Thursday, February 28, 2013

Farewell, Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn, the American pianist legendary for winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in the USSR in 1962 despite the Cold War , has died at the age of 78. Here's a colourful obituary from the Telegraph. The story goes that Krushchev said "Is he the best? Then give him the prize..."

Here are some tributes.

First, thanks to Mark Ainley of The Piano Files for sharing this link of unusual footage from France. After it, the last movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 from Moscow in 1962, conducted by Kirill Kondrashin. Van Cliburn may have played his last movement now, but he will never be forgotten.

AND - UPDATE - in our final selection, Van Cliburn appears as a Mystery Challenger on What's My Line?, stumping the team with a brilliant fake Hungarian accent...






Monday, February 25, 2013

Keith Jarrett is coming to town

Tonight Keith Jarrett plays the Royal Festival Hall. I've been a bit snowed under and a bit under the weather this past week and managed to miss my own article about him in the Indy the other day. Here it is. Director's cut below. It isn't an interview, regrettably. Not for want of trying...he just wasn't up for it, and if he's not gonna talk he's not gonna talk, so there we go. But I'm grateful to Jazz Record Requests presenter Alyn Shipton and super multigenre pianist Simon Mulligan for giving their insights into his nature and influences. 

To me Jarrett is more than a jazz pianist; he is a pianist to put beside any of the greats in any genre.  So it's really a shame that he clashes tonight with Andras Schiff playing Mozart concerti next door at the QEH. Wouldn't it be nice if we could persuade them to do a duet later?





Keith Jarrett is giving a solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Spread the word! Except that the word has already spread and the tickets have flown. 

What makes one man and a piano fill a hall for solo improvisation, let alone an individual with a reputation for stopping mid-flow to harangue his audience? Well, Jarrett, 67, is a legend for a good reason. His improvisations well forth from heaven knows where, driven by a depth of conviction that’s unmistakeably his, producing sounds that won’t have been heard before and won’t be repeated. It’s as if he is plugged in to a celestial battery charger, and we, listening, connect to that astounding energy by proxy. 

He performs not just with his hands and arms, but with his whole body, his shoulders curving towards the keyboard as if microscopically examining every squiggle of melody. He emits hums, whines, groans. He sits, he stands, he wiggles. Some find him mesmerising. Others say he is best experienced with eyes closed. 

He reaches audiences that other jazzers don’t. Hardcore classical pianophiles, those who flock to hear artists such as Martha Argerich or Krystian Zimerman, are often drawn to Jarrett for his extraordinarily expressive musicianship and the variety of colour he draws from the instrument. Jarrett had a top-level classical training in his native Pennsylvania, and the virtuoso technique he developed has certainly fed in to the unique way he uses the instrument. He thinks contrapuntally, horizontally, involving many lines and layers of music, often embedding a theme in the middle of a wide-spun texture, and allowing a new section of thought to grow organically out of a small pattern in one that’s gone before. And he’ll squeeze every drop of potential out of that motif before moving on to another. 

Unlike most jazz pianists (Chick Corea excepted), he has recorded classical repertoire too: solo Bach, Mozart piano concertos and Handel suites. He has even made discs playing the organ and the clavichord. This year, while his schedule includes solo improvised recitals and trio performances with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, the loyal ECM label with which he has long worked is also tipped to be releasing a new album in which he performs the Bach sonatas for violin and keyboard with the violinist Michelle Makarski.

ECM has put out his solo improvisations from Vienna, La Scala Milan, London/Paris (Testament), Carnegie Hall, Tokyo and Rio, to name but a few, helping to widen his already huge cult following. Of his massive discography, though, the Köln Concert of 1975 is still perhaps the best-loved recording, having become the biggest-selling solo album in jazz history. Strange, then, to think that, looking back, Jarrett has said he would have done certain things about it differently. He doesn’t stand still. Turbulent episodes of his life affect his creative bent; he has been remarkably open about this, saying in interviews soon after his divorce in 2010 that difficult times were “a source of energy” that he could draw on in his music-making.

