The one-nighter with Tania León’s Pulitzer Prize winning Stride alongside Stravinsky’s riot-instigating Rite of Spring once might have left Symphony Hall reeling. But enough shock and awe have seasoned today’s ears to sound of all colors of the spectrum. For the 80-year-old León, “My sound is the sum total of my experiencing sound.” In casual Friday evening’s shorter edition of its concert several weeks ago, the BSO, in reawakening the audience, also calling attention to depictive techniques attuned to ethnicity and reimagined pasts. Not even an hour, the doors of Boston’s historic Hall, with its excellent acoustics, opened to sound from a Cuban and a Russian expatriate.
Stride, according to its composer, refers to something more than “a jam-writing music.” She linked her 2021 Pulitzer music to recollections of her grandmother, “a woman of action.” That means, for the Cuban expatriate, sound expressive of “when a person who walks with stride—that person has the force that doesn’t take no for an answer.” Stride was one of 19 new works by women composers, “the largest women-only commissioning initiative in history,” a project undertaken by the New York Philharmonic commemorating the 19th amendment or women’s right to vote.
The Pulitzer awarded Stride as a “distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.” Via Andris Nelsons, Stride took decisively bigger-than-life steps, vigorous, abstracted outpourings of sound referencing the Cuban-American’s growing up emulating a model grandmother. Limits on what could and could not be expressed in Alejandro’s Madrid’s book, Tania León’s Stride (UI 2022) reminds that León’s native country’s political ways remain unchanged. Yet for León’s 14-minute memorandum, BSO folkish-like echoing trumpets blazingly pronounced optimism. Taking turns, the various sections of the smaller orchestra ravishingly called out less in any single dialect, mostly hinting at an indigenous feel, the spontaneity of Afro-American and Afro-Cuban locution. Not quite call-and-response, the turn-taking seemed more a free-for-all of primary colors. To Tania León belated congratulations and welcome, and to the BSO grateful thanks, a superlative rendering the new piece surely received. For a somewhat filled Symphony Hall, Stride elicited a hesitant yet warm greeting.
A century has passed since the Russian expatriate splintered Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées by conjuring that country’s paganism, his sound inspired by a burgeoning attentiveness to African art of that time; and apparently there was the Ballets Russe’s penchant for the exotic. The once infamous and now pivotal Stravinsky re-sounded throughout Symphony Hall, from a breathtakingly played, mystic beckoning of solo bassoon opening up to a savagery of bass drum, multiple kettle drums requiring two players teaming up with an oversized orchestra aiming toward an orgiastic closing.
With the second oldest of its kind in the country, Nelsons led our own internationally renowned Symphony Orchestra to an astounding Primitivism, perhaps not even the heaviest of Heavy Metal could equal. Judging from the roars, dare one say screams, all prolonged as various members of the orchestra stood to acknowledge an incredible feat, this Nelsons-BSO Rite merits being included on an all-time list of hits—live. And this being the concert version (oft-revised) by Stravinsky, concert-goers can now better imagine the boisterous, even physical, reaction to the 1913 Paris premiere with the Ballets Russe. Deep state rhythm, raucous mysteriousness, mega-sound to abrupt silence to gossamer diaphonies, an engaged BSO fully engaging Symphony Hall. Nelsons’ predictive moves in Stravinsky’s monumental, complex music became reality through some 100 musicians—artists—in a singular expression. An ecstatic newcomer to Symphony: “I loved it!”