Monday, 28 November 2016

Nijinsky's pagan dance

There's a brief episode in Chronicle where young Dylan sees Ulysses on some bookshelf and wants the host to explain Joyce to him. The phrase looked odd. Explain Joyce? Excuse me? What sort of explanation would that be?

Yet part of me knows exactly what Dylan was thinking. Simply because I've always wanted someone to explain Stravinsky to me. Frank Zappa never could, and neither could millions of others swearing by The Rite of Spring. I guess a Norwegian orchestra performing Apollon Musagete at the Proms in 2015 came close ("Apotheosis" was otherworldly), but even that could hardly convince me.

From Petrushka to Symphony of Psalms, Stravinsky remained unexplained.

And then this woman changed everything. Studying the notes of Ferruccio Busoni, making a transcription of her own, she gave the most extraordinary piano performance I've ever heard. Stravinsky's Firebird was breathless yet it came alive. Over those twelve minutes (either too brief or too endless), her exquisitely slovenly fingers dragged me through every human emotion conceivable. Her facial expressions remained unmoved as Stravinsky's work was coming alive. Glorious and no less complicated and all of a sudden - explained. 

Funny how one small performance can change so much. Funny how you can still get a glimpse of Nijinsky's pagan dance, more than a century later.