So, What’s Going On?
Instrumentalists sit tall, poised to play. The conductor lifts the baton and melodies float through the concert hall. Suddenly, the conductor cuts the instruments off. But why?
While attending an open rehearsal is like a concert in some ways, it’s very different in others. You’ll likely hear selections from all of the pieces the symphony plans to play at the concert, but unlike a concert, they won’t necessarily be played in order or from beginning to end. That’s because the purpose of a rehearsal is for the musicians to perfect their parts for an upcoming performance and practice as a cohesive group. You might notice that during the rehearsal, the conductor pauses to give instructions, speak to an instrument section or soloist, or even repeat part of the music. The conductor may give portions of a piece more attention than others, even leaving some portions out completely. That’s because, though there’s an audience, an open rehearsal isn’t really a performance, but a practice. It’s also an exciting way to learn about the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into a symphony performance.
During this rehearsal, conductor Lionel Bringuier (pronounced Bran-ghee-AY) will rehearse music from a program that features music by Albert Roussel (ROO-sel), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (MO-tzart), and Igor Stravinsky (struh-VIN-skee).
Here’s a preview…
was composed by Albert Roussel (1869–1937), a young French sailor who didn’t begin studying music until he was 25, when he became influenced by the work of impressionist composer Claude Debussy (deb-YOO-see). The Spider’s Feast (symphonic fragments)
Now if you hear “impressionism” and think of art, you’re not alone. Impressionist music was actually named for its similarities to the genre of painting known as impressionism which featured scenes from everyday life and nature. These painters captured life as if someone caught a quick glimpse of it. This “snapshot in time” was created with quick blurry strokes (instead of broad ones), lots of vibrant colors, and natural lighting. Simply put, the painter’s focus was on his or her quick “impression” of the subject as well as the object itself. And just like their artist friends, impressionistic composers set out to convey emotion and mood in a bold way.
Take a look at Claude Monet’s painting titled
Impression, Sunrise. Learn more about the painting movement that inspired musical impressionism. Now…back to music!
In 1912, Roussel wrote the music for the ballet
Le Festin de l'Araignée ( The Spider's Feast). Although he created the composition for the concert hall in “symphonic fragments,” he intended it to be performed as a complete work. As a ballet, it tells the story of a garden spider’s exploits and untimely death. It goes something like this:
A spider waits in a garden for its prey, while ants march across the garden, followed by two beetles. A butterfly dances the waltz, which is interrupted when it is caught in the spider’s web. Just as the spider begins its triumphant dance, an apple falls from a tree, returning the spider to its web. Two maggots bury themselves in the apple, while two praying mantises fight one another until they become tangled in the web. A mayfly hatches and dances, before collapsing, dead. The spider prepares to feast on its prey, but the beetles free one of the mantises, which kills the spider. The remaining insects give the mayfly a solemn funeral as night falls.
The Spider’s Feast and watch the accompanying imagery: VIDEO
Violin Concerto No. 5 was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), believed to be a musical prodigy and one of the greatest composers of all time. Mozart’s musical ability was the stuff of legends—he possessed “perfect pitch” and, even as a child, could virtually pick up any instrument and play it without lessons or instruction. In fact, he taught himself to play violin on a miniature instrument built by his father. Mozart composed everything from operas to symphonies, and concertos to chamber music. Though he didn’t live long—he died at just 35—Mozart left a lifetime of music as his legacy.
Mozart composed Violin Concerto No. 5 in 1775 at age 19. It is the fourth violin concerto he wrote in his “year of the violin.” It premiered in Salzburg, Austria, during the Christmas season and is known by the nickname
The Turkish for the “exotic” accents Mozart uses in the finale. Oddly, these exotic sounds aren’t exactly Turkish. Most of the melodies are drawn from Hungarian folk songs, and one was written by Mozart many years earlier for the Hungarian ballet, Lucio Silla.
Listen to Violin Concerto No. 5 with soloist Gil Shaham (yep, the same guy from this performance) and the Schwetzinger Orchesterakademie:
Learn more about
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major.
was composed by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), a Russian composer and musician whose works, including Petrushka The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, are considered among the most influential of the 20th century. Stravinsky’s father was a famous opera singer, so young Igor spent many days at the St. Petersburg opera house. Still, he pursued a career in law, only giving up his legal studies after he saw success with his ballet, The Firebird. Nevertheless, Stravinsky’s music was considered controversial in his time. In fact, on the opening night of The Rite of Spring, the audience was so shocked by the music and the ballet’s choreography that there was a riot in the theater. (Really!)
