the Pokrovsky Ensemble performing Stravinsky's Les Noces, which The Guardian once dubbed "a fascinating exercise in historical musicology."
“Les noces”(The Wedding) by Stravinsky, in many things, was the turning-point of the Ensemble. By the way Pokrovsky had avoided the image of an only folklore group style and much more like an ethnographical.
At the beginning of May in 1994 at the very days of Pokrovsky's fiftieth anniversary, Igor Stravinsky's “Les noces” (The Wedding) had its premiere. Dmitri Pokrovsky's Ensemble performance made debut at the hall of Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. It was in the famous Majestic theater of Peter Brook's related with such names as George Balanchine, John Cage, Steve Reich. The event happened during Grand International Festival in I. Stravinsky's honor. There were many a famous musical group and eminent scientists specializing in Stravinsky. Pokrovsky's Ensemble showed not only Les noces (The Wedding) but its sources of folklore also. The unusual vocal interpretation and the scientific report became a real sensation in music world. Everywhere the Les noces (The Wedding) would be performed there raised many a discussion of it among people of creativity and in academician circles. That built up in well-known cities and halls.
The summer home of Boston Symphony Orchestra, Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, a temple of academic music, that was established by Serge Alexandrovich Koussivitzky. The Center is some kind of Mecca for musicians of all the world, just like Paris for artists where an artist gets his glory or loses everything. And that was just where the show of Les noces (The Wedding) and traditional wedding ceremonies got acknowledgement as the best performance of the year. Then Sydney Opera, Melbourne, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis and other cities and towns of the USA. For their avant-garde dance Pokrovsky's Ensemble was put in nomination at one of the US music festivals. Let us remind that composer Stravinsky had named his composition "Russian choreographic scenes with music and songs from folk texts".
Even this incomplete list of the halls did emphasize the level and significance of the event. Unhappily that was not almost noticed in Russia.
Previous to the premiere, the record was made and released by Electra Nonesuch. The disk had kept the top rating in critics' opinion for two years. And before recording of the disk leading by Dmitri Pokrovsky, his Ensemble endeavored to do research work in expeditions and archives.
Les noces (The Wedding) by Stravinsky, in many things, was the turning-point of the Ensemble. By the way Pokrovsky had avoided the image of an only folklore group style and much more like an ethnographical. The Ensemble had been performing modern music, working together with many modern composers and at the same time having classical compositions in its repertoire. No need to say about many an experiment with jazz and avant-garde groups. Most critics and spectators considered all the attempts like the usual eccentricity of Pokrovsky's. Really though those were first steps, try-outs in absolutely new development hiding in itself great possibilities.
Les noces (The Wedding) was the first author's composition performed without breaking composer's conception and at the same time turned it absolutely into something unexpected indeed. It had been impossible to guess in advance. The new step made by Pokrovski was found out as a new language and a new way. The long built wall separating modern art from its roots, when avant-gardism was considered denying, even destroying all the art being in existence till now did crack. But Dmitri Pokrovsky had shown with the example of his Les noces (The Wedding) that it was not destruction but percolate through the century into the art of the 19th century by the laws of earlier creative work. Pokrovsky's Les noces (The Wedding) confirmed Stravinsky's ascent into canons deeper and more harmonious than those used just before by existing culture. Convincing proof that the very modern composition was built exactly in accordance with the folklore laws happened to be a real outburst.
The position of theoretical analyzing and stage performing Les noces (The Wedding) were based on the fact of using structural and constructive Stravinsky's methods which brilliant Stravinsky gained from folklore and his intelligent study of the matter. Dmitri Pokrovsky and his artists carefully studied the composition as well as the folk traditions of music from which the idea came into being. The expeditions notes made by the Ensemble, the archival and other research work showed that Stravinsky had followed rhythmical and mode regularity of authentic wedding motives-formulae of the Russian South-West precisely. Most part of the songs texts used by the composer in his thing bore out that preciseness. So that discovered his deep knowledge of the folklore and ethnographical subject. This knowledge served him so much when he created his distinctive and by no means ethnographical (that was always refused by the composer-mystifyer) Les noces (The Wedding). There were no trace of folklore tunes from collections known to him, and that let us say about a perfectly new way of using results of field explorations in folklore and ethnography. The way was used in Les noces (The Wedding) logically by Stravinsky at first time. These facts made Les noces (The Wedding) different from other outstanding compositions of the Russian period. All of these happened to be the real revolutionary discovery of Les noces (The Wedding) made by D. Pokrovsky. He dedicated his dissertation to that theme which he had worked at in the last days of his life and couldn't complete.
