While the world has been more or less been musically silent a year since the pandemic started, Russia (especially both capital cities – Moscow and St Petersburg) – has been active in theatre and music life since August 2020, with severe audience restrictions in the winter 2020/2021 and new relaxations of attendance rules since January-February 2021. That is why it is with some assurance that one can say that paradoxically nowhere in the world (despite multiple online streamed concerts and radio programmes dedicated to the composer) that the 50th anniversary since the death of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky who passed away on 6 April 1971 in New York has been celebrated live. Nowhere apart from the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, whose Artistic Director Valery Gergiev has made a special mention on Mariinsky TV of the importance of having Stravinsky Days and honouring the memory of the composer. The Mariinsky Theatre held three Stravinsky Days on 4-6 April 2021, with one of them (April 5) featuring symphonic concerts in Zayryadye Hall in Moscow, where the orchestra travelled for one day only.
Mariinsky can proudly claim close connection with the composer’s family, as Igor’s father Fyodor Ignatyevich was a soloist (bass) at the theatre for decades from since 1876 till his death in 1902, living with his family in an apartment on Kryukov Channel 6-8 that can be seen from the upper floors of the New Stage of Mariinsky Theatre. It is in this apartment that Igor Stravinsky (though born Oranienbaum, now Lomonosov on a rented summer dacha) lived for the first 26 years of his life. And it is this pulpable, still existing connection that Mariinsky Theatre highlighted in a unique way during the Stravinsky Days.
For the purpose of celebrations the study of Fyodor Ignatyevich was recreated in the Stravinsky Foyer of the New Mariinsky. It was done with the help of Stravinsky Fund that provided all the objects needed for this purpose, as all of them have been stored as part of its collection. The great-great-niece of the composer Evgeniya Dobrotina personally visited St Petersburg and expessed the hope that Stravinsky Museum will be finally founded in the city, while her daughter Anastasya participated in a live Instragram stream describing the objects of the exhibition and mentioning family memories associated with them. Interestingly, Mariinsky visitors can now see those very furniture pieces – a writing table, a chair, a bookcase with a lyre-shaped lock, while the lyre can be seen on the top of the historic Mariinsky nearby and its symbol – that Igor Stravinsky could re-connect with in 1962 when he visited his USSR-based relatives and was shown to two rooms in Kryukov Channel that still remained in the family’s possession. The rest of the communal flat served as a pretence of locked rooms with (temporarily) no access to them to save the composer the shock of discovering Soviet realities.
And thus the celebrations started! On April 4 several events were held in three Mariinsky venues: historic Mariinsky, the New Stage and Mariinsky Concert Hall. The outstanding programme of ballets (featuring every work to composer’s music currently in the repertoire) that probably every Stravinsky fan in the world would die to see included Pétrouchka and The Firebird by Michel Fokine, Le Sacre du printemps by Vaslav Nijinsky, Les Noces by Bronislava Nijinska and Apollo by George Balanchine. Three one-act ballets by contemporary choreographers comprised Jeu de cartes and Pulcinella by Ilya Zhivoi and Symphony in Three Movements by Radu Poklitaru and thus added the vision of a new dance generation to the one that is associated with Les Ballets Russes today. The etoiles of Mariinsky including Victoria Tereshkina, British-born Xander Parish and Ekaterina Kondaurova appeared on the stage in these ballets. Seeing all these ballets in one day put Stravinsky’s musical heritage into comprehensive perspective and also highlighted the inherent connections with dance and movements that his compositions are able to create. Interestingly, two recent exhibitions at Sheremetyev Palace dedicated to two long-standing Stravinsky’s collaborators – Sergey Diagilev and Alexander Benois – enriched the experience by letting us feel that the context and atmosphere when the composer worked in the 1910-1920s is still kept through Mariinsky ballet traditions.
At the Mariinsky Concert Hall during the Days there was also a staged version of L’Histoire du soldat with ballet soloist and choreographer Alexander Sergeyev making his debut as the Narrator. Maestro Gergiev attended this performance as a spectator, despite participating in every other event of the celebrations. My own favourite of the proceedings were the piano recitals by young students of St Petersburg pianist Peter Laul that were given in the evenings of April 4 and 6 in the Stravinsky Foyer. As the day outside was ending, the lit foyer got a cosy atmosphere of the salon, with the lamp on Fyodor Stravinsky’s table also glowing with intimate green. Audiences gathered nearby, young people played Stravinsky’s piano music and even allowed the spectators to join in, commenting that some of the pieces were written especially for Sergey Diaghilev who absolutely could not play the instrument. Those were the moments when I felt the magic of gathering in the Mariinsky to listen to Igor Stravinsky’s music while simultaneously being able to see the composer’s house through the glass. Who knows, may be these young people are future composers who whill go on to become famous in the 21st century?
The symphonic and orchestral programme for the celebrations in St Petersburg were no less outstanding. They spread over two evening concerts on the New Stage of the Mariinsky: opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex and Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra (with Denis Matsuev as soloist) on April 4, and Symphony of Psalms, Violin Concerto in D (Pavel Milyukov as soloist) and the trademark work of the composer – The Rite of Spring on April 6, the very day of Stravinsky’s anniversary. Denis Matsuev and Pavel Milyukov were both artistically memorable, especially Milyukov who mesmerized the audiences with his performance of the Violin Concerto. Maestro Gergiev is known world-wide for his Stravinsky performance, and this one had very memorable dynamics, highlighting the contrasts between ritualistic obsession and moments of calm preceding it that are so striking in Stravinsky’s revolutionary work that once premiered in 1913 in Paris with a scandal described in many biographies of the composer. One probably needs a lifetime to comprehend the influence of Igor Stravinsky on the history of music. Mariinsky Theatre and Valery Gergiev certainly made an outstanding comprehensive overview during the Stravinsky Days, and the fact that the theatre might have been the only musical institution in the world that did so this year created a feeling of singularity and privilege.