But even times when he had no energy at all have made a difference. Stricken with ME (chronic fatigue syndrome) for about two years from 1996, he found himself scarcely able to play. When he returned to his instrument in gradual stages, he effectively relearned his technique, assessing his sound and style and developing a less “aggressive” touch. Once his recovery was underway he spoke of how the illness had forced him to concentrate on the deeper “skeleton” of his music and remarked that he felt he was “starting at zero and being born again at the piano”.

The aims remain simple, though. Jarrett has said that his intention in his solo recitals is, first, to come up with interesting music and, secondly, to make sure that that interesting music isn’t something he has come up with before. 

Alyn Shipton, presenter of BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Record Requests, made a series of radio programmes about Jarrett soon after the pianist had recuperated from ME. “He always says he has no idea what is going to happen in the concert,” Shipton relates. “And with the neurotic perfectionism that only he could apply, he records all his performances, listens back to them, then says he tries to erase them from his mind so that they won’t affect his future ones.” 

His influence on successive generations of jazz musicians has been immeasurable. Simon Mulligan, a British pianist who plays both classical concerts and jazz, says that Jarrett is prime among role models for him and his peers. “It’s Jarrett and Herbie Hancock,” Mulligan remarks. “We all call them Keith and Herbie. I know I’ve been influenced by the way he shapes the arc of his music, and the detail, such as his ‘portamento’ playing when he decorates the run-up to a melodic note like a singer. And in terms of touch, he is one of few people who can really make the piano sing.”

But Jarrett’s outbursts against his audience are no fun (although there’s a spoof Twitter account, @AngryJarrett, that apes them). “He’s convinced that coughing is a sign of boredom and that if you’re really concentrating on the music, you don’t cough,” Shipton comments. “He doesn’t cough while he’s playing, so, he thinks, why should they cough if they’re listening? What people dread is that moment when something that’s going well suddenly falls in on itself and he jumps up and says ‘I’ve seen a red light, there’s a camera! If you want to remember a concert, you remember the music, you don’t remember it visually...’”

Audiences today, accustomed to social media-savvy performers who encouraging filming, uploading and sharing, sometimes forget that musicians are well within their rights to demand to control their own material, and to concentrate on creating it. Distraction can wreck everything they are trying to do. According to Shipton, Jarrett’s CD Radiance, recorded live in Japan, is missing a section “because he lost his rag so badly with the audience, three quarters of the way through, that the last part was no good and he couldn’t issue it”.

ECM might record this London appearance too. So, if you go, remember: don’t cough, don’t take photos and for goodness’ sake don’t attempt to smuggle in a recording device. Another tip: don’t leave too quickly at the end. Sometimes his encores of jazz standards can be almost the most entrancing moments of all.  

Keith Jarrett, The Solo Concert, Royal Festival Hall, 25 February. Box office: 0844 875 0073

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My first opera...

I've enjoyed taking a trip down an operatic memory lane for Sinfini, plus talking to a range of celebs about their first experiences of opera and what got them hooked - among them ballerina Zenaida Yanowsky, actor Henry Goodman and comedian Rainer Hersch. Read the whole thing here: http://sinfinimusic.com/uk/features/2013/02/my-first-opera-curtain-up/



What follows is a further ramble on the topic...

Thinking back, I owe my whole opera thing to my parents, who never talked down to me about music when I was a kid. They seemed to know how to encourage an enthusiasm without piling on undue pressure and when I picked up that Magic Flute box (tempted by the picture: left) and wanted to know what was in it, my mum showed me how to follow the translated text as if it was the most natural thing in the world (it was the classic Klemperer recording, in German, without dialogue). It was good of them to put up with my unfortunate singalongaluciapopp tendencies, too.



I’m not surprised they bought me an alternative. This was easier: just one LP, in English, much of it positively designed for singing along. It was The Little Sweep by Benjamin Britten: the story of a group of children and their nanny who rescue a small boy chimney sweep from his abusive employer. It was easy to follow and impossible to forget. Nobody ever seemed to perform it, though. At the time, I had no idea there could be anything sinister in a song about a boy in a bath and I still find myself humming that syncopated, swingy waltz melody now and then. I’ve never once seen this opera live. A footnote: one of the child singers on that recording turned up in my year at university and we used to have a whale of a time playing violin and piano music together (he’d swapped the voice for the fiddle long before). I enjoyed the notion that I’d cut my musical teeth by inadvertently listening to my duo partner singing.

