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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Igor Stravinsky; Benjamin Grosvenor

08 April, 2021 — By Michael White

Igor Stravinsky

FIFTY years ago this week a tiny, birdlike man (just 5ft 3ins) who cast a giant shadow across almost every category of modern music (classical, jazz, opera, ballet…) died. His name was Igor Stravinsky. He helped define what it was to be “modern”. And though Covid has muted commemorations for the anniversary, there are no end of broadcast/online events running right now to steer you through his life, times and achievements.

Born in 1882 in Russia, he became a life-long exile, making his mark with three great ballet scores (Firebird, Petrushka and Rite of Spring) that premiered in Paris, moving to Switzerland, then to America where he died in 1971, and ending up buried in Venice – with the most spectacular of funerals (there are clips on YouTube) that involved his coffin being taken by gondola across to the cemetery island of San Michele. Powerfully atmospheric.

His output was enormous, varied, constantly developing. And a good introduction to it might be the Stravinsky Day, April 10 on BBC Radio 3, which includes talks, assessments, a performance of his opera The Rake’s Progress, and a so-called “River of Stravinsky” that flows for five-and-a-half hours through 50 of his scores.

If that isn’t enough, the German radio station NDR has a week-long Stravinsky Festival, all online, with fascinating archive films of the composer as well as complete performances of Firebird, Rite of Spring and other live-streamed concerts on its website: google NDR.de Stravinsky.

Back here in Britain, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic have a Stravinsky anniversary concert on their website for the next month, conducted by Vasily Petrenko, with pianist Steven Osborne. Tickets from £10. Liverpoolphil.com/what’s-on

And if you want still more, Stravinsky’s publisher Boosey & Hawkes has a five-part podcast series about him, presented by Oxford academic Jonathan Cross: boosey.com/podcast/Stravinsky

But one last thing I’d commend is the reissue on DVD of an extraordinary three-hour film made for TV back in the 1980s by the legendary Tony Palmer. That TV companies were prepared to run three hours of classical music documentary in those days is something in itself: it wouldn’t happen now. And the expansive nature of the film exposes a Stravinsky you don’t always see – as he plays to the camera, giggles at his own jokes, knocks back alcohol (he once told Palmer that his name should really be Strawhisky), and reveals his obsession with ill-health (“Everybody says to me: You’re looking well. I’m not feeling well at all,” he complains). Stravinsky: Once at a Border is out now in a special anniversary package from Naxos. Also available on Amazon Prime.

Should you happen not to like Stravinsky, you’ll be pleased to know that other composers are available this week – notably in a recital by the pianist Benjamin Grosvenor that launches a new Live from the Barbican online series. It streams 8pm, April 10. And with Chopin, Schubert, Ravel on the bill, there’s not a note of Igor’s to be heard. Tickets £12.50. Barbican.org.uk

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