Royal Festival Hall
Debussy – Prélude à l’après-midi d’un fauneVarèse – Amériques
Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor)
Another week, another anniversary. Ubiquitous though it may be, and though it might, like Mahler’s symphonies in this if in little else, benefit from fewer, better performances, The Rite of Spring surely deserves mention in its centenary. One can argue about whether it, or Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, premiered the previous year, had the greater ‘influence’; that will largely come down to what one decides to mean by that notoriously slippery term. But since that legendary premiere at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the Rite has passed not simply through the vessel of its creator, as Stravinsky famously put it, but into our collective consciousness. That has not always been a good thing; too many of today’s performances treat it as a mere orchestral showpiece, reduce it to the level of slightly spicier Rimsky-Korsakov. Boulez’s analysis, available in his Relevés d’apprenti (‘Stocktakings from an Apprenticeship’), should be required reading for anyone tempted to proceed down that path. Certainly anyone having heard Boulez conduct the work is unlikely ever to forget the experience. (I am fortunate to have done so twice.) So, a hundred years on, performing the Rite brings its own challenges, not least, how does one make it shock anew?