I fell for Eugene Onegin on the car radio, but seeing it in the theatre aged about ten (starring a young soprano named Kiri Somethingorother) left me colder than I'd hoped it would. It was all a bit static, it was hard to hear the words and I couldn't work out why on earth Tatyana fell for Onegin in any case, as he wasn't exactly an appealing kind of chap. (Right: Kiri as she probably looked in those days...)

Eventually live performance did enchant me – but not as you might expect. It was comedy, courtesy of English National Opera. The gods in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld perching on their clouds; Lesley Garrett stripping off as Adele in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus; and above all, the sight of my father reduced to complete screeching, weeping helplessness over the nuns in drag in Rossini’s Count Ory. This could only happen in the theatre. And when it happened, there was no point resisting. 

Interesting to see that while a lot of my interviewees cite Mozart and Puccini as their ways in to opera, Ed Gardner thinks those aren't such a good place to start. He plumps straight for Shostakovich and Janacek. 
 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Historical: purple Brahms patch with d'Aranyi, Hess and Cassado

This extraordinary recording from 1928 has finally popped up on Youtube. Here's the second movement of Brahms's Piano Trio in C, Op.87 played by Jelly d'Aranyi (violin), Myra Hess (piano) and Gaspar Cassado (cello).



As I understand it, these sessions - this Brahms and also the Schubert B flat Trio (with Felix Salmond on the cello) - were Hess's first recording. She and Jelly d'Aranyi worked together for some 20 years, giving countless recitals at the likes of the Wigmore and Queen's Hall, but these trios seem to be the only surviving example of their collaboration.

Sometime in the war years, it appears that they must have had a massive fallout. Serious enough that in Hess's biography by Marian McKenna, d'Aranyi - her duo partner for two decades - is afforded just one mention, in passing. I've met a number of people who knew one or the other, sometimes both, yet nobody seems sure exactly what went wrong.

The music world is full of these situations, of course, and in the end it's immaterial since the result, unfortunately, was the same whatever the cause. But when you hear the fine blend of their sounds, d'Aranyi's mellifluous charm sparking against Hess's wit and intelligence, the flow of detail and infinite shading of ideas that takes place in their music-making (it's even more obvious in the Schubert, incidentally), it seems little short of tragic that their every move was not captured by microphone - and that their partnership has somehow been wiped from history.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mantel-piece explains a key principle of story structure

Anyone who's been on my Total Immersion or Kickstart writing days will recognise, from the part where we talk about story structure, the concept that the Hollywood screenwriting guru Robert McKee terms 'the negation of the negation'. This, essentially, is a double-and-then-some twist of the knife in the guts of your story's principal theme. It can be difficult to pull this off - but here's a perfect example, from real life. 

Supposing your story is, at background level, about freedom of speech in a western democratic country. That is the value, the ideal, that is at stake. The opposite of that, obviously enough, is censorship. But the negation of the negation goes a twist or two further than the opposite, and here it is to have the leader of that free country publicly rebuke a writer for writing something that she never actually wrote

Get it? Yes, thought so. Oh, and compound it by having the leader of the opposition do the same thing.

It's one thing for the Mail to misrepresent a thoughtful article by a great novelist; but it's quite another for the PM himself to weigh in, on the side of the tabloid, without checking the author's actual text, which is freely available to read, and doesn't take that long, and doesn't require a doctorate in astrophysics to understand in its proper context. Sensible perspective in an editorial from The Guardian here. 

What does this mass hysteria say about our "culture"? How can people be persuaded to look at empirical fact, rather than rushing en masse to throw verbal stones at the latest individual at whom The Finger Has Pointed? Often it turns upon innocent people who are trying to do the right thing yet find themselves on the receiving end of trumped-up, mendacious, manipulative and usually self-interested claptrap. Is this really so far from the Manchester cover-up, notably the alleged attempt in 2002 to blacken the character of Martin Roscoe for whistle-blowing?