The Pokrovsky's Ensemble performing Les noces (The Wedding) by Igor Stravinsky happened to be a big hit both with amateurs having knowledge of Stravinsky oeuvre and with large public equally.
The confluence of unbelievable magic of extraordinary music and live voices' power plus uncommon and simple staging are the composite of success. All the scenery things do score our wooden benches, a (table) podium and four mechanic pianos (without lids). You can see eighteen artists singing and moving at the same time and six or eight musicians percussionists being involved to participate instead of usual chorus, ballet, four soloists. Many days traditional wedding ceremonial shown for 24 minutes leave an unforgettable impression. Mostly owing to the theatrical musical creation was designed by Stravinsky.
Pokrovsky's Ensemble had been working at the production for five years. Quite large number of times the artists went on expeditions to the places where Stravinsky got original folk texts for his libretti from and where he had been himself. Two nuptial ceremonies of the North and South-West of Russia were the results of the expedition work. The Ensemble showed them in the first part of the concert before Les noces (The Wedding) in confirmation of the folk roots of that avant-garde performance.
Igor Stravinsky Les Noces as performed by the Dmitry Pokrovsky Ensemble:
I borrowed nothing from folk pieces, with the exception of the the theme of one factory song in the last tableau, which I repeat several times on different texts. All the other themes, motives and melodies are of my own composition... The recreation of a country wedding ritual... which in any case, I never had the chance to see or listen to... absolutely didn’t enter my mind\Igor Stravinsky, 1935\
Whether Stravinsky was blatantly lying in the comment above or simple suffering from a “conveniet memoy lapse” to quote the noted musicologist Richard Taruskin, will remain unclear. What Dmitri Pokrovsky’s work has made quite clear, however, is the very direct use by by Stravinsky of numerous melodies, texts and tradition from southern and western Russia.
Pokrovsky has spent more than two decades studying, collecting, transcribing and performing Russian folk music, and has also concentrated on the music of Stravinsky. It was the intersection of these two interests which led Pokrovsky into serious research on the folk influences on some of Stravinsky’s greatest works including Les Noces. Les Noces was originally titled “Svadebka- Russian Choreographic scenes with singing and instrumental music”. In its four tableaus it lengthy Russian village wedding ritual.
To set the stage for Les Noces Pokrovsky first immerses the audience in a collage of village wedding music and rituals from southern and western Russia. These folk pieces make a startling reappearance in Les Noces.
Throgh the ensemble’s performance of the work, Pokrovsky illiustrates not only the influence of these folk traditions, but puts the entire work into authentic Russia context. The ensemble sings the four tableaus of Les Noces in tradional Russian folk style. Their beautiful costumes and thrilling choreography create a “visually stunning performance... as if it were a cross between a village marriage and a contemporary dance-theater piece –at times dancing expressively, at times imitating the (often cruel) ancient rituals of the primitive ceremony. The effect was both emotionally compelling and intellectually disturbing.”(New York Newsday)
Another interesting aspect of this work is the instrumentation. One of Stravinsky’s original scoring was for two cimbaloms, harmonium, percussion and pianola or mechanical piano. While Stravinsky was pleased with this combination, the scrolls of the pianola were too short to allow for proper synchronization, and he abandoned this version. His final version of the score was for solo vocalists, chorus, four pianos and percussion. An effective performance of Les Noces demands intense rhythmic accuracy and minimal lyricism. With the help of Yamaha disklaviers (computer driven player pianos ) Pokrovsky’s performance is a creative solution to Stravinsky’s dilemma, resulting in the composer’s ideal sound – “perfectly homogeneous, perfectly impersonal and perfectly mechanical”.
All those who experience this production are undeniably moved. It was the highlight of the recent “Russian Stravinsky Festival” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a “musically accomplished electric performance.” (New YorkMagazine)
In 2006 this project was restored by Pokrovsky Ensemble as a concert version.
“Les Noces” was repeatedly performed by Pokrovsky Ensemble together with English conductor Thomas Ades and musicians of the Birmingham symphonic orchestra and the Maryinsky Theater, pianists Peter Donohoe, sisters Labeque in London (Barbican), Birmingham (Symphony-hall), Cologne(Philharmonic), St.-Petersburg (the New scene of the Maryinsky Theater,)Stokholm (Royal Philharmonic), Los Angeles(Walt Disney Hall);
together with chorus New Siberian Singers of the Novosibirsk philharmonic society and conductor Teodor Kurentzis;
orchestra Avanti! (Helsinki) with conductor Dmitry Slobodenjuk.