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The Bad Plus Meet Stravinsky "On Sacred Ground"

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Monday May 16, 2011

from Jazz Police

The Bad Plus Meet Stravinsky ‘On Sacred Ground”

By Andrea Canter

Since their first gigs and recordings over ten years ago, the jazz world (and beyond) have embraced the challenging, unpredictable, sometimes confusing, ultimately gratifying music of the Bad Plus. As apt to cover an ’80s pop band as an early 20th century classicist, they continue to fill concert halls, jazz clubs, stadiums and rock venues coast to coast and from continent to continent. The trio of Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King have remained true to their collaborative free spirit, from bootleg to Columbia to their own Do the Math label. After their first ‘all covers’ release (For All I Care, 2009), TBP fully confirmed its independence with a recording of all-original music, Never Stop (2010). But perhaps nothing in their far-flung repertoire predicted their current and surely most ambitious project yet’“a Bad Plus interpretation of Stravinksy’s ‘Rite of Spring.’ With a commission from Duke University and Lincoln Center and eight months of rehearsal, TBP unveiled their reworkings of one of the most lauded and controversial musical works of the 20th century at Duke on March 26th. This weekend, May 20-21 at the Loring Theater, Twin Cities audiences will witness the second production of On Sacred Ground: Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring.

Neither classical music nor Stravinksy mark new territory for The Bad Plus. They’ve covered Ligeti and Babbit as well as Stravinksy’s ‘Apollo.’ However, as Iverson told NPR, “What we’re trying to do, essentially, is turn the piece into something of our own. The size of the work is what’s so different this time ‘” after doing a three-or-four-minute excerpt from a ballet, now we’re doing a gigantic piece of music. The concept is kind of like learning 28 little pieces of music that are all really different and don’t repeat!”

But it is not merely the size of the work that raises eyebrows; ‘Rite of Spring’ is monumental in the complexity of the music, its impact on all that followed, and the controversy of its premiere performance. Considered one of the most influential compositions of the 20th century, Stravinksy’s unorthodox use of dissonance and polyrhythms was controversial enough as a break from classical conventions and expectations, but the primal and violent choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky provoked outrage at the 1913 debut in Paris. Various accounts describe a riot in response to dance steps depicting fertility rites, although the most revolutionary and lasting aspects of ‘Rite’ seem more rooted in the music than the audience’s response to unconventional ballet.

Notes Duke Performances Director Aaron Greenwald, ‘I don’t think you could hear that piece and not think it was changing the world of music.’ And for nearly a century since its premiere, The Rite of Spring has been the subject of ongoing analysis of its abstract structures as well as its roots in Russian folk music. Noted composer/parodist Peter Schickele, the impact of ‘The Rite of Spring’ was so profound that all subsequent 20th century music could be dubbed ‘The Rewrite of Spring.’

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