Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’ brings La Jolla Symphony & Chorus season home to roost

The La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (LJS&C) will present its final concert of the 57th season, on June 9-10, titled “Stravinsky Circus!” with Music Director Steven Schick leading the orchestra in a program celebrating Stravinsky’s most popular work, “The Firebird.”

The concert opens with the world premiere of Igor Korneitchouk’s “Tintinnabulation,” and also includes Samuel Barber’s “Piano Concerto,” with guest soloist Aleck Karis.

•   Tintinnabulation. The title of Korneitchouk’s work, meaning the frenzied ringing of bells, comes from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “The Bells.” The San Diego-based composer and professor of music at Mesa College uses no singers for the text. Rather, instruments convey the vibrant colors of Poe’s words.

He evokes the different sorts of bells from the poem – such as the silver bells of sleighs, bronze bells signaling an alarm, funereal iron bells – frequently juxtaposing and interchanging them in a bi-partite fantasy.

“Tintinnabulation” is a 2012 reworking of an earlier Korneitchouk score, “From the Bell,” written in the 1980s for brass and percussion octet. When conductor Schick, a celebrated percussionist, requested an overture-like work to open the concert, the choice seemed apt. By the composer’s own account, the revised work is almost a percussion concerto.

•  Piano Concerto. American master composer Samuel Barber wrote his only piano concerto in 1962 at the request of his publisher, the G. Schirmer Company, which wanted a big work in commemoration of its 100th anniversary.  Barber’s work on the concerto spanned two years. The last movement was not completed until 15 days before its premiere on September 24, 1962, as part of the inaugural week of activities at the Lincoln Center in New York. The piece, showcasing the pianist’s virtuosity with a dramatic piano part and heavy brass in the third movement, received great critical acclaim, leading Barber to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1963.

•   The Firebird. The commission for this ballet came to Stravinsky at almost the last minute, when another composer who had been previously contracted for the job for the Ballets Russes, Anatoly Liadov, failed to complete his obligation.

The dance company’s impresario, Sergei Diaghilev, needed a replacement immediately, and his choice fell upon Stravinsky, at that time still only 27 and unknown. The story is based on Russian folk tales of the magical firebird who frees Prince Ivan from Kashchei the Immortal.

The ballet, premiered in 1910, was one of the first of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes to have a completely original score composed for it. Stravinsky himself was in attendance at the first performance, as were Claude Debussy, Sarah Bernhardt, and other artistic luminaries.

In the years after the premiere, Stravinsky prepared a sequence of orchestral suites from the ballet, so that orchestras could perform the music without dancers. The first came in 1911, the second in 1919; a third in 1945. For this performance, the La Jolla Symphony will include two sections that the composer omitted from the 1919 suite: the Berceuse (lullaby) and the highly dramatic Finale.

— From Symphony Reports

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