Weissenberg plays ‘Petrushka’

Here’s one of my favorite concert videos. It features pianist Alexis Weissenberg playing Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka. The director is Ake Falck, and while he didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the lighting and the camerawork here are superb. Notice how they actually focus your listening rather than distract, as visuals often do. Weissenberg reportedly recorded the piano part in the studio and synced to the recording for the film. –TM

Bernstein: ‘Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs’

In the run-up to Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday, I’ve been highlighting some of his lesser known music. Here’s his jazz/classical fusion piece “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs,” originally written, like Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto,” which it resembles, for Woody Herman’s big band. Bernstein conducts this performance for the TV show “Omnibus” in 1955.

Pacific Symphony will perform this piece as part of its Bernstein tribute.

Stravinsky conducts ‘Pulcinella’

Composer Igor Stravinsky conducts the Toronto Symphony in the ending of his own ballet “Pulcinella.” This is in 1967, very late in his life, the latest I’ve seen him conducting on film. He would have been about 85 here. Stravinsky is sometimes criticized for having been a poor conductor. Though there is a fair amount of sloppy playing here, he reveals himself as a lively podium presence, alert to rhythm, tempo and the trenchant cue.

The composer’s acknowledgement of the applause is also affecting.

That time Igor Stravinsky was in a watch ad

I happened upon this photo the other day — the composer Igor Stravinsky with a cat.

My son and I were curious about the watch — Stravinsky was always a dapper dresser — and we came upon this (click on photo to enlarge, see lower left):

See also: That time Philip Glass was in a whisky ad

Video: Monteux conducts ‘Le sacre du printemps’

I was listening to this recording again the other night for the first time in a while and was struck by not only how good the performance was but also by how it must be quite close to how this piece sounded at the premiere in 1913 (or at least what you could hear over the riot and jeers).

Pierre Monteux was the conductor at the premiere and he led an orchestra of French musicians, as here. French orchestras in the 1950s still had a distinctive sound (tart and clear), and the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra is captured in fine stereo sound in this recording, made in 1956. The performance is not as slick or as powerful as they have become in our time, but it is incisive and primitive and teeming. I’ll post just the first two sections below (the others are available on YouTube). Monteux said he always pictured the dancers at the premiere in his head whenever he conducted the score subsequently.

Audio: Stravinsky: Andante

Stravinsky’s music is often thought of as a relentlessly bold, spiky and angular, but he also wrote in gentle pastels. Here’s one such piece, his Andante for piano four hands (which I’m learning at the moment).

And now listen to his enchanting orchestration of same.