Pierre Boulez conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Stravinsky in the Royal Festival Hall, London SE1, tomorrow at 7.30pm

This month, BBC Radio 3 launches a mammoth project called "Sounding the Century" which runs until the end of 1999 and is intended to form a comprehensive survey of the music of the last 100 years. First up - Igor Stravinsky, who is celebrated with his own series, entitled "Rites of Spring".

Stravinsky is one of the handful of truly great composers of the 20th century. Part of his fascination is his chameleon-like fecundity, allied to a dazzling technical ability which allowed him to adopt a host of ever- changing styles in a manner not dissimilar to his exact contemporary, Picasso. Yet for all its vacillating idioms, Stravinsky's music is always essentially modern.

Being Russian, the initial thinking of his art was not via the Austro- Germanic symphonic tradition, but in terms of forms more akin to liturgy and ritual. A ritualistic approach certainly comes across in the magnum opus of his early period - The Rite of Spring. In the Rite, the patterns imposed are savagely rhythmic; the music's modal substance, incantatory, if not orgiastic; and the huge orchestra is exploited for its physical impact. The results are both shocking and revelatory - as if a seething unconscious has been released.

Yet one of the other works programmed for Friday shows another aspect of the young Stravinsky. In Le Rossignol (The Nightingale), a short opera based on a tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Stravinsky pays homage to his late teacher Rimsky-Korsakov through the evocation of a Russian fairy- land. Dissatisfied with the first version, he returned to it a few years later, post-Rite, introducing sparser and more probing textures and tropes.

Pierre Boulez's long association with Stravinsky's music makes him a master at eliciting those haunting cadences, whilst shaping the disparate strands into a cogent whole.


Another Sounding the Century event. George Benjamin conducts the London Sinfonietta with Stravinsky music in a very different vein from The Rite of Spring. Three 1940s jazz pieces, including the Ebony Concerto, written for Woody Herman. Boulez, too, with the first London performance of his much worked on ... explosante/fixe...

Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London SE1, 21 Feb