One hundred years after its controversial premiere, “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky continues to be an inspiration to musicians, composers and conductors alike.
The RiteNow Project, a collaborative orchestral work commissioned and led by conductor Paolo Bortolameolli MUS ’13, raised over $10,000 through a 28-day Kickstarter campaign that ended on Aug. 31. The project features the work of eight composers, each of whom has written a “Rite of Spring”-inspired piece to commemorate the centennial of Stravinsky’s original composition. The pieces will be combined into one work, which will be performed at Woolsey Hall on Nov. 17.
“There are not many pieces in history that have become the favorite piece of so many people — even jazz musicians and pop musicians love this piece,” Bortolameolli said. “You don’t have to be a classical musician to like it.”
After presenting the idea for the project in a weekly Yale School of Music meeting in November 2012, Bortolameolli told the eight composers who were interested in contributing to compose their pieces completely independently of each other.
“I want the most eclectic piece we can get. … I told them to not talk to each other because I wanted unique, separated styles,” Bortolameolli said.
With its plot based on an ancient pagan tradition of sacrificing a female virgin, “The Rite of Spring” has inspired several of the composers in the project to explore the themes of pagan rituals and sacrifice. Composer Justin Tierney MUS ’12 explained that each composer interpreted the instruction to be “inspired” by “The Rite of Spring” differently. He explained that he interprets the piece as depicting a tradition in which a young girl is sacrificed to ensure the coming of spring, and that his composition portrays an ancient pagan environment, employing the idea of music as ritual.
Another composer, Polina Nazaykinskaya MUS ’13, said her part will also explore ritual themes in addition to Russian folk melodies. But unlike Tierney, Nazaykinskaya said she was not inspired by the theme of sacrifice in composing her part.
Bortolameolli explained that though the topic of human sacrifice in “The Rite of Spring” may be grotesque to some, many are nonetheless attentive to it due to its historical significance.
“We are talking about one year before World War I. What is happening onstage? The sacrifice of a chosen one. We are foreseeing what would happen in a few months when the world began to sacrifice humanity,” Bortolameolli said.
Though only a few months remain before the performance, Bortolameolli and the three composers interviewed — Gleb Kanasevich MUS ’13, Nazaykinskaya and Tierney — said there remain uncertainties in how the project will be finalized. Nazaykinskaya said the group does not yet know what will happen when the pieces come together. Tierney said the plan has been to play the pieces one after the other in a tableau-like succession, though Bortolameolli explained that the composers may need to write a few more bars of music to bridge certain sections if necessary. Tierney added that part of this uncertainty comes from the vastly differing styles of each composer, which range from neo-romantic to avant-garde.
Kanasevich said the group is using an extremely large orchestra — over 120 musicians — reflective of the size of the orchestra needed to play Stravinsky’s original piece. Coordinating with such a large group with limited rehearsal time will present a challenge, he explained.
The original “Rite of Spring” was composed for the Ballets Russes company and had its world premiere in Paris in 1913.