This was one of those programs that at first seemed gimmicky but, ever since Saturday, has continued resonating. It began and ended with two very different works from the late 1930s. You could say both Britten and Shostakovich attempted to produce light at a moment of general darkness. Or you could say that both simultaneously honored and mocked classical serenity, by producing extravagantly over-the-top versions of classical balance and simplicity. In between came an earlier work by model and rival of both. Apollo is neoclassical Stravinsky at his most appealing, but even this is more than a venture into limpid austerity, the simplicity is complicated, the serenity reflects forces in agitation.
Young Apollo for piano and strings is flashy, fun, and probably bad for you—which is probably why it’s my favorite instrumental piece by Britten. Dudamel certainly seemed to enjoy it; Joanne Pearce Martin certainly made a splash at the keyboard. This was the L.A. Phil’s first performance! The audience response was their cue to continue exploring the music library for overlooked treasures. Check out the Kent Nagano/Hallé Orchestra recording.
I never realized before how hilarious Calliope and Polyhymnia are in Stravinsky & Balanchine’s Apollo. They’re out of a P. G. Wodehouse story, swanning around, sabotaging their own auditions with Apollo with ludicrous over-acting. The first accomplishment of the union of Apollo and Terpsichore is that the other two muses stop acting like idiots and become docile, decorative supporting players.
The union of Apollo and Terpsichore, as presented by Hee Seo and Roberto Bolle, was solemn and magnificent. I first heard about Bolle from the OperaChic's blog (now on Twitter), which always dropped her finicky critical qualifications to identify him flat out as “the hottest man in the world.” Well, Apollo is not a role that just anybody can pull off, but Bolle has the looks and, more importantly, the moves. It's not a happy story, or even a nice one. Apollo is a bully and ridiculously affected. The muses are worse. The point might be that affectations, done well, permit us to take flight.
When the otherwise astute critic at the L.A. Times tactfully depreciates Balanchine’s choreography as “dated”, I have to assume he must be talking about other program happening in town by somebody with the same name. The dance I saw was the surest guide to Stravinsky’s music anyone could want—the sequence of moods, the flashes of cheekiness, the animated patterns and detail work—everything visualized and clarified. Dudamel was right to present the dance with the music.
I’m beginning to think that Stravinsky’s ballets should never be presented without the dancing. Rilke’s poem “Early Apollo,” in which “this stone head commands / that nothing hinder the bright glow or dim / the fatal splendor of the poem’s blow” ends with an equation of the human form with music: “as if his song were being transfused in him.”