Classical Music: Sounding the Century Royal Festival Hall, London / Radio 3 / BBC2
Tuesday 18 February 1997
There are few works that remain banging in the head hours after they've been performed, but Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring just won't let you go. What a piece! More than 80 years ago, it caused hysteria in Paris; today, it is met by whistling, screaming and shouting from kids who might as well have been in a rock club. In this demonic work, Stravinsky surely presages the beat, pulse, energy and abandon of rock music that no one has bettered. Of course, you need a leader to set the pace, and who better - but, in a sense, who stranger - than Pierre Boulez? If, compositionally, Boulez has ever been allied to a camp this century, it would be to Schoenberg, not Stravinsky, but such is the way history flows. Boulez is now writing little, but he makes a gigantic impression in the conducting of works of such complexity that one is left open-mouthed wondering how anybody did it before. Just what did that Paris audience experience in 1913? Taking the BBC Symphony Orchestra by the scruff of the neck, Boulez shook as much violence out of this piece as I can ever remember. But not a note of it was propelled for any other reason than that was how it was written.
How the orchestra responded. The score calls for eight horns. What a blazing row, with all eight plus a "bumper" lifting their bells! But it is strange that Boulez remains so outwardly unmoved; he shrugged off the monumental ending of Part 1 as if he'd just been taking a stroll along the river. But of course, that is his secret - never a gesture that requires more energy than that suggested in the score - and he remains totally scrupulous to it. The dynamics, the colouring, the voicing, the perception - they all make Boulez one of the greatest conductors of our time.
Sunday's programme was his choice - his acolyte, George Benjamin, remains chief steerer for the whole BBC project - and if The Nightingale (in its full operatic version) and The King of the Stars tell us more about Stravinsky than the rest of the century, a certain point is perhaps being made. Stravinsky appears to have won in the main battle of aesthetics that has mapped out this century's music. But it is too bad that Schoenberg wasn't allowed into the ring for the first round. How illuminating might it have been to dump the admittedly ravishing The Nightingale in favour of the nightmarish Erwartung.
As it was, a strong cast of scoreless soloists - Ewa Malas-Godlewska, Helene Perraguin, Jean-Luc Chaignaud, Wendy Hoffman, Askar Abdrasakov, Neal Davies and Wolfgang Bunten - graced The Nightingale, while the BBC Symphony Chorus was in fine form, particularly for the fragmentary The King of the Stars.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'