Listen: The Firebird

Netherlands Symphony performs "The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky

It was an unlikely chain of events that brought Igor Stravinsky and "The Firebird" together. The Ballet Russes first considered four other composers before turning, in desperation, to the young, unknown Stravinsky. The result was a masterpiece, and Stravinsky became an overnight star. Today we'll hear the Netherlands Symphony perform a suite from Stravinsky's ballet.


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[ORCHESTRAL MUSIC] FRED CHILD: In 1910, the biggest and best ballets in the world were coming from the Ballet Russes in Paris. When they planned on doing a new piece based on the legend of the Firebird, they asked Alexander Tcherepnin to write the music. Tcherepnin fought with the choreographer and quit.

Then three more composers turned down the gig and in near desperation, they turned to a young untested composer named Igor Stravinsky. Opening night was June 25 and on June 26, Stravinsky was a star. I'm Fred Child with American Public Media's Performance Today. This hour, we'll go to Amsterdam to hear Gerd Albrecht conduct the "Netherlands Radio Symphony" in a suite from the music that made the young Stravinsky famous, "The Firebird."


Let's sample from a brand new recording featuring one of my favorite recorder players in the world Matthias Maute here with the Ensemble Caprice playing music by Antonio Vivaldi.


Two movements from a recorder "Concerto in D Minor" by Vivaldi Mathias Maute with the Ensemble Caprice that's from their brand new CD on the Analekta Label.


I'm Fred Child with American Public Media's Performance Today. A woodwind quintet is flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon unless they're called Calefax. Calefax is a woodwind quintet from Amsterdam with oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon.

Now the fact is there's been nothing written for the combination of oboe, clarinet, saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon. So everything Calefax plays is a transcription. And they do play just about everything from 16th century madrigals to 20th century avant-garde and music by Duke Ellington.



A Dutch woodwind quintet called Calefax gave that concert at the beautiful museum in New York called the Frick Collection. They played "Jump for Joy" by Duke Ellington. Thanks to WNYC for that recording.

Well, still to come this hour, the Netherlands Symphony playing "The Firebird Suite" by Igor Stravinsky. And we'll also hear a very different musical bird "Birds in Warped Time II" music by 20th century Japanese composer Somei Satoh on the way. But let's hear one more jazzy piece for wins right now. This is the Italian Saxophone Quartet in concert in Santa Rosa, California music by George Gershwin.



There was a concert at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, California. The Italian Saxophone Quartet played the "Blues from an American in Paris" by George Gershwin. Gershwin wrote some of the biggest hits of the 20th century. But what was the biggest hit of the century? Well, when the NEA put together a list of the best songs of the 20th century, number one was a song that Renée Fleming sang for us in our studios.


(SINGING) When all the world is a hopeless jumble, and the raindrops tumble all around, heaven opens a magic lane. When all the clouds darken up the skyway, there's a rainbow highway to be found leading from your window pane to a place behind the sun just a step beyond the rain.

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high there's a land that I heard of once, once in a lullaby somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream they really do come true.

Someday I'll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops that's where you'll find me somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly birds fly over the rainbow why then why can't I? If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow why oh why can't I?

FRED CHILD: Renee Fleming sang a lot of jazz when she was in college. Richard Bado had the piano for that song by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Renée Fleming sang "Over the Rainbow" here in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser Music Studio in Saint Paul. Renée Fleming has been getting great reviews for her current performance in Thais at the Metropolitan Opera in New York-- one performance left Thursday night at the Met in New York. "Birds In Warped Time" next on American Public Media's Performance Today.


Broadcast of our show is supported by the Huss Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, which believes that a great nation deserves great art. We're about to hear a piece written in 1980 by the Japanese composer Somei Satoh. Now, Somei Satoh is famous in Japan for something he did in 1981.

He put eight speakers on top of eight different mountain tops in Japan. They were more than a half mile apart overlooking a huge valley. Then some of his collaborators created a big bank of fog coming up from the bottom of the valley and laser beams shooting through the fog.

The piece we're about to hear is very different, much more intimate in scale and scope than that project. This is a piece called "Birds in Warped Time II." Now Somei Satoh originally wrote this for koto and Shakuhachi. The koto is the Japanese zither. The Shakuhachi is the Japanese flute. Before we hear this piece for violin and piano, let's hear just a little bit of what it sounds like with Koto and Shakerchi.


