Thursday, May 23, 2013

La Sacre du Printemps turns 100, the Butchershop Quartet celebrates

Posted By on 05.23.13 at 02:50 PM

Stravinsky_Rite_of_Spring_Bernstein.jpg
For a long time I thought the French seal of artistic disapproval was to rip out the seats of a theater, whether it was the first viewing of the Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí film L'age D'or or Fox Movietone Follies of 1929 screened without subtitles. It seems to be a hallowed tradition. Seat destruction was also famously visited upon the world premiere of the Igor Stravinsky ballet masterpiece Le Sacre de Printemps (The Rite of Spring) on May 29, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. The Jonathan Cott liner notes for a brand-new reissue of Leonard Bernstein's defining 1958 recording of the work with the New York Philharmonic on Columbia Records includes a lengthy description of the audience reaction.

This convention-shattering and brain-scrambling sensory overload provoked what some neurologists have suggested was a "neuron revolt," which the audience experienced as a dopamine-induced temporary psychosis. The first symptoms manifested themselves in an outbreak of fashionably partisan booing, whistling, hissing, catcalling; then segued into scuffles, fistfights in the aisles, with elegant women wielding hatpins and people hitting each other with their canes and barking like dogs; and culminated in a half-hearted intervention on the part of the Paris police.

Cott makes no mention of the crowd ripping up seats, but there is no shortage of other accounts that do so. Of course, it's remarkable to imagine an orchestral work (or any piece of music, really) provoking such a reaction today, especially this brilliant Stravinsky composition—which admittedly shattered lots of musical conventions, both in its ritualistic intensity and wild irregular rhythms. But as this fantastic new reissue, released to mark the Sacre's centennial, proves, the music still fires the imagination and gets pulses racing. It's one of those rare selections in the classical canon that can easily transcend genre, age, or taste—it's that gripping. It's famously been interpreted by many disparate musicians, from the infamous jazz-fusion take by flutist Hubert Laws to the funky spin Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar recorded with contributions from Chicago guitarist Pete Cosey.

Butchershop Quartet
  • Courtesy of the Butchershop Quartet
  • Butchershop Quartet
Still, one of the most singular interpretations of the piece was created by Chicago's own Butchershop Quartet and released on a double CD by the hip-hop label Galapagos4 in 2004—the rather useless second disc featured remixes with rapping from some of the labels MCs. In honor of the centennial the group has reformed to play the work a handful of times, including a performance on Sunday at Township. The project originally germinated in 1993, when Dylan Posa and Rob Bochnik were studying music at DePaul, but it wasn't until brothers Dan and Rob Sullivan got involved that the full composition was arranged for the group's electric lineup—two guitars, bass, and drums. The group played the piece in Chicago with some regularity in 2001-02, which is when it made the Galapagos4 album at Electrical Audio. Soon after both Posa and Bochnik left Chicago and were replaced by guitarist Nathaniel Braddock and drummer Dan Sylvester. In 2004 the group performed the work as part of the Whitney Biennial with choreographer Julie Atlas Muz and recorded a new version of the piece with the then-current lineup.

For Sunday's show the lineup features both of the Sullivans with Bochnik and Sylvester. The vibrant, bruising recording still holds up—aside from the sheer audacity of adapting Stravinsky's piece for a rock quartet, the original arrangements are ingenious, capturing the fleeting melodic content, savage energy, and primal intensity perfectly. Yet what's most impressive is that the Butchershop version avoids sounding like an overstuffed, plodding dose of heavy-handed prog rock. The group exercised admirable precision and concision in its inventive take.

Below you can check out the indelible introduction of The Rite of Spring taken from the 2004 version, which will be released digitally on Wednesday of next week—the official centennial of the composition.

Today's playlist:

Jimmy Raney, Jimmy Raney Featuring Bob Brookmeyer (Decca/Verve)
New Zion Trio, Fight Against Babylon (Veal)
Neil Young With Crazy Horse, Americana (Reprise)
Jessica Pavone, Hope Dawson is Missing (Tzadik)
Lucio Capece and Birgit Ulher, Choices (Another Timbre)

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