I would like to write an episode of British Borgen (yes, it sounds better in Danish) in which a top UK author sues the Prime Minister for defamation and wins. 



Letter to The Guardian

Here is a letter published in today's Guardian, spearheaded by the Chetham's-educated pianists Paul Lewis, Tim Horton and Ian Pace and signed by hundreds of musicians and others (including some critics). It calls for "a full independent inquiry into the alleged sexual and psychological abuse by Chetham's staff since the establishment of the institution as a music school in 1969. Such an inquiry would ideally extend to other institutions as well, some of which have also been the subject of allegations of abuse."

A full list of signatories can be found here, on Ian Pace's website.

[Update] Those concerned by the sexing up of young female musicians throughout the industry - something we've written about extensively in the past here - might also be interested to read this piece from Ian's site: http://ianpace.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/chris-lings-views-on-sexing-up-classical-music/

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Kaufmann sings Parsifal

I'm not a well Jess right now (spring lurgy) and haven't got anything very useful to blog about. While the Guardian says that 9 (nine) former Chet's/RNCM teachers are under investigation, Sarah Connolly as Charpentier's Medea is producing the sort of rave responses you see once in a lilac moon and all sorts of wonderful people are giving fantastic concerts all over the place (try pianist Jean Muller at Kings Place this evening), I regret that I don't feel up to doing anything except curling up with peppermint tea, an indignant cat and a hot laptop.

So there is only one thing for it...indulge in a spot of Kaufmania. Jonas Kaufmann is singing Parsifal in NY and the Met has posted on Youtube an extract from the final dress rehearsal. Reviewing his new CD the other day for Sinfini, Warwick Thompson sounds the question we've all had in mind since hearing JK's voice for the first time: is he going to sing Tristan someday? 




Monday, February 18, 2013

Ed goes north

Edward Gardner, music director of ENO, is to be the new chief conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic. He starts his three-year tenure in 2015 with the orchestra's 250th anniversary season and will be the successor to Andrew Litton. He'll continue at ENO. 

Ed says: “I have been thrilled with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from the very first time I worked with them. They have such an unique quality of sound and a hunger for new experiences and ways of making music.  The orchestra plays with the energy of a team of chamber musicians wanting to explore the symphonic repertoire with passion and commitment."


Dear Ed, do you know how much a good pizza costs in Norway?!? And please get someone to knit you one of these: you're going to need it...



Seriously, though, congrats from us all - it's a great orchestra and they're lucky to have you.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

No contest, really

Verdi or Wagner? We shouldn't have to choose between them and, thank goodness, we usually don't. But if we do, because people keep on asking, which will you keep in the balloon?

Sorry, folks, but for me it's no contest. Yes, Verdi's great. But Wagner changed his own world, he changed the world of music and he can change ours too. No contest, really.

Oh, and look who's got a new Wagner album out.


Friday, February 15, 2013

Pop goes the Rachmaninov

How do you fill a large hall for 20th-century repertoire? Play Rachmaninov. Composers who lived through these turbulent and violent times but composed in their own styles, rooted in romanticism or not, rather than the supposedly prevailing avant-garde, should be indivisible from our complete artistic picture of their age. Yet it's taken a startling amount of hindsight to reach the idea that someone who died in the 1940s is not "really 19th-century". (Sergei Rachmaninov: 1873-1943.)

These composers - Strauss, Rachmaninov, Korngold, et al - were as much of their specific era in their own ways as anyone else. Well done to The Rest is Noise for taking such a radical step - which should have been obvious years ago, but, well, you know how it goes in this funny little world...

Tonight at the RFH it's Sergei's turn. The fabulous Simon Trpceski plays the Third Piano Concerto and the LPO top it off with the Second Symphony. Yannick Nezet-Seguin is sadly off sick, but Mikhail Agrest has stepped in to save the day. Oh, and it's full (might be some returns, though, from Yannick fans). Yes, 20th-century music is popular when it's allowed in from the cold.

The fact that Rachmaninov is a man for more recent years is all too obvious...