Again the piece is called "Birds in Warped Time II." And by the way, there is no birds in warped time one. The music originally for that combination we just heard Shakuhachi and Koto, Somei Satoh rewrote the piece for violin and piano. And let's hear that version from a concert at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC, Theresa Salomon and pianist Kathryn Woodard playing "Birds in Warped Time II" by Somei Satoh.



That's a piece by Japanese composer Somei Satoh. It's called "Birds in Warped Time II." Theresa Salomon played the violin, Kathryn Woodard at the piano in concert this past fall at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Somei Satoh born in 1947 in Tokyo, and he once wrote "Our Japanese sense of time and space is very different from that in the West." For example, in the Shinto religion, there's the term imanaka, which is not just the present moment, but also the manifestation of eternity in the present moment. I would like it if the listener could abandon all previous conceptions of time and experience a new sense of time presented in this music with eternity in a single moment, music by Somei Satoh. You're listening to American Public Media's Performance Today.


There's an old saw about good luck that implies there really is no such thing as good luck. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Well, that exactly describes Igor Stravinsky in 1910.

Igor Stravinsky got lucky when he was 27 years old. On the preparation side, while his father sang at the Mariinsky Theater in Saint Petersburg, so young Igor grew up surrounded by music. As a young man, he took private composition lessons twice a week from one of the greatest composition teachers ever Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

The opportunity came when Stravinsky was in Paris and the big ballet company in town simply could not find a composer for their next big project. It was a ballet based on an old Russian folk tale about a prince battling a monster and getting help from a magic firebird. Well, the first composer fought with the choreographer and quit the project, then three more composers turned down the gig one after another after another.

The Ballet Russes in desperation hired this kid 27 years old, and his music was an immediate sensation. It made Stravinsky a star. And he was a star until 1971 for the rest of his long life. Here's a suite from the ballet The Firebird from a concert in Amsterdam Gerd Albrecht conducting the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.



The suite from the ballet "The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky. Gerd Albrecht led the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra in concert at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. The Concertgebouw is such a beautiful place for a concert. And I mean that in two ways actually, a beautiful building for one thing, grand neoclassical architecture and brick and marble with flowing lines and rounded corners. And nobody knows exactly why, but the Concertgebouw also has a rich, warm sound that orchestras and audiences love. It's one of the finest acoustic spaces in the world.

20 years ago, when the Concertgebouw was celebrating its 100th birthday, the Concertgebouw was measurably slipping into the mud so they put in new concrete pilings, and now it looks like the Concertgebouw is good for another century or more at this point. That concert performance we just heard "The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky that concert performance produced and made available by radio Netherlands worldwide. I'm Fred Child. This is Performance Today.

SPEAKER: American Public Media.


FRED CHILD: The members of the Miro String Quartet are coming off a very good 2008. They continued to stack up the awards, and they got more and more high-profile concerts as well. 2009 will get off to a nice start for the Miro Quartet. While much of the country is in the depth of winter, they'll be flying off to play a concert at the St Barts Music Festival in the Caribbean in about two weeks.

I'm Fred Child with American Public Media's Performance Today. Coming up, we'll catch up with the Miro Quartet in concert at Lincoln Center in New York playing music by a young composer from Spain, a gentleman sometimes called the Spanish Mozart. Plus the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is at Carnegie Hall this hour playing "Latin American Sketches" by Aaron Copland.


The Miro String Quartet is on the way this hour in concert. Here's a group called the Mendelssohn String Quartet, in this case, not playing music by their namesake.


The final movement from the "Quartet Number 27" by Haydn, the Mendelssohn Quartet made that recording in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser and Music Studio in Saint Paul.


I'm Fred Child with American Public Media's Performance Today. About 37 million people have the last name Huang, a Chinese name translates to golden yellow. And when you're one of 37 million people, it's a little bit hard to stand out in the crowd. But there is one young woman named Huang who is doing quite well.

