– The Boston Symphony, guest Conductor Pierre Monteux -In Rehearsal – February 10, 1951 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Another historic rehearsal program from The Boston Symphony. This one features guest Conductor and former Music Director Pierre Monteux leading the orchestra in a work he originally premiered in Paris in 1913.. Stravinsky‘s Rite of Spring, which received its World Premier under Monteux in April of 1913 and immediately caused a riot among the concert goers.
The dress rehearsal, with Debussy, Ravel, other musicians and critics among those present, passed without incident. However, the following evening the premiere provoked something approaching a riot, with loud verbal abuse of the work, counter-shouts from supporters, and fisticuffs breaking out. Monteux pressed on, continuing to conduct the orchestra regardless of the turmoil behind him. Stravinsky wrote “The image of Monteux’s back is more vivid in my mind today than the picture of the stage. He stood there apparently impervious and as nerveless as a crocodile. It is still incredible to me that he actually brought the orchestra through to the end.” The extensive press coverage of the incident made Monteux “at age thirty-eight, truly a famous conductor”. The company presented the Rite during its London season a few weeks later. The Times reported that although there was “something like a hostile reception” at the first London performance, the final performance in the season “was received with scarcely a sign of opposition”. Before the 1913 London performances, Monteux challenged Diaghilev’s authority by declaring that he, not the impresario, was the composer’s representative in matters related to The Rite of Spring.
Monteux believed that most of the anger aroused by the work was due not to the music but to Nijinsky’s choreography, described by Stravinsky as “knock-kneed and long-haired Lolitas jumping up and down”. With the composer’s agreement Monteux presented a concert performance in Paris in April 1914. Saint-Saëns, who was present, declared Stravinsky mad and left in a rage, but he was almost alone in his dislike. At the end Stravinsky was carried shoulder-high from the theatre after what he described as “the most beautiful performance that I have had of the Sacre du printemps”. That performance was part of a series of “Concerts Monteux”, presented between February and April 1914, in which Monteux conducted the orchestra of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in a wide range of symphonic and concertante works, including the concert premiere of the orchestral version of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales.
Not so riotous this time, but with a lot of keen insight – and particularly interesting because he is conducting the rehearsal from memory, without the use of the score.
Sadly, we only get a half-hour snapshot of the goings-on, but it’s enough to make you realize the historic significance of this particular broadcast.
Enjoy – as always.
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