For Mobile Symphony Orchestra Music Director Scott Speck, the excitement is rising like a maestro’s baton.
“I had so much time this summer just to do things like study scores at my leisure, to exercise, to do a little bit of travel. I haven’t conducted since a week after our last Mobile Symphony concert so I’m dying to get back into it,” Speck said.
Good thing, too, because energy will be abundant in MSO’s 2017-2018 season opener. The “Firebird” concert on Sept. 23 and 24 will feature a convergence of artistic mediums.
“We’re going to explore a particular time when Russian visual art, music and dance became known to the wider world and that was when [Serge] Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes went to Paris,” Speck said.
The Russian impresario brought his native culture to bear — pun intended — in 1907 by importing its dancers to the City of Lights, then the hub of Western artistic refinement. He melded their choreography with the leading painters and costumers of the day, names including Kandinsky, Picasso, Benois and Matisse and costumers such as Coco Chanel and Léon Bakst.
The Mobile Museum of Art offered its services to MSO and located examples of the suggested artwork. Slides of the painters will be projected onto the orchestra shell as Speck guides the audience through their pertinence and provenance.
The most energetic change for the evening will be on the 10-foot wide strip of sprung floor installed at the stage’s edge. That’s where Juilliard School dancers will perform works re-created specifically for their orchestral matches.
One is Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography for Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” a performance initially controversial for its nontraditional movements and sexual overtones. The steps followed at MSO will be Jerome Robbins’ later reimagined version, which portrays dancers at practice with the audience as their studio mirror.
Another is Nijinsky’s “Sacrificial Dance” segment from composer Igor Stravinsky’s pagan-themed “The Rite of Spring.” Its groundbreaking dance and music was legendary for the near riot sparked at its 1913 premiere.
“It’s choreographed for one virgin to dance herself to death. This dance has something like 52 jumps in the air she has to do. It’s mostly a vertical dance,” Speck said.
In 1987, the Joffrey Ballet commissioned Millicent Hodson to recreate the original dance working from descriptions, notations and photographs. Speck has conducted at roughly 10 of the Joffrey’s “Rite of Spring” productions.
“[MSO] approached various ballet companies but Rite of Spring’s ‘Sacrifical Dance’ is not something most companies do. Luckily I had a good relationship with Millicent Hodson. She told us she would be working at Juilliard this coming year and could teach it to the dancers and make it work,” Speck said.
Stravinsky has the most works on the concert program — three including the eponymous finale — and they illustrate his migration from Russian regular to revolutionary.
“When Stravinsky started out he was a late Romantic, very much in the Tchaikovsky tradition. Then we’ll hear him in his Neoclassical mode and then for a few minutes we’ll hear him at his most brutal,” Speck said.
Tchaikovsky, too will make an appearance with a work fittingly associated with ballet: “Sleeping Beauty.”
“It ends the first portion of the concert, and I think the climaxes in that piece are every bit as exciting as the climaxes in his best symphonies,” Speck said.
Everything for the concert has been redefined. Lighting has been recalibrated for visual projections and dance. Even seating has shifted as the 75-member orchestra makes room for the dancers.
The Juilliard performers aren’t the only visitors the show has brought. Support personnel like costumers and makeup artists are common, and someone from the Jerome Robbins Trust will be on hand to aid with “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”
Appropriately, the concert leads with Emmanuel Chabrier’s “Fete Polonaise” from his opera “Le roi maigré lui (The King in Spite of Himself),” which exemplified the linking of cultures across Europe. The French composer even described its collaborative creation as “a bouillabaisse … into which I throw the spices.”
“We’ve never played ‘Fete Polonaise’ in all the years I’ve been in Mobile and I’ve always wanted to. I thought that would be a great opener for this concert since it’s a French production of a Slavic work,” Speck said.
Performances are scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 24, at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $15 to $75.
For more information, call 251-432-2010 or go to mobilesymphony.org.
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