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"...Fleischer handled the horde adroitly, with the densely knotted voices clearly delineated and tidy, almost Haydnesque, nuances that almost overcame the work’s Achilles’ heel – a monotony that can emerge from persistent rhythm unalleviated by memorable melody...."

 

ASO Symphony shows it has the “Rite” stuff

by Mike Dunham

 

Eighty-eight years after its riotous Paris debut, Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” received its first performance in Anchorage on Saturday. Instead of the fisticuffs and howls of protest that accompanied the 1913 premiere, the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and conductor Randall Craig Fleischer received their most tumultuous ovation of the season. Ironically, I couldn’t persuade any of my customary guest to take my second ticket. One friend, renovating his house, thought his Skil saw might make more pleasant listening.

 

My teenager said, “Stravinsky is too chaotic for me.” Chaotic? Compared to what? Your room? Your driving habits? The garbled tripe on that awful radio station you listen to? “Well,” he replied thoughtfully, “you may have noticed that station plays a lot of bad music.”

 

His riposte mirrored something Stravinsky once said about Wagner. I sighed and set out alone but found Atwood Hall 85 percent to 90 percent full, the same as at most recent symphony concerts. The 97 musicians onstage for “The Rite” rivaled or exceeded the biggest group of instrumentalists yet fielded for an Anchorage Symphony concert. (Some 30 players were added for the event.) Yet Fleischer handled the horde adroitly, with the densely knotted voices clearly delineated and tidy, almost Haydnesque, nuances that almost overcame the work’s Achilles’ heel – a monotony that can emerge from persistent rhythm unalleviated by memorable melody.

 

“The Rite” invariably sounds better live than on disc, largely because it is an orchestration tour de force with decibel levels that approach those at rock concerts and airports. Perhaps the promise of those decibels brought in a different crowd, young people displaying, um, Gothic sensibilities. They led the long, loud standing ovation punctuated by whoops and whistles – but season ticket holders concurred. The players had worked their fingers off to master this singularly difficult score and well deserved the hearty show of appreciation.

 

The squabbles of the 1913 – which rumbled through most of the last century – were between those who find “The Rite” a musical masterpiece and those who dismiss it as music, period. I don’t quite agree with either opinion but can confidently report that on Saturday night, the Alaska audience heard a very good, very memorable, rip-snorting performance of the piece.