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Igor Stravinsky is a giant among composers—not because he pioneered a new sound that revolutionized music, but because he did it more than once. Insatiably curious, Stravinsky reinvented himself again and again. And so it was that he shocked the disciples of the avant-garde by setting aside his bad boy image to find new ideas in classic structures. Using a style that came to be called Neoclassicism, Stravinsky found new freedom in economy, balance, clarity, and restraint—all hallmarks of Joseph Haydn, the standard bearer of eighteenth-century Classicism.
In an inspired pairing of the Classical and the Neoclassical, Michael Tilson Thomas presents Stravinsky and Haydn together. The superb SF Symphony Chorus joins the Orchestra in Stravinsky’s kaleidoscopic three-movement choral masterpiece, Symphony of Psalms. A tireless advocate for young musicians, MTT welcomes cellist Oliver Herbert, an alumnus of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, as soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2.
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.
Stravinsky Symphony in Three Movements
Canticum sacrum 1955 | 18 mins
Symphony of Psalms 1930/1948 | 21 mins
Symphony in Three Movements 1945 | 21 mins
Michael Tilson Thomas has observed, “[Stravinsky’s] approach to his music was dance‑like, witty, energetic, delighting in elegant surprise. He brought the same interpretive sweep to all his music.” Regardless of style—whether it be the Russian grandeur of the early works, the restrained neoclassicism of his middle period, or the twelve-tone inspired late works—Stravinsky always wrote music that proclaims loudly and unmistakably “IGOR Stravinsky WAS HERE.”
Stravinsky had an abiding love of Venice, going so far as to choose the island of San Michele as his final resting place. Several observers have suggested that Stravinsky chose a five-movement design in Canticum sacrum to create an aural analogy to the five domes of Venice’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral, where the work would have its first performance. While Canticum sacrum reflects Stravinsky’s increasing interest in the discoveries of Schoenberg, something of the spirit of earlier Venetian composers, such as Monteverdi and Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, also hovers over the work. Read More
In Symphony of Psalms Stravinsky returns to the original sense of “symphony” as a mingling of sounds. LISTEN FOR: Of the breathtaking final movement, the composer stated that “the allegro in the 150th Psalm was inspired by a vision of Elijah’s chariot climbing the heavens [11 Kings 2, 11];…The final hymn of praise must be thought of as issuing from the skies; agitation is followed by the calm of praise.” Read More
Tautly concentrated and quite short, the Symphony in Three Movements nonetheless feels big. DID YOU KNOW? Stravinsky admitted the influence of movies in the first and third movements, of a documentary on scorched-earth tactics in China in the former, of newsreel footage of goose-stepping soldiers in the latter. Read More
HAYDN Cello Concerto No. 2 1783 | 25 mins
Haydn set out to create an individual sound-world in his D major Cello Concerto, one that was a bit looser than what he was producing in his symphonies and string quartets at the time. Here, the soloist is never required to shout in order to be heard above the deferential accompaniment, even as he moves through sparkling scale passages and pirouettes at the top of the register. DID YOU KNOW? Soloist Oliver Herbert is a SFS Youth Orchestra alumnus! Read More
Compiled by Managing Editor STEVEN ZIEGLER from notes by JAMES M. KELLER and MICHAEL STEINBERG