The Digital Initiatives Unit has digitized thousands of rare books and images, and still, in the midst of all these fantastic items, many images stand out and never cease to amaze us. We had not thought of this series of 12 photographs of Igor Stravinsky in a while, and when it was mentioned during a staff meeting a couple of weeks ago, we figured we just had to post it in our blog. There are many photographs of Stravinsky out there, but nothing compares to these ones, where we can see him right in the middle of a rehearsal and we get a glimpse of this astonishing composer in the process of conducting one of his own works.
Here he is 80 years old in 1962, nine years before his death. He’s rehearsing the Firebird Suite with the New York Philharmonic at Lewisohn Stadium in New York City. The images were captured by Fred Fehl, a photographer specializing in performance photography and who brought us outstanding images of many other artists as well, like Martha Graham, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Joan Sutherland.
When these photographs were taken, long gone were the times when Stravinsky was booed in a public performance: that was back in 1913 and the Parisian theatre had been packed and filled with expectation. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring had barely begun when the hostile crowds started laughing (the cue for Stravinsky to leave the auditorium and get to the stage wings, from where he watched the rest of the performance). The laughter developed into a full-on attack between factions in the audience and later on towards the orchestra members and the dancers. After the police expelled some of the worst offenders, the performance continued in relative peace. I guess that in this particular performance the Rite of Spring’s “Sacrificial Dance” came earlier, and we all know whom the sacrificed victim was.
These photographs show a Stravinsky riding the crest of the wave with one of the best orchestras in the world, and although no one ever forgot what happened during that fateful premiere almost fifty years before, everybody ultimately took the negative reaction as a sign of a true genius who not everyone could understand, one who was so ahead of his time that he aroused rage before stirring gasps of utter astonishment.
The series is part of UBC Library Framed Works Collection, which includes exceptional photographs, prints, and documentary artworks, all originating from diverse sources.