Thursday night’s Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert was titled “The Rite of Spring,” as it featured Stravinsky’s iconic masterpiece. But the first half of the program included a suite assembled in 2008 from the score for the movie “Youth Without Youth,” by composer Oswaldo Golijov, one of the most celebrated composers on the planet and a longtime partner of the ASO.
The movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, flopped at the box office. Perhaps Golijov wrote the suite as a way of finding an audience for the score, given the movie’s failure. Whatever the motivation, it is a revealing and rather extreme look at how differently a film score can function when it loses its flick. "Youth Without Youth" is a surreal, dreamlike time travel movie. The movie creates the emotions, and Golijov’s score simply serves to enhance and channel them.
In the suite, robbed of context, the score becomes abstract and open. The dreams it enhances are your own. You are far more aware of the score than in the movie, naturally, so you can focus on the eclectic sounds that Golijov has brought to bear. His influences range from his native Argentina to Jewish and Eastern sounds. This score used only strings, percussion and exotic instruments, including the kamancheh, or Persian spike fiddle. Some of the processed sounds were handled by a man with a laptop computer. The ASO, under Robert Spano, has developed a real affinity for new works, and this was an engaged, sensitive performance. A lush reading of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ "Fantasia on a Theme" by Thomas Tallis opened the concert.
Those who came to the concert hoping for a lean, nuanced Rite of Spring, with opportunities to explore the interiors of each episode, probably went away disappointed. We got, instead, a savage, dense approach, often at rock-concert volume. Spano seemed determined to bring home the primal energy of the piece: the raw sensuality and the blend of extreme dissonance and noise that made it so shocking at its premiere and that continues to shock even today.
From the opening bassoon cries to the percussion outbursts, screaming woodwinds, and piercing brass that combine to make this one of the most intense (and technically difficult) pieces in the repertoire, Spano took the audience on a helluva ride. Written as a ballet score, the work conjures both the Russian spring, when great masses of ice break like thunder in a sudden thaw, and the sacrifice of a virgin, who dances herself to death to satisfy the gods.
Atlanta, which likes things big and loud, took it well. People were leaping up and shouting as the last note still echoed in the hall. Golijov’s gentle, dreamlike suite and "The Rite of Spring" have little in common except that each was written as part of something else, a movie or ballet. Each succeeded on its own terms, and the combination is an example of the kind of programming that has made the ASO a good place to hang out lately.
This concert will be repeated tonight and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Symphony Hall, 1289 Peachtree Street, Atlanta. 404-733-5000; www.atlantasymphony.org
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