Petrushka

ArtsWatch Weekly: Thanks again

On a day of sharing, we talk about giving and receiving, and then dig in to Oregon's lavish cultural banquet: the arts beat goes on


TODAY IS A DAY OF GIVING THANKS, HOWEVER YOU CHOOSE TO DO SO. Here at ArtsWatch, some of us are on the road, traveling to visit family. Others have already reached their destinations. Some are hosting dinners or meeting with friends. Some are already busy in their kitchens, chopping and baking and simmering and laughing and preparing for a grand meal. We imagine you’re doing much the same. Some of you might even be busy in soup kitchens or food pantries, helping to cook and serve a good hot meal for people who don’t always get one. Some of you might be in line, waiting. 
 

Childe Hassam, Oregon Stlll Life (detail), 1904, oil on canvas, 25 x 30.25 inches, Portland Art Museum. Gift of Col. C.E.S. Wood in memory of his wife, Nancy Moale Wood. (On view in Belluschi Building; the museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day.)

Oregon is a land of bounty, as Childe Hassam’s delicious painting above from more than a century ago attests. Enjoy, share, and nurture it. Revel in its natural and creative wonders. Be generous. In a time of division and antagonism, help make it a place for everyone. Happy Thanksgiving to you. And thanks for being part of ArtsWatch. We’re here thanks to you.  

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Oregon Symphony preview: puppety ‘Petrushka’

Creative director Doug Fitch enhances Stravinsky score with puppets and other theatrical elements

This weekend, in the season’s first batch of SoundStories concerts, the Oregon Symphony Orchestra performs Petrushka in a puppety production directed by visual artist Doug Fitch. The OSO excels at this “classical-plus” sort of thing: classical music plus movies, classical music plus theater, classical music plus rock music, classical music plus animated light show. And it’s funny how the last time OSO brought in puppets, that was a Stravinsky show too: last year’s Perséphone.

Doug Fitch’s puppetry enhances Oregon Symphony’s ‘Petrushka’ this weekend.

Igor Stravinsky’s musical score for Petrushka is endearing and entertaining, but pretty bland compared to the composer’s best stuff; that’s what makes it an ideal candidate for the classical-plus treatment (same goes for the Perséphone score, for that matter). It’s far from Stravinsky’s most boring score (that would of course be Pulcinella), but sitting as it does between the backward-looking genius of 1910’s Firebird and the forward-looking genius of 1913’s Rite of Spring, Petrushka (composed 1910-11) is often remembered—at least by music nerds—as “the one where Stravinsky discovered polytonality.”

It has no moments as memorable as Firebird’s “Berceuse” and “Infernal Dance,” nor anything as thrilling as Rite’s thunderously morbid dance rhythms and oh-so-catchy primitivistic earworms. But none of that is really a fair criticism, because despite the music’s genesis as a sort of battle between piano and orchestra, Petrushka is (as Diaghilev correctly intuited when he first heard it) primarily theater music. We are not meant to sit passively in a concert hall (or on the sofa) and simply take it in through our lazy ear holes. We are meant to watch it. We are meant to feel it.

It’s also important to remember that Petrushka is not really about Stravinsky anyways: as Fitch points out in this sound-buggy video, the original ballet was a collaboration between artists working in varied disciplines—most importantly librettist slash set- & costume-designer Alexandre Benois and choreographer Michel Fokine—and that interdisciplinary complexity carries forward into his integrative production with the OSO.

Because Fitch’s Petrushka, originally developed at the University of Maryland and since streamlined for travel, is more than a puppet show. His production (presumably even in the reconfigured touring version he’s bringing to the Schnitz this weekend) retains the theatrical ballet vibe by directing the musicians to get up and move around, stand up for solos, dance and scream, put on silly hats. All of this also adds to the story’s carnival spirit; the action takes place at the fair, after all. The OSO is hardly a staid and uptight orchestra in the Old World tradition, but they’re still considerably more formal than, say, The Polyphonic Spree. It’ll be amusing to watch them put on costumes and fake beards to get all (belatedly) Halloweeny and celebratory.

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