Monday, May 5, 2008

Stravinsky and Sting

Let me share my two weekend concert experiences: On Saturday night, I witnessed an energetic Cincinnati Symphony performance of The Rite of Spring. A spur-of-the-moment decision last week enabled Arpi and I to run up to Columbus on Sunday to catch The Police in concert! (The opening band was Elvis Costello and the Imposters.) How's that for variety?

You could say it was a raucous and rhythmic weekend. It is not every week that one can hear the Rite of Spring performed in the US. But much rarer is a concert by The Police, the classic progressive rock band that broke up in the mid-1980s and hadn't really reunited in performance for more than 20 years. We caught the North American leg of their international 2007-08 tour - and we're very glad we went. They all sounded as great as ever, but I have to say that the shining highlight was Stewart Copeland's drumming. The precision and sheer forcefulness of his rhythmic ideas just blew me away. At one point Copeland moved from the drum set to a large battery of percussion instruments (many of which were used by Stravinsky in the Rite) for a colorful rendition of Wrapped Around You Finger. The array of pitched and non-pitched percussion instruments (including a gong, crotales, and various cymbals and chimes) was brought to vivid life by Copeland, lending the pop tune a curiously modern-classical spectrum of sound. (Take a guess at what other well-known tune featured this battery of percussion.)

It's amazing how different back-to-back musical experiences can remind one of the immediate interconnections between all kinds of music. Certainly the Rite changed music forever, and not just the classical stuff. There's a lot in the music of The Police that would not be possible without the earthquake of Stravinsky's Rite. (Indeed, Police bassist and lead singer Sting has stated that he often prefers to listen to classical music rather than pop.) It's also a reminder that as time progresses the lines between classical and rock continue to be blurred, forever smeared by musicians who refuse to "keep it in the box." That's a positive thing.

Audiences for both concerts were totally engaged and responded with gung-ho applause and standing ovations. Maybe there's a little hope for classical music to reach people in the ways good rock music can.

Hopefully my ears will stop ringing by the time I have to start teaching today...

(For a review of the CSO performance, click here. For a review of a recent Police concert, see this.)


pluto said...


"There's a lot in the music of The Police that would not be possible without the earthquake of Stravinsky's Rite."

Specifically? Which elements to they owe to Stravinsky?

Joshua Nemith said...

Thanks for your question, Pluto. I wasn't thinking of anything too specific - rather just a loose connection between contemporary classical (which arguably starts with Stravinsky) and progressive rock generally. Sometimes Andy Summers' guitar work reminds me of Stravinsky or even Bartok. (Especially on the song "Mother" from Synchronicity!)