Learn more about Stravinsky:
Petrushka (puh-TROOSH-kuh) was written in 1911 as a creative distraction when he was supposed to be composing The Rite of Spring. Playing around at his piano, he experimented with unusual chords, many of which were harsh and strange sounding. As hard as it is to imagine, the experiment evolved into music for Petrushka. For this ballet, Stravinsky collaborated with Alexandre Benois (ben-WAH) on the libretto (opera text) and Sergei Diaghilev (sur-GEY dee-AH-guh-lev), the Russian founder of the famous dance company Ballets Russes. The ballet was about Petrushka, a classic character from famous folktales all over the world. Known as Punch in England, Pulcinella in Italy, and Petrushka in Russia, the puppet is a trickster with a high, squeaky voice.
Petrushka draws on Russian folklore to tell the story of a puppet who comes to life and falls in love with a ballerina. Beginning in St. Petersburg’s Shrovetide Fair, Petrushka opens with three characters—a Ballerina, a Moor, and Petrushka—on a stage.
Caption: Along with co-writing the libretto with Stravinsky, Alexandre Benois worked on the set designs and costumes for
Petrushka. This is his depiction of the Shrovetide Fair. ( image source)
The Moor and Petrushka both love the Ballerina, but she rejects Petrushka, who becomes jealous and fights with the Moor. Petrushka is banished to his cell, which is dark and dank.
Caption: Petrushka’s Room as drawn by Benois. (
The Ballerina enters, but Petrushka’s frantic movements scare her away, and he cries desperately. The scene changes to the Moor’s colorful room, where the Ballerina and the Moor are together. Petrushka, who has broken free from his cell, enters and attacks the Moor unsuccessfully.
The final scene takes the audience back to the Shrovetide Fair in the evening. The Moor chases and kills Petrushka, whose ghost later appears on the rooftop, mocking the audience and show master.
Another interesting note...
Petrushka was choreographed by Michel Fokine (fuh KEEN), the resident choreographer for Ballets Russes. Fokine created the ballet for Vaslav Nijinsky (ni-ZHIN-skee), considered one of the greatest and most original male dancers of the 20th century.
Caption: Vaslav Nijinsky as Petrushka.
National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) is made up of 96 musicians who perform around 150 concerts each year. Currently in its 87th season, the NSO performs across the country, but the Kennedy Center functions as its home base. The NSO has performed at the Kennedy Center every year since the KC opened in 1971. The orchestra is committed to music education and audience engagement.
Credit: Simon Pauly
Lionel Bringuier is among the most respected and engaging conductors of his generation. After studying cello and conducting at the Paris Conservatoire (beginning at age 13), he has appeared with ensembles across the globe, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and Munich Philharmonic. He saw his professional premiere at age 14 and was the youngest Assistant Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Bringuier continues to prove that classical music is for all—young people included.
Credit: Luke Ratray
Gil Shaham is a renowned musician, known for immaculate technique combined with warm emotion. He is a Grammy® Award-winner and was named Musical America’s “Instrumentalist of the Year.” Though he was born in Illinois, Shaham grew up and began his musical studies in Jerusalem, debuting as a soloist with the Jerusalem Symphony at age 10. After studying at Julliard and Columbia University, he has performed with many of the world’s premier orchestras.
Check This Out…
is one of Roussel’s earlier works and is heavily influenced by the impressionist style. You’ll hear music that stretches the rules of tonality (notes that “sound good” together) and has less defined sections. The Spider’s Feast (symphonic fragments)
Roussel’s unique orchestration: two flute parts (with a piccolo that doubles one flute an octave higher), two oboe parts (and one English horn that doubles an oboe part), two clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani, percussion, harp, celeste, and strings.
uneven rhythms that make the piece interesting.
vivid representations of the story. See if you can pick out the ants’ march, the butterfly’s graceful flying, and the mayfly’s lively dance and solemn funeral. Roussel paints a picture with the music, even without the story being staged in ballet form.
Hear Roussel “paint a musical picture” of a butterfly dancing in “Danse du Papillon” (or “Dance of the Butterfly”):
Hear the final “scene” of the piece, titled “Night falls on the solitary garden,” in which Roussel’s unusual harmony is on display:
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 has three movements (parts of the musical composition). One interesting thing about this concerto is the orchestration—the instruments Mozart chose for the work. The piece was originally scored for two oboes, two French horns, and strings (violin I, violin II, viola, cello, and bass). Here are some features to listen for in each movement:
I. Allegro aperto – Adagio – Allegro aperto
the opening tempo.
Allegro means “brisk,” while aperto translates to “open.” Listen for the fast pace of the orchestra and its fullness. the violin’s solo entrance. Notice the tempo change between the opening and this slow, dreamy section (marked as
Adagio, or slow). the exciting return to the Allegro aperto. In the cadenza—a solo inserted into the end of the section—the violin plays unaccompanied by the orchestra.
