Music

Igor Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale

It’s not every day that Hamilton gets to hear and see a Stravinsky gem like “The Soldier’s Tale”. Originally staged in 1918

It’s not every day that Hamilton gets to hear and see a Stravinsky gem like “The Soldier’s Tale”. Originally staged in 1918, this Faustian mix of music, dance and drama was born (like so many great things) out of necessity.
A young Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) having lost his regular income (thanks to the Russian Revolution and the Great War) and his collaborator Charles Ramuz, a Swiss writer, hit upon the idea of writing a small-scale multidisciplinary piece to tour Swiss villages and towns to drum up much needed funds.
Their source material came from a classic Russian folk tale in which the eponymous Solider sells his violin (read: soul) to the Devil. Although this dark tale has endured for more than a century. What, you may ask, would be the appeal to a modern audience? The Amphion Ensemble who are presenting Stravinsky's masterpiece of musical chamber theatre will be led by conductor Jeffrey Pollock. He has some theories about the piece’s longevity:

“The musical writing is absolutely masterful. The music Stravinsky wrote was certainly innovative for its time, but it still sounds remarkably contemporary. Part of that is the
work’s rhythmic complexity and the other is the range of musical styles that Stravinsky drew on — tango, folk song, ragtime, marches. Those elements are all there, but all put through Stravinsky’s rhythmic filter.”

Another part of the appeal is clearly the combination of music, dance and acting, which naturally necessitated a great deal of prep.

“We’re fortunate to have a remarkable cast. Four of the seven musicians are members of the Hamilton Philharmonic, our actors, Jennifer Walton, Phil Krusto and Jay Shand
are regulars on Hamilton stages, and our choreographer, Lisa Emmons and dancer, Mayumi Lashbrook of Aeris Körper dance company are known for embracing collaborations with local artists”

“There has been a ton of planning and discussion and each group has been doing their own preparation. The musicians are practicing their parts, the dance is being rehearsed, the actors are reviewing their staging and their lines. Coordinating busy artists’ schedules can be challenging, so we will really be seeing each other’s contributions only at the end, as we put it all together. It’s a very exciting process!”

“The music is intensely rhythmic and requires a great deal of concentration from musicians and conductor. There are some movements where the time signature changes, literally, every single bar. And Stravinsky writes in such a way that even within the bars, the rhythmic emphasis isn’t where you’d conventionally expect it to be. Every single player must be totally on their toes. Another rewarding part will be that this group of seven musicians will have never played together as a unit before this weekend. We will all be learning each other’s style and figuring out how to make the best possible product together.”

So is “The Soldier’s Tale” something for those not necessarily into classical music? Conductor Pollock certainly thinks so:

“I think anyone who has an appreciation for an interesting style of storytelling will enjoy the piece. It’s not conventional  theatre with sets and lighting. It’s a piece that was meant to be read, played and danced. The audience will have to do a lot of visualizing what happens, but the music will certainly fuel listeners’ imaginations. The story itself is a fable that exists out of time — a tale of an individual, in this case a soldier, who trades his violin to the devil, in exchange for promises of limitless wealth. As you might guess, this doesn’t turn out well for the solider. Perhaps that’s the central message of this piece: Don’t trade away who you are or the gifts you have (especially if those gifts are musical ones)!”


The Amphion Ensemble presents The Soldier's Tale, Stravinsky's masterpiece of musical chamber theatre.

“The Soldier’s Tale” by Igor Stravinsky
Presented by The Amphion Ensemble
Sun, 23 Feb 2020, 2:00 PM EST
(Pre-concert talk with the conductor at 1:30 p.m.)
L.R. Wilson Hall,
McMaster University
1280 Main Street West
Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8
Tickets: $20, $10 for children
Online tickets at Eventbrite.ca

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