptional ensembles of its kind, particularly through its acclaimed recordings of Bach’s church cantatas for the BIS label.

Music director Masaaki Suzuki is a member of the faculty of the Yale School of Music and Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He and the Bach Collegium Japan are touring North America this month performing Bach’s Mass in B minor.

The March 26 benefit performance will feature Hana Blazikova and Rachel Nicholls, sopranos; Clint van der Linde, countertenor; Gerd Türk, tenor; and Peter Kooij, bass. Bach scholar Markus Rathey, an associate professor of music history at Yale, will give a pre-concert talk at 7 pm in the Presidents Room in Woolsey Hall.

Tickets to this benefit performance are $15, $8 students. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit music.yale.edu or call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158. For information about Yale’s relief efforts, please visit relief.yale.edu.

Published March 22, 2011
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Peter Oundjian guest conducts the Yale Philharmonia in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and more April 1

Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson, winner of the Woolsey Competition, sings Strauss

Tyler Simpson, bass-baritone

The Yale School of Music presents the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale and guest conductor Peter Oundjian on Friday, April 1, 2011 at 8 pm in Woolsey Hall (500 College Street at Grove Street, New Haven). The concert will feature Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony as well as music of Bedřich Smetana and Richard Strauss. Oundjian, a longtime faculty member at the Yale School of Music, was recently appointed the music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

The program opens with Smetana’s Šárka, one of the six tone poems from the series Má Vlast (“Homeland”). It is named for the female warrior Šárka, a fierce figure in the Czech legend of the Maidens’ War. Bass-baritone Tyler Simpson, a graduate of the Yale Opera program and a winner of the Woolsey Hall Concerto Competition, will sing Notturno, a song by Strauss on a text by Richard Dehmel. Dehmel’s poem tells the story of an encounter with Death in a dark, snow-covered landscape. Holly Piccoli will play the solo violin line, which depicts the moment that Death plays a violin.

Mahler’s epic Fifth Symphony will constitute the second half of the concert. The conductor Herbert von Karajan once said that when listening to the work, “you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience.”

This performance is free and open to the public. MORE

Published March 4, 2011
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Yale Philharmonia offers Mahler, Berg, and Akiho’s new steel pan concerto January 21

The Yale School of Music presents the Philharmonia Orchestra of Yale and conductor Shinik Hahm on Friday, January 21, 2011 at 8 pm in Woolsey Hall. The concert will open with Andy Akiho’s new Concerto for Steel Pans, which received its premiere December 9 in Sprague Hall. Akiho, a trained percussionist as well as composer who has studied steel pan culture in Trinidad, will be the soloist in the piece. Akiho’s concerto was selected by the Yale School of Music’s composition faculty to be performed on this program.

Soprano Janna Baty will join the orchestra to perform excerpts from Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. The opera, based on Georg Büchner’s play Woyzeck, was a succès de scandale at its premiere in 1925 and quickly took off across Europe. Baty, a member of the School of Music faculty, has been praised by the Boston Herald for her “voice brimming with richness and confidence.”

The concert will close with Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major, called “The Titan” not for its size – though a performance requires about 100 musicians and lasts about one hour – but because Mahler originally based the work on Jean Paul’s novel of the same name. MORE

Published December 15, 2010
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Yale Philharmonia to perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 4

Concert opens with Brahms, including the Variations on a Theme of Haydn

Hahm_conducting_a_emailMusic director Shinik Hahm will lead the Yale Philharmonia in a program of Brahms and Mahler on Friday, October 23 at 8 pm. The free concert will take place in historic Woolsey Hall, where nearly 100 years ago (in February of 1910) Mahler himself conducted the illustrious New York Philharmonic in a concert of music ranging from Bach to Berlioz. Mahler will be represented by his Symphony No. 4. The last movement of this popular work will feature the Korean soprano Jihee Kim, a young artist in the Yale Opera program. Two well-known pieces by Johannes Brahms comprise the first half of the concert: the Academic Festival Overture and Variations on a Theme of Haydn. MORE

Published October 8, 2009
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From the Archives: New York Phil at Yale in 1922

1922-03-17-nso1-web

In 1922, the Philharmonic Society of New York – which would later call itself the New York Philharmonic – performed at Yale. It was the orchestra’s 1660th concert and fell in their eightieth season. A year previously, the Philharmonic had merged with the New York-based National Symphony Orchestra (not the same organization as the ensemble of the same name based in Washington, DC). MORE

Published May 28, 2009
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