Dateline: Paris, 1913. Russian composer Igor Stravinsky debuts his orchestral ballet The Rite of Spring (with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky) to a packed and eagerly awaiting house at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. But the audience is reportedly so confused and infuriated by the dissonant chords, unusual time signatures and freaky tonal structures that it begins to riot, rendering the music nearly inaudible. Such is the curse of being ahead of your time—since then, the piece has become revered as one of the most influential of all time.
The year’s only local performance of The Rite of Spring already happened (at Meany Hall in January), but this spring offers several chances to experience the trailblazing composer’s other notable work.
The Seattle Symphony brings Stravinsky’s music to the stage twice: First, in a mixed-bill matinee featuring his Concertino for String Quartet (4/14; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St.; 206.215.4747; seattlesymphony.org), a jarring piece that may test even his most die-hard fans; and second, his masterful, sweeping Firebird Suite (4/18 and 4/20), which first established him as a composer of note (this was before the Rite of Spring ruckus).
In May, as part of the Director’s Choice bill (5/31–6/9; McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St.; 206.441.2424; pnb.org), Pacific Northwest Ballet presents Stravinsky’s “Agon,” which he composed for legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Stravinsky’s love of abstract experimentation is in full evidence here. He based the piece in a “12-tone technique,” meaning all notes of the scale are emphasized equally; hence, the music is neither major nor minor, and has no set key. Listen carefully to his inventive genius—but monitor yourself for riotous impulses.