Rite of Spring at the WSO

by Tom Ingram

This Saturday’s WSO concert was The Rite of Spring with two newer pieces: Mijidwewinan by Barbara Croall and the Bandoneon Concerto by Ástor Piazzolla. Not a first half that inspires confidence, to be honest. The “pre-concert chat” revealed Barbara Croall to be somewhat lacking in eloquence, and full of half-remembered quasi-philosophical ideas. It is no great testament to my clairvoyant ability to say that I correctly predicted I would not enjoy her piece.

There have been many Herculean attempts to merge the tradition of aboriginal music with western classical music, and I, as a good patriotic Canadian, have been subject to approximately all of them. Pretty much across the board they’ve yielded results that are incomprehensible to westerners and probably offensive to aboriginal people. I understand the desire to increase aboriginal representation in the concert hall, but it would be nice to do it while creating some worthwhile music.

Daniel Binelli, the bandoneon soloist, was clearly not very comfortable with English, so his interview was very short. He answered the question of whether he had met Piazzolla by playing a badass run on his instrument. Fair enough, I say. He seemed to be having a good time, and music precedes language anyway.

Last was the choreographer and the leader of the dance troupe for Rite. It hadn’t been made clear to me before the concert that there would be dancing. Rite was conceived as a ballet, but let’s face it: it’s a concert work through and through. The dance folks were, as it turned out, in much the same boat as Croall. There was quite a lot of mumbling about nature and the female spirit, but I doubt there was any kind of understanding of what the European philosophical tradition or aboriginal spirituality had to say about these things, let alone what they have to do with Stravinsky.

Croall’s piece was basically an accompanied nap. Croall appeared bored on stage, so I felt no guilt. I was a bit tired and the rest helped me stay conscious for the remainder of the concert.

The bandoneon is related to the accordion, but sounds much nicer. It’s common in Argentine tango music, and Piazzolla was essentially to that tradition what Bernstein and Gershwin were to jazz. The instrument has a unique and beautiful idiom, and Binelli played very well. Unfortunately the piece did not measure up—it had little in the way of unity, development, or interplay. Lots of good ideas, but they didn’t come together. The best parts were with the bandoneon unaccompanied.

Rite was very well played, but the upstage pageantry of the dance distracted from the music. Overall, the concert was disappointing, as was the previous one in the Masterworks series. There’s some good stuff programmed this year, but the first interesting concert isn’t till November, and what I’ve heard so far has been a mixed bag.

I realize we’re trying to attract young people, but look: I’m a young person, and a lot of “new music” bores me to tears. You want to attract young people? Play Scriabin next to Haydn. Play a Mozart piano concerto every other concert. Bruckner. Rachmaninov. Martinu. Milhaud. A deep and hard-won appreciation for the entire classical tradition will make better and more dedicated listeners than a cheap but shallow fondness for the gangrenous stump that is “new music”.

(Don’t believe the paper’s review, by the way. It’s a pack of lies, unless Friday night was drastically different from Saturday.)