Brief Encounter, 1945


Eric Carmen, 'All By Myself', 1975


Dana, 'Never Gonna Fall In Love Again', 1976


It's also true that the greatest music has something indescructible about it. Vivaldi, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Chopin are just a few of the other towering figures whose works have been set, reset, ripped off, shredded and otherwise bowdlerised, and still survive and often sound as good as ever. That puts Rachmaninov in excellent company.

Try Chopin. Once a Parisian sophisticate, always a Parisian sophisticate.

Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin, 'Jane B', 1969



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Newsround

Today The Guardian has run Charlotte Higgins's interview with Martin Roscoe, who talks in depth about what really happened when he tried to blow the whistle about Layfield. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/13/michael-brewer-rncm-teachers-story-martin-roscoe

But also, they report that another Chet's/RNCM teacher, violinist Wen Zhou Li, has been "arrested on suspicion of sex offences". http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/14/chetham-violin-teacher-arrested

Elsewhere, there is slightly better news.

While we were away last week, Harriet Harman intervened to stop Newcastle Council's plans to cut its arts budget by 100%. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/feb/11/harriet-harman-newcastle-arts-budget

Also, education secretary Michael Gove was forced to drop his noxious EBacc project and is now looking instead at a reformed version of GCSEs with an eight-subject base that may even include music. Triumph is scented over at the brilliant and tireless ISM, but the fight won't be over yet.

And much better news: Benjamin Grosvenor has been nominated for The Times Breakthrough Award at the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. Over the Pond, David Patrick Stearns has been listening to the star wars of the 20-something new generation pianists and lets us know that Trifonov's Carnegie Hall debut recital last week was sold out. But he picks Benjamin as the tip-top "artistic space alien": "Never have I not heard him boldly re-imagining the music he plays in ways that made complete sense, had conviction right down to the smallest detail but was completely unlike anything I’ve previously heard. How such depth of brilliance could be housed by somebody so young is enough to make you believe that reincarnation can come with accumulated wisdom." 


Urgent call for support for Fazil Say


English PEN, which works to defend freedom of expression in literature and beyond, is throwing its weight behind the cause of Turkish pianist and composer Fazil Say, who is due back in court on Monday for comments posted on Twitter. His crime? Saying that he's an atheist and proud of it. And now six of PEN's colleagues in Turkey are under investigation for "insulting the state", having voiced their concerns about his ongoing prosecution. 
Fazıl Say, an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Erdoğan, has been charged with religious defamation under Article 216/3 of the Turkish Penal Code in response to a series of messages posted on Twitter, including one which simply states: “I am an atheist and I am proud to be able to say this so comfortably.” He has also been charged under Article 218 of the Turkish Penal Code, which increases sentences by half for offences committed “via press or broadcast”. Say denies the charges.
Say first appeared in court in Istanbul on 18 October 2012, where his lawyers demanded his immediate acquittal. The acquittal call was rejected and the case adjourned until 18 February 2013. He faces up to 18 months in prison if found guilty.
Please visit the English PEN site for information on how to join their Thunderclap project to support Fazil Say. If they reach the target of 100 supporters by Monday, a simultaneous message is activated and sent simultaneously from the participants' social media accounts. The page also provides addresses to which letters of protest should be sent. http://www.englishpen.org/turkey-english-pen-protests-charges-against-fazil-say/







Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Anoushka rising

Please listen to Anoushka Shankar.
Yes. Let's rise.


More of it

Depressing news today that two more teachers from Chetham's and the RNCM are being accused of abusing their pupils in the 1970s-80s. See The Guardian. One has not been named (yet). The other is the late Ryzsard Bakst (who died in 1999) - a pianist and professor who used to be revered as a living legend, if a difficult and eccentric one, and who taught some of the finest pianists in the country. No doubt there is more of this to be revealed.

An interesting comment reached me from a musician on social media after I vented my thoughts on the whole principle of boarding schools. It wasn't the schools that were to blame, he said, it was the people in them. Ah... a bit like guns, then?

Note, all these events took place several decades ago. One hopes profoundly that the different climate, culture and awareness that has sprung up since makes such matters a thing of the past. All the places involved have new administrations these days, as well as many, many devoted, honourable and top-notch professors. As we said the other day: keep calm and ask the right questions.

