The San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas begin a two-week Stravinsky Festival this Friday, featuring the three ballets that firmly established him as one of the great composers at the start of the 20th Century: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. Also on the programs are his Perséphone from 1934, and the Violin Concerto with soloist Leonidas Kavakos.

There’s more information about the festival at the San Francisco Symphony website.

Michael Tilson Thomas says there was a streak of dance throughout Stravinsky’s music, even when he wasn’t writing for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. “I was lucky enough to see him rehearse a lot of pieces, and play under his direction, and hear him sing his music. He sang in a very characterful kind of fractured solfege way, but I think the main thing about it is that it was very balletic… Really in any of the styles of music in which he worked. Didn’t make any difference if it was The Firebird, or Requiem Canticles, it was the same desire for the phrases to be very turned out, gestural, very dance-like.” This was due, MTT suggests, to the composer’s upbringing. “He had certainly come from a very powerful musical tradition, a St. Petersburg guy, and his dad had been one of the major soloists in the Mariinsky Theatre, so he had grown up around that whole musical culture. And even the way Stravinsky took a bow, for example, the way he took his bow was this very courtly style of hand gesture, a very kind of elegant harkening back the way I’m sure he saw all those singers and dancers bow countless times when he was a lad.” The concerts this week are Friday and Saturday night at 8, and Sunday afternoon at 2; next week they’re Thursday the 27th through Saturday night, also with a Sunday afternoon performance.

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