Chu-Fang Huang is a pianist in her 20s. She has degrees from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in New York. She was a finalist at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition in 2005 and took home first prize in the Cleveland competition that very same year. She's been busy and making a name for herself as a pianist ever since. Here's Chu-Fang Huang in concert at the Strings Music festival in Steamboat Springs, Colorado playing a sonata by Joseph Haydn



Chu-Fang Huang playing a "Piano Sonata in B Minor" by Joseph Haydn. That was a concert she gave in Steamboat Springs, Colorado at the Strings Music festival. And Chu-Fang Huang staying very busy just off a concert in Wuhan City, China, she's playing in Boston this weekend and still to come this month, concerts in Greenville, North Carolina and Birmingham, Alabama. You're listening to American Public Media's Performance Today.


The music we're about to hear was written by Aaron Copland, but the idea came from a different composer. It came from Gian Carlo Menotti. You might know Menotti as the composer of "Amahl and the Night Visitors." But Gian Carlo Menotti also ran the Spoleto Festival for many years.

And in 1958, he asked Aaron Copland to go down to Mexico and come back with a piece of music that might premiere at the 1959 Spoleto Festival. So Copland went down to Acapulco, absorbed the local folk tunes, and wrote two pieces one called a "Mexican Landscape" and also a dance called the "Danza de Jalisco." That's the one that Menotti chose to premiere in 1959.

12 years later, another conductor Andre Kostelanetz asked Copland to make it a triptych, make three out of these two. So Copland used a melodic fragment he'd found in Venezuela and wrote a new opening movement called estribillo, which is Spanish for chorus or refrain. The "Three Latin-American Sketches" were complete and premiered in 1972 with the New York Philharmonic.

That was the last orchestral piece that Aaron Copland finished before he died in 1990. Let's go to a concert in New York City at Carnegie Hall. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra gave this performance of the "Three Latin-American Sketches" by Aaron Copland.



The tunes, the rhythms, and the temperament are folksy. The orchestration is bright and snappy and the music sizzles along. That review of the "Three Latin-American Sketches" by Aaron Copland came from Aaron Copland himself. We just heard the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City playing, as they always do without a conductor, the "Three Latin-American Sketches" by Aaron Copland-- the first movement based on a melody from Venezuela, the second two pieces based on tunes from Mexico. Music by a Spanish composer who never made it past his teens coming up next on American Public Media's Performance Today.


Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, you've probably never heard the name, but I can't help but wonder if we'd be living in a very different musical world if Arriaga had lived long enough to see his 50th birthday. In fact, Arriaga didn't even see his 20th. Arriaga was born in 1806 in Bilbao, Spain.

In his very brief life, he wrote a symphony, an opera, several songs and hymns, a motet, and three string quartets. Now none of these pieces are Earth shattering, but he showed enough promise that he picked up the nickname the Spanish Mozart, although in his home town of Bilbao they call him with some pride the Basque Mozart. Let's hear the "String Quartet Number 3" by the eternally young Arriaga. He wrote this when he was 18 years old and just a year away from his death. Here's the Miro String Quartet in concert at Lincoln Center in New York City.



The "String Quartet Number 3" by a Spanish composer I suspect you've never heard of. His name was Juan Crisostomo Arriaga. The Miro String Quartet gave that concert at Lincoln Center in New York.

The Miro quartet is a young ensemble as string quartets go. They got together in 1995, when they were students at the Oberlin Conservatory. But compared to the composer of that quartet that we just heard, they're all ancient.

Arriaga died a year after he wrote that quartet we just heard. He was two weeks shy of his 20th birthday when he died. Three great what if questions in classical music, what if Beethoven hadn't gone deaf? What if Mozart had lived another four or five decades, say, instead of dying when he was 35?

And what about this kid that we just heard from? He's not all that well known in the larger musical world, but among his countrymen in Spain, you'll find a musicologist or two who says Juan Crisostomo Arriaga would have been one of the great geniuses in the history of music. But he died when he was 19 and only left a couple of pieces behind.

The Miro String Quartet doing their part to keep his memory alive, they gave that concert in New York City. And the Miro Quartet is having yet another great year. And a highlight will be their concert right back in New York at Carnegie Hall this month playing among other things this piece, the "American Quartet" by Dvorak.


I'm Fred Child. This is Performance Today.

SPEAKER: American Public Media.


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