More reports here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/12/chris-ling-chethams-teacher-hollywood?intcmp=239
and here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/10/musical-lings-strings?intcmp=239
and here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/feb/11/malcolm-layfield-chetham-sexual-abuse?intcmp=239


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A hundred years ago already?

(OK, OK, I promise I'm never, ever going to say again that I'm on holiday and won't blog for a week. Apologies for typos in the past few posts - I was working on a shiny-screened laptop in brilliant Egyptian sunshine....... Now back. Bit chilly here, i'n't it?)

My birthday tribute to The Rite of Spring - a piece of music without which my life might have been very different - is out in today's Independent. (Own obligatory book plug here.) Below, please find the director's cut. First, here's a fascinating interview with Monica Mason, Kenneth MacMillan's original Chosen Maiden, about the making of his version, with extracts of dancing from the amazing Ed Watson, the most recent male Chosen One at Covent Garden, among others.







THE RITE OF SPRING
Jessica Duchen

It was probably the most cataclysmic moment in the history of music. On 29 May 1913 the curtain rose at Paris’s Théatre des Champs-Elysées on the new ballet Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring), choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky to a score by Igor Stravinsky. Minutes later the place was in uproar. This event set the music of the 20th century in motion as surely as the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 13 months later heralded a terrifying new age in warfare, politics and society. 

Speaking recently at the first night of the Southbank Centre’s year-long festival of 20th and 21st-century music, The Rest is Noise, the artistic director Jude Kelly termed this era “the age of violence”. And in 1913 The Rite of Spring was indubitably the most violent music the world had yet heard. Harmony is slashed, cubic, multilayered. Often the orchestra effectively plays in two keys at once. Melody, when it is present at all, is fragmentary, suggesting the ambience and contours of folk songs. Rhythm drives the whole thing, but those rhythms – elemental, driven, clashing – are anything but predictable, throwing the listener about like a runaway train. Stravinsky sets up a pattern only in order to shatter it. It has been suggested that the work contains “a touch of sadism”. 

The ballet’s story is indeed cruel. An imaginary ancient tribe sacrifices a young virgin to propitiate the god of spring. We are hapless witnesses as the Chosen Maiden is selected, glorified, then forced to dance herself to death. It is a gut-wrenching idea that could seem almost to tap into a primitive bloodlust. Whether or not that was deliberate on Stravinsky’s part, or Nijinsky’s, is something we’ll probably never know. 

Stravinsky claimed that he had the idea for the ballet in a “fleeting vision”. But someone else needs to receive more credit for dreaming it up: the ballet’s designer, the Russian artist and philosopher Nicholas Roerich, who was far more deeply engaged with matters of folklore – besides Theosophy and occult mysticism – than the composer himself. Stravinsky’s earlier ballets drew on fairy stories and Russian folk music, but the wellsprings of horror that underlie The Rite are never fully present. Stravinsky certainly developed the scenario in collaboration with Roerich, and later the artist was furious to see his crucial role in its creation downgraded while the composer hogged the glory. 

Not that there was much of that to be had from the hissing and cat-calling on the first night. The protest broke out shortly after curtain-up. Stravinsky fled the auditorium and observed the rest of the performance from backstage: “I have never again been that angry,” he recalled. Serge Diaghilev – the impresario behind the Ballets russes de Monte Carlo, responsible for commissioning all concerned – was nevertheless rather satisfied with the outcome. Even then, there was no such thing as bad publicity.

The “riot at The Rite” has been the subject of endless scrutiny. Doubt has been cast on whether it really amounted to a riot at all; noise, yes, but fist-fights, probably not, though around 40 people are said to have been thrown out of the theatre. In all likelihood the disapprobation was directed at Nijinsky’s eccentric and ungainly choreography, rather than Stravinsky’s efforts; after all, with so much noise, the music was scarcely audible. Commentators have pointed to all manner of issues at stake that night, from a faction in attendance that was loyal to Diaghilev’s better-established choreographer, Mikhail Fokine, to the sensitivities of a French audience beleaguered by the tense atmosphere that prefigured World War I. But some composers who heard it were not happy either; Puccini attended on the second night and dubbed it the work of “a madman”.