Hear the energetic Allegro aperto that opens the piece:
II. Adagio (E major)
long, beautiful melodies. This movement is regarded among Mozart’s most lovely passages.
the orchestra fade into the background as the melody features the solo violin.
Watch the first part of the Adagio:
III. Rondeau – Tempo di minuetto
a dance-like beginning to the movement in triple time (counted ONE-two-three, think a waltz or minuet).
an interruption. In this movement, Mozart employs a French rondo finale, which is traditionally “interrupted” by a section that is extremely contrasting. In this case, that interruption is a frenzied Allegro dance theme in duple meter (2 beats per measure… think ONE-two ONE-two, and so on). This is the “Turkish” style that gives the piece its nickname. Watch for the cellos and basses as they strike their strings with the wood of their bows to create the percussive sounds characteristic of Eastern European music.
Listen to the rondo movement. See if you can hear the difference between the opening minuet and the “Turkish” section that the piece is named for (hint: what do you hear at 3:41 in the video?):
To hear the entire concerto, check out American violinist Hilary Hahn’s take on the soloist’s part:
Stravinsky's was composed in four scenes or Petruska tableaux.
See excerpts from
Petrushka played by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Watch the conductor’s facial expression and body language. How does it help the instrumentalists (and you) interpret the music? VIDEO
First Tableau: The Shrovetide Fair
the use of Russian folk song melodies and dances.
the sound of a fuller orchestra, representing the public nature of the fair.
Listen to an example of a Russian dance included in this tableau:
Hear the entire First Tableau:
Second Tableau: Petrushka’s Room
a smaller “feel” to the instrumental ensemble, representing the private nature of the puppet’s room and Petrushka’s feelings. The bassoon conveys his sobs, while the trumpet’s screams accompanied by full orchestra represent Petrushka’s rage.
Watch the Second Tableau in the ballet
Petrushka’s Room: VIDEO The “Petrushka chord,” a polytonal (using more than one musical key) chord that Stravinsky identified as Petrushka’s “insult to the public.” The first time it appears, the chord is played by pairs of clarinets; it is later reprised by the shrillness of trumpets as Petrushka’s emotions intensify.
Third Tableau: The Moor’s Room
the waltz representing the Moor and Ballerina’s dance together. Note how this Austrian dance music differs in rhythms and sound from Stravinsky’s style. This waltz is heavily borrowed from Austrian composer Joseph Lanner.
the chaotic quarrel after Petrushka escapes his cell and enters, introduced by muted trombones.
Listen to the Third Tableau:
Fourth Tableau: The Shrovetide Fair (Toward Evening)
the frenzy of the crowd, represented in Stravinsky’s busy instrumentation.
the moment Petrushka is killed by the Moor, noted musically with a dropped tambourine, then the dying sounds of the puppet (flute and piccolo).
the trumpets’ return as Petrushka’s voice when the puppet’s ghost reenters the stage.
Let’s hear it:
Think About This…
What do you feel is the biggest difference between attending an open rehearsal and a performance? What can you learn about the music from witnessing it in practice? Violin soloist Gil Shaham has said, “I think music has a way of capturing time.” Think of that statement in terms of what you’ve learned about the music of Albert Roussel. How did his music capture the time that he lived in France? How is the statement true in your own life? What music that you listen to or perform is symbolic of a particular time in your life?
Stravinsky changed people’s beliefs about what classical music should be or sound like—for both musicians and audiences. While his work was considered shocking during his lifetime, it is recognized today for expanding what classical music could be. Have you ever discovered music that challenged your perceptions? What was it, and how did it help you grow?
Take Action: Age Is Just a Number
Caption: Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (
The musicians and composers represented in this open rehearsal all have one thing in common: They each defied the probabilities for what is expected of a musician at their age. Lionel Bringuier is among the youngest modern conductors to find worldwide success; Gil Shaham was performing professionally at age 10. Stravinsky composed
Petrushka before he was 30, and Mozart completed a lifetime of work before he died prematurely at 35. Roussel defied the expected in a different way. He didn’t enter the field of music until well after the age when others had already found success.
Where do you fit in? Perhaps you haven’t studied music or another type of art yet, or maybe you’re well on your way to becoming a professional artist. Either way, the examples of the composers in this rehearsal have something similar to offer: Age is just a number and it’s never too early or too late to find your passion and develop your talent. What
is your passion? Perhaps you long to become a famous artist. Maybe you simply want to learn the guitar to jam with your friends. Brainstorm a plan for chasing your passion, then write it down. Share your brainstorm with a trusted friend or adult.