World Premiere: Stravinsky’s Funeral March.
Conducted by Valery Gergiev and The Mariinsky Orchestra
Mariinsky Theatre St Petersburg
Friday 2nd December 2016
It was a repeat performance that took 108 years to happen. The classical music world was abuzz when word got out that a lost significant piece by Stravinsky had been found in a pile of dusty papers in the archives of the St Petersburg Conservatoire. After the usual wrangling between the composer’s estate, his publishers, and the organisers, it fell to the Mariinsky Orchestra and the wonderfully majestic Valery Gergiev to conduct this long awaited concert.
The program was perfectly organised. It opened with Suite from The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, the mentor and friend of Stravinsky who the Funeral March was written for. Then to the delight of the audience (both present in the hall and tuning in from all parts of the world through Medici TV) the long awaited world premiere began. It was followed by Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite.
To say that this piece was not what was expected was an understatement. For many of the music lovers tuning in, it was hoped that this piece would provide a tangible missing link from the composer’s early works to the later Avant-Garde works which brought him so much acclaim. But instead what they got was a beautifully crafted mournful piece that may not have provided us with the insight in his development as a composer but which was still wonderful. It spoke volumes of his sadness.
From the first downbeat through to the last note the piece moved at the slow pace suitable for a funeral march, dark, brooding, and ominous as each section seemed to join in the lamentations. The strings wailed almost in a frenzy of despair while the horns added to the weight of grief that drove the music along. All the while Gergiev, pouring sweat, not only conducted, but channelled the emotion underlying the music and took the blank ink notes on the sheet from the two-dimensional to a complete sensory experience, and it was. Because when an orchestra is conducted by someone of this calibre the listener is treated to not only a wonderful musical event but also one is assured of receiving an insight into the thoughts and emotions of the music he is interpreting, such is the care and passion the Maestro has for music.
This concert was a treat. It is very rare that a long-lost piece of music is rediscovered and performed. Though it fell short in providing us with an insight into Stravinsky’s development towards his well-known and beloved works, it is a treat to know that now, at last, the world can listen to and enjoy Stravinsky’s Opus 5 and they should. It is a beautiful work. For those lucky to have been present, or to have watched this concert live through Medici TV, they were treated to something very special indeed. If you get a chance, then I urge you to watch it on Medici TV while you still can. You will not regret it.