Our music for this week is the Divertimento for Violin and Piano (or, in this case, orchestra) by Igor Stravinsky. In fact, you’ll only be hearing the fourth movement, as performed by Augustin Hadelich with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
As you might be able to tell from the style of the piece, the Divertimento was originally a movement from a ballet titled “The Fairy’s Kiss” that Stravinsky wrote in 1928. It is said that Stravinsky, who admired his Russian predecessor Tchaikovsky but also hated the fact that Tchaikovsky was more famous than he was, viewed this ballet as the moment he surpassed Tchaikovsky in terms of musical greatness. While I can’t vouch for one or the other, I can positively affirm this piece as being a wonderful example of the transition between Romantic and 20th-century classical music. Stravinsky does an unbelievable job of blending the newness of the 20th-century atmosphere with the rich and historical folk melodies of Russian music that are so often heard in Tchaikovsky’s music.
Augustin Hadelich grew up on a farm in northern Italy, where his parents were both musicians who tended a vineyard on the side. He showed incredible musical promise at a young age and was touring Germany and Austria as a soloist at age 10. In a tractor explosion accident while working on the farm at age 15, Augustin was severely burned on the left side of his body. After a remarkable recovery and years of tireless practice and study, he emerged onto the international stage by winning the Indianapolis International Violin Competition. Since then, he has risen to international acclaim and is widely known as one of the greatest talents of our time.
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is the world’s premiere chamber (miniature) orchestra. Created in 1972 by a few NYC musicians who enjoyed chamber music, it quickly separated itself from the crowd by pledging to never rehearse or perform – or even hire – a conductor. In this sense, Orpheus is truly unique – it is almost an enlarged quartet rather than a small orchestra.