Stravinsky Violin Concerto

Music: Igor Stravinsky (Concerto in D for violin and orchestra, 1931)
Choreography: George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Staging: Bart Cook and Karin Von Aroldingen
Lighting Design: Randall G. Chiarelli
Duration: 25 minutes
Premiere: June 18, 1972; New York City Ballet (Stravinsky Festival)
Pacific Northwest Ballet Premiere: March 5, 1986

PNB Company dancers in Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto was one of the glorious highlights of the Stravinsky Festival that George Balanchine hosted at the New York State Theater in June 1972. Accounts of that time in Balanchine’s life all testify to the enormous creative energy he brought to the task of celebrating the life and work of his old friend and longtime collaborator, who had died the year before. Although Balanchine many years earlier had choreographed a ballet, titled Balustrade, to the Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra that Stravinsky had composed in 1931, for the 1972 festival he approached the still-tantalizing score with absolute freshness and produced an entirely new work which immediately took its place among his masterpieces. Lincoln Kirstein called it a “blockbuster,” and even Balanchine acknowledged uncharacteristically that it was “well done.”

In the “tradition” of spare, dislocated classicism that Balanchine had begun with The Four Temperaments (to a score by Hindemith) in 1946 and developed in total collaboration with Stravinsky in Agon a decade later, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, according to writer Nancy Goldner, was “the most visual music composition Balanchine…ever choreographed. …[T]o do it he had to discombobulate bodies and manipulate the ensemble to a degree he [had] never attempted before.”

But, for all its density, for many viewers Stravinsky Violin Concerto is a more accessible work than Agon, with its sportive, almost rambunctious, opening Toccata movement, its joyous evocation of tribal ritual in the concluding Capriccio, and its central pair of contrasting Arias where Balanchine makes stunningly clear that so-called “abstract” movement can tell deep truths about the male/female relationship.

The ballet is also a great favorite of dancers (in PNB Founding Artistic Director Francia Russell’s words, “one of the Balanchine works they would kill to be in!”). As well as being a tremendous intellectual and physical challenge, it is fun to dance and, in the final movement, generates an unusually powerful sense of communal identity.

Stravinsky Violin Concerto has been in PNB’s repertory since 1986. It was staged for the Company by Karin von Aroldingen and Bart Cook, who both danced principal roles in the original New York City Ballet cast.

Notes by Jeanie Thomas; edited by Doug Fullington, 2009.

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