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Alexander Toradze and PostClassical Ensemble explore the Stravinsky Piano Concerto

This episode of our bi-monthly series “PostClassical” features the pianist Alexander Toradze, speaking about and performing Stravinsky from a “Russian” point of view that takes issue with the composer’s own instructions, and radically re-interprets his “neo-classicism.” Joining Toradze is our usual trio of hosts: “Exploring Music” host Bill McGlaughlin with the co-founders of DC’s PostClassical Ensemble: author Joe Horowitz and conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez. The centerpiece is a dazzling (and controversial) 2011 performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds.

A 1978 graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Toradze – like his close friend and frequent collaborator Valery Gergiev -- belongs to a generation of Soviet-trained musicians who came to the “neo-classical” Stravinsky beginning in the 1960s, and experienced this music differently than we did in the West.


5:00 – Stravinsky speaks: “music can express nothing” and cannot be “interpreted” – his neo-classical credo, formulated in Paris after World War I.

6:00 – A 1928 recording by Stravinsky and his son Soulima of Mozart’s C minor Fugue embodies the radically impersonal aesthetic Stravinsky now embraced; Horowitz calls it “insolently impersonal.”

8:30 – Toradze remembers Stravinsky’s own performance of The Firebird in Moscow (1962) as “very uninteresting.” In his edition of Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata (published after the composer’s death), Soulima contradicted his father and embraced expressive “interpretation.” Toradze understands Stravinsky’s strictures against interpretation as a strategy for counteracting traditional piano styles rooted in Romantic repertoire (Liszt, Chopin, etc.). He recalls that, in Russia in 1962, Stravinsky testified that he always “dreamt in Russian.”

23:00 – We sample Stravinsky’s own 1968 recording of the Piano Concerto (with Philippe Entremont). Toradze finds the opening Largo too fast; he endorses the original tempo marking: “Largissimo.” He argues that composers are sometimes self-consciously constrained performing their own music, and cites Rachmaninoff as an example.

32:00 – Movement 1 of the Stravinsky Concerto, with Toradze and Angel Gil-Ordonez conducting PostClassical Ensemble (2011)

40:00 – The influence of jazz on Stravinsky and Toradze. During Toradze’s student years in Moscow, American jazz was “food for the soul”; it created the illusion “that’s what [American] freedom is about.”

54:00 – In 1978, on tour in Portland, Oregon, Toradze met Ella Fitzgerald and told her (onstage) that she was “a goddess” in the Soviet Union.

57:00 – In Toradze’s religious reading of the second movement of the Stravinsky Concerto, a “duality” of Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox musical influences interact. Stravinsky, in France, believed his bleeding finger was cured by a religious miracle.

1:05 – Movement 2 of the Stravinsky Concerto, with Toradze and Gil-Ordonez

1:20 – Movement 3 of the Stravinsky Concerto, with Toradze and Gil-Ordonez

1:25 – Toradze remembers the Russian pianist Maria Yudina, “a colossal figure” who long championed Stravinsky in the USSR. She first heard the Stravinsky Concerto performed by Seymour Lipkin, Leonard Bernstein, and the NY Philharmonic on tour in Moscow in 1959. She met Stravinsky in Moscow in 1962 and was dismayed to discover him susceptible to “photo opportunities and journalists.”

We close by sampling Yudina’s 1962 recording of the Stravinsky Concerto, conducted by Genadi Rozhdestvensky.

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