Stravinsky emerged from the fracas dispirited; he feared that the hostile reception would shatter the momentum he had achieved following enthusiastic responses to his first two ballets, The Firebird (1910) and Petrushka (1911). But just under a year later, The Rite was rescued when the conductor Pierre Monteux championed it at the Casino de Paris, purely as a concert piece. Allowed to stand or fall on its musical merits, The Rite rose triumphant. 

Today The Rite of Spring has achieved a popularity that Stravinsky could only have dreamed of on that notorious first night. It is a tribute to him that even after a century in which every traditional parameter of music – tonality, rhythm, melody, sonority – has been subverted or destroyed, this work has lost none of its power. In a year dominated to excess by composers’ anniversaries – Wagner, Verdi and Britten – The Rite, only about half an hour long, is enjoying a similar celebration in its own right. 

If anything, its power has increased with familiarity (no doubt helped along when Disney animated it with volcanoes and dinosaurs in Fantasia). It is a concert staple, a modern classic. Last year the London Symphony Orchestra and the conductor Valery Gergiev performed it in Trafalgar Square; a 10,000-strong audience turned out to cheer it on. In the theatre, numerous choreographers have turned their hand to its reinterpretation, from Kenneth MacMillan’s geometric marvels to the heartbreaking terror of Pina Bausch’s version for her Tanztheater Wuppertal. 

We can expect plenty more of it this year. Sadler’s Wells is to stage a celebration entitled A String of Rites, including Michael Keegan Dolan’s choreography of The Rite for Fabulous Beast, a large-scale community project and a new, full-evening ballet by Akram Khan, entitled iTMOi (in the mind of Igor), with new music by Nitin Sawhney, Jocelyn Pook and Ben Frost. And first, the work features in a concert in The Rest is Noise, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It’s clear that as it reaches its hundredth birthday Stravinsky’s most famous score has become as perennial as spring itself.

The Rite of Spring features in The Rest is Noise at the Royal Festival Hall on 16 February with the London Philharmonic conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Box office: 0844 875 0073

MUSIC THAT SHOCKED
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde (1865)
Wagner’s opera changed the face of music when later composers fell under the spell of its harmonic language; but its eroticism scandalised many listeners. Clara Schumann wrote: “It was the most repulsive thing...To be forced to see and listen to such sexual frenzy the whole evening, in which every feeling of decency is violated …I endured it to the end since I wanted to hear the whole lot!”

Georges Bizet: Carmen (1875)
Bizet’s opera was a flop when it first opened at Paris’s Opéra-Comique. It broke the conventions of the venue’s repertoire by ending in murder and tragedy; and the sexually liberated Carmen was regarded as a scandalous, immoral heroine. The opera’s many admirers included Nietzche and also Tchaikovsky, who was greatly influenced by it, but Bizet died three months after the world premiere and never saw its success.

Richard Strauss: Salome (1905)
Strauss amplified Oscar Wilde’s play about the lust-maddened princess and her demand for the head of John the Baptist with music that mixed sensual beauty with claustrophobic and violent excess. Salome’s final scena over the severed head culminates in a chord that encapsulates her depravity so thoroughly that tracts have been written about this moment alone. The opera was banned in London for its first two years. Strauss set out to shock – and succeeded.

Arnold Schoenberg: String Quartet No.2 (1908)
“I feel wind from other planets,” runs the Stefan George poem that Schoenberg set for soprano and string quartet in this ground-breaking work. So did its audience. The planet in question was the final movement’s experiment in “atonality”: a piece written without any tonal centre, giving an impression of floating, unrooted dissonance that exists for its own sake rather than for its relativity. More than a century later, the effect still sounds radical.

John Adams: The Death of Klinghoffer (1991)
Based on the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists, Adams’s opera fell foul of ferocious international sensitivities. Planned productions were cancelled and some responses expressed horror that the work should dare to portray the emotions of characters on both sides. After 9/11, an article in the New York Times accused it of “romanticizing terrorism”. Its UK stage premiere finally took place at English National Opera last year, to